I don't know anything more about Leeland Eisenberg--the 40-something year old man who held Hillary Clinton's campaign office in Rochester, New Hampshire, hostage for several hours this afternoon--than what's being reported on network news. But the ordeal--which thankfully ended without any casualties--ought to focus attention on the dire state of mental health care in this country. More than a third of this country's homeless population have severe mental health issues, including schizophrenia and manic depression. At least one in every six inmates in America have been diagnosed with serious mental health conditions.
The gutting of public mental health services began with Reagan, first in California where he closed state-funded mental health facilities. As president he cut aid for federally-funded community-run mental health programs. The result: thousands of more homeless people in California and nationwide and a spike in the prison population. The New York Times recently reported that despite a rapid rise in the suicide rate in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the city has half of its psychiatrists, social workers and mental health care workers.
Just this year, John Broderick, the Chief Justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court, drew attention to this crisis when his son was released from prison. Suffering from depression and severe anxiety, Broderick's son injured him in a violent attack in 2002 and served three years in prison. As Broderick noted in a press conference earlier this year, only 1.5 percent of New Hampshire's prison budget went to mental health services.
Without appearing to capitalize on the situation, Clinton, and all elected officials, can and should take this incident as an opportunity to emphasize the importance of mental health services in any health care package, criminal justice reform, and indeed, in any vision of what a more caring, safer America looks like.
We're headed into an election year with Americans in overwhelming numbers looking for a dramatic change in direction. Progressives have already pushed some major issues onto the table – ending the war in Iraq, affordable healthcare, alternative energy, global warming and trade. But the limits of the current debate are also increasingly apparent: where's the agenda to deal seriously with Gilded Age inequality? With the tsunami of foreclosures precipitated by the subprime mortgage crisis? Where's the public investment agenda to address the staggering investment deficit in infrastructure? Where's the attention to poverty and stunning racial inequalities – from childhood poverty to criminal justice? And, as The Nation pointed out in a recent special issue on "The US & The World: 2008 & Beyond," leading candidates of both parties remain committed to increasing a military budget that is already as large as the rest of the world's military spending combined.
The emerging pro-democracy movement is working to address these symptoms of our downsized politics of excluded alternatives, as well as much of what ails our broken voting system: not only reliable voting machines, but Election Day registration, fighting 21st century Jim Crow tactics , and getting the obscene piles of money out of our politics. (See Ari Berman's post on how it's now estimated that spending for the congressional and presidential campaigns will top $5 billion!)
Another important step towards advancing our democracy is implementing instant runoff voting (IRV), and it's making headway these days at the state and local levels, and showing promise for federal elections too. With IRV, voters can vote their conscience and not worry that a vote is being "wasted" on someone who "can't win." IRV promotes greater debate and more alternatives, and also results in the winning candidate having the support of the majority of voters. Here's how it works: if four candidates were on a ballot, you would rank them one to four. When the votes are tabulated, if one of the candidates is the first choice for 50 percent of the voters, then he or she wins. If not, then the last-place candidate is eliminated, and if you voted for that candidate, your vote in the next round of tabulations is added to the vote totals of the candidate you ranked as your second choice. The process continues until one candidate receives over 50 percent of the vote.
In Australia, IRV was introduced in 1918, and has historically benefited parties on both the left and the right. Last Saturday, it helped the Australian Labor Party – but not before the Australian Greens were able to run a strong campaign and collect 8 percent of the parliamentary vote, and perhaps push debate further on issues like climate change and the Iraq War than Labor wanted to go. In the initial tabulation Labor won only 44 percent of the vote, but with IRV most of the Green votes ended up being awarded to Labor. The party had worked hard to be the second choice of Green voters, and designated former Midnight Oil lead Singer Peter Garrett – "a-rock-star-environmentalist-turned-politico" – as their likely environment minister. In the end, Labor ended up with 54 percent of the two-party tally.
"What a difference a fair voting method like instant runoff voting can make," Rob Richie, Executive Director of FairVote told me. "With IRV, Greens not only didn't split the vote and help elect candidates opposing their positions, but they got to make their case for change in a way that almost certainly transformed majority opinion on the environment and Iraq and made the Labor Party more responsive to that opinion. And with proportional voting in the senate, the Greens have ongoing power, all the better positioned to help hold Labor accountable to its campaign promises."
In the US, IRV has been chosen by voters in more than a dozen city ballot initiatives. Most recently, voters in Sarasota, FL and Aspen, CO elected to move to IRV by a three-to-one margin. In Pierce County, WA 67 percent of voters chose to keep IRV on track for next year's county executive race. The city council of Santa Fe, NM gave unanimous preliminary approval to place IRV on the March 2008 ballot. Finally, in Vermont, IRV looks promising for congressional elections next year – it's passed the state senate and there are encouraging signs it will pass in the house too.
In a recent op-ed , former Illinois Congressman and presidential candidate, John Anderson, advocated for IRV and noted that "one-third of all voters who are not registered as Republican or Democrat feel pressured to vote against their worst nightmare rather than their best hope…. General elections should be a marketplace of innovative ideas, and independent and third-party candidates can prevent them from becoming a showcase for an overly narrow ideological duopoly."
Until we get a system which is more democratic – including IRV and other democracy reforms – we won't have as effective an independent politics and as vibrant a debate as we deserve.
Did you know that people increasingly use the Internet, even more so than radio? Or that e-mail is an effective communication tool but recipients don't like flooded in-boxes?
Yes! It's true and I learned it all at a $225-a-ticket briefing called "Innovative Advocacy: New Strategies for Effective Advocacy" sponsored by the United States Chamber of Commerce and the Adfero Group, a D.C. public affairs firm. I was hoping to get an inside look at the secret handshakes of the Washington rainmakers and influencers but it was not to be. Mostly the hill staffers and lobbyists who spoke debated things like whether or not e-mail is the "only way to communicate." It turns out no, it is not.
There were a few interesting nuggets: One powerpoint slide showed results from a poll in which Congressional staffers ranked the information sources they use for research. The Congressional Research Service, which is only starting to become open to the general public, finished first followed by Capitol Hill rags (like The Hill and Roll Call). "Political blogs," meanwhile, finished 15 out of 15 behind "Unsolicited policy materials from advocacy organizations" and "Other types of blogs."
"Everybody says we ought to start using the blogosphere" said Eric Hultman, chief of staff for Nebraska GOP Representative Lee Terry. "Eh, I'm not so sure."
Staffers and lobbyists also shared their concerns, or lack thereof, about new lobbying and ethics reform. A concerned member of the powerful D.C. law firm, Hogan & Hartson, asked about inviting staffers to a reception, with new rules preventing staffers from accepting meals from lobbyists.
"I had a staff member confused by the new ethics rules," recalled Hultman. "He said there was Makers Mark, Grey Goose, shrimp and filet mignon. I asked, 'Did you use a fork?' He said no and so I said, 'Enjoy!'"
The most valuable part of the briefing, however, for this marginalized politcal blogger was an inspiring look at Capitol Hill movers-and-shakers. A slide entitled a "World of Info and Media" gave sage tips like when eating dinner with friends to "check Blackberry twice" and "Multitask on morning commute: listen to podcast of Washington Week while flipping through Washington Post, watch 5-minute video podcast of ABC News Top Headlines, check Blackberry 6 times."
So maybe the secret to Washington advocacy is to never have time to consider life outside of Washington.
To most casual observers of AIDS, which is to say, most people who haven't known anyone afflicted with HIV, the situation seems to be improving rapidly. While this view is not without foundation when looked at from one (narrow) perspective, the reality is far more complicated and determined by class than most media accounts suggest.
The fact is that the spread of HIV and AIDS continues to be a major challenge across the globe, the epidemic is growing and there is concerning evidence that some countries are seeing a resurgence in new infection rates that were previously stable or declining.
According to the UNAIDS/WHO 2006 AIDS Epidemic Update, an estimated 39.5 million people are currently living with HIV. There were 4.3 million new infections in 2006 with 2.8 million (65 percent) of these occurring in sub-Saharan Africa and significant increases seen in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, where there are indications that infection rates have risen by more than 50 percent since 2004. The latest National AIDS Control Organization report showed 72,000 new HIV infections in 2005, compared to 28,000 in 2004 – a 157 percent jump. Most of the new infections are in the 22 to 45 age group. In 2006, 2.9 million people died of AIDS-related illnesses.
This Saturday's World AIDS Day -- the nineteenth -- is trying to keep these facts present in the minds of those whose energy and money have been crucial in combating the disease in the past. Started on December 1, 1988, World AIDS Day is not just about raising money, but also about increasing awareness, fighting prejudice, improving education and reminding people that HIV has not gone away, and that there are many things still to be done.
The day is also an important opportunity for activists to galvanize public and legislative sentiment behind campaigns like Planned Parenthood's call for Congress to halt funding for harmful abstinence-only programs that deny teenagers life-saving information about preventing infections like HIV/AIDS and the National AIDS Housing Coalition's push for policy-makers worldwide to acknowledge the link between stable housing and positive health outcomes when addressing HIV/AIDS prevention, care and treatment.
Here are some ways you can support World AIDS Day, courtesy of the Avert website:
There are also related concerts, panels, parties and all sorts of other events taking place across the globe on Saturday. Check out this site for details.
Give New York Times columnist Paul Krugman a little credit for pointing out the uncomfortable fact that Illinois Senator Barack Obama is campaigning against universal health care.
Krugman explained in Friday's editions of The New York Times:
The central question is whether there should be a health insurance "mandate" -- a requirement that everyone sign up for health insurance, even if they don't think they need it. The Edwards and Clinton plans have mandates; the Obama plan has one for children, but not for adults.
Why have a mandate? The whole point of a universal health insurance system is that everyone pays in, even if they're currently healthy, and in return everyone has insurance coverage if and when they need it.
And it's not just a matter of principle. As a practical matter, letting people opt out if they don't feel like buying insurance would make insurance substantially more expensive for everyone else.
Here's why: under the Obama plan, as it now stands, healthy people could choose not to buy insurance -- then sign up for it if they developed health problems later. Insurance companies couldn't turn them away, because Mr. Obama's plan, like those of his rivals, requires that insurers offer the same policy to everyone.
As a result, people who did the right thing and bought insurance when they were healthy would end up subsidizing those who didn't sign up for insurance until or unless they needed medical care.
In other words, when Mr. Obama declares that "the reason people don't have health insurance isn't because they don't want it, it's because they can't afford it," he's saying something that is mostly true now -- but wouldn't be true under his plan.
The fundamental weakness of the Obama plan was apparent from the beginning. Still, as I said, advocates of health care reform were willing to cut Mr. Obama some slack.
Krugman argues that it is time to stop cutting Obama that slack because the senator has begun defending his flawed plan by echoing right-wing talking points.
"Mr. Obama, who just two weeks ago was telling audiences that his plan was essentially identical to the Edwards and Clinton plans, is attacking his rivals and claiming that his plan is superior. It isn't -- and his attacks amount to cheap shots<"argues Krugman.
"First, Mr. Obama claims that his plan does much more to control costs than his rivals' plans. In fact, all three plans include impressive cost control measures. Second, Mr. Obama claims that mandates won't work, pointing out that many people don't have car insurance despite state requirements that all drivers be insured. Um, is he saying that states shouldn't require that drivers have insurance? If not, what's his point?"
Obama's point is, of course, a political one. He is trying, desperately, to position himself as the one serious challenger to Clinton. To do that, he must distinguish himself both from the national front-runner and from Edwards, who has attracted significant union and grassroots support with his economic populism.
Obama remains, in many senses, the most appealing Democratic contender. And there is good reason to believe that he could emerge in coming weeks as the most serious challenger to Clinton. He could, yet, be the Democratic nominee and the president.
But to do that, Obama must get serious about the major issues. It is not enough to just talk about "a different kind of politics." Obama must practice it, and to do so he must develop coherent plans on issues such as health care.
Obama would not have had a hard time coming up with a better plan than that of Clinton or Edwards, both of which refuse to take the logical step of developing a universal, cost-effective and genuinely health-care oriented single-payer system, as Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich proposes.
But Obama has not tried to distinguish himself by being better than Clinton or Edwards.
Instead, as Krugman notes, "What seems to have happened is that Mr. Obama's caution, his reluctance to stake out a clearly partisan position, led him to propose a relatively weak, incomplete health care plan."
Rather than acknowledge the flaws in his own plan, Obama has attacked Clinton and Edwards in language that does indeed "sound like Rudy Giuliani inveighing against 'socialized medicine.'" And Krugman is right to call the senator out on his wrongheaded approach.
Whoa, let's hold those surging horses in check a moment. Violence has lessened in Iraq. That seems to be a fact of the last two months -- and, for the Iraqis, a positive one, obviously. What to make of the "good news" from Iraq is another matter entirely, one made harder to assess by the chorus of self-congratulation from war supporters and Bush administration officials and allies, as well as by the heavy spin being put on events -- and reported in the media, relatively uncritically.
An exception was Damien Cave of the New York Times, who had a revealing piece on a big story of recent weeks: The return of refugee Baghdadis -- from among the two million or more Iraqis who had fled to Syria and elsewhere -- to the capital. This has been touted as evidence of surge "success" in restoring security in Baghdad, of a genuine turn-around in the war situation. In fact, according to Cave, the trickle of returnees -- lessening recently -- has been heavily "massaged by politics. Returnees have essentially become a currency of progress."
Those modest returnee numbers turn out to include anyone who crossed the Syrian border heading east, including suspected insurgents and Iraqi employees of the New York Times on their way back from visits to relatives in exile in Syria. According to a UN survey of 110 families returning, "46 percent were leaving [Syria] because they could not afford to stay; 25 percent said they fell victim to a stricter Syrian visa policy; and only 14 percent said they were returning because they had heard about improved security." And that's but one warning sign on the nature of the story under the story.
A recent Pew Research Center poll of American reporters who have been working in Iraq finds that "[n]early 90 percent of U.S. journalists in Iraq say much of Baghdad is still too dangerous to visit" and many believe that "coverage has painted too rosy a picture of the conflict." In an on-line chat, the reliable Thomas Ricks of the Washington Post (and author of the bestselling book Fiasco), just back from Baghdad himself, offered his own set of caveats about the situation. He suggested that, in addition to the surge of U.S. troops into the capital's neighborhoods, some combination of other factors may help explain the lessening violence, including the fact that "some Sunni neighborhoods are walled off, and other Sunni areas have been ethnically cleansed. In addition, the Shiite death squads, in addition to killing a lot of innocents, also killed some of the car bomb guys, I am told." Of the dozens of American officers he interviewed, none were declaring success. "[T]o a man, they were enormously frustrated by what they see as the foot-dragging of the Baghdad government." And he points out that violence in Baghdad "is only back down to the 2005 level -- which to my mind is kind of like moving from the eighth circle of hell to the fifth." In 2005, or early 2006, of course, such levels were considered catastrophic.
Robert Parry of Consortium News points out that, while "good news" dominated front pages here, "the darker side" of "success" has "generally been shoved into brief stories deep inside the newspapers." He adds that "the harsh repression surrounding the ‘surge' has drawn far less U.S. press attention."
Jim Lobe of Interpress Service interviewed surge "skeptics" who "argue that the strategy's ‘ground-up' approach to pacification -- buying off local insurgent and tribal groups with money and other support -- may have set the stage for a much bigger and more violent civil war or partition, particularly as U.S. forces begin drawing down from their current high of about 175,000 beginning as early as next month."
In an otherwise unremarkable video-conference press briefing for reporters in Washington, conducted with Col. Jeffrey Bannister, an American front-line officer garrisoning Baghdad neighborhoods, sociologist Michael Schwartz recently caught a fascinating bit of overlooked news. Discussing the arming (and paying) of volunteer citizens to patrol their neighborhoods, the colonel kept referring to an unexplained "five-year plan" for the American presence there that, he indicated, was guiding his actions.
Why, asks Schwartz, based on this, is it reasonable to say that things are still not going well in Iraq? He begins his response this way: "You can tell things can't be going well if your best-case plan is for an armed occupation force to remain in a major Baghdad community for the next five years. It means that the underlying causes of disorder are not being addressed. You can tell things are not going well if five more years are needed to train and activate a local police force, when police training takes about six months."
His conclusion is interesting indeed: "As long as [the Bush adminsitration] is determined to install a friendly, anti-Iranian regime in Baghdad, one that is hostile to 'foreigners,' including all jihadists, but welcomes an ongoing American military presence as well as multinational development of Iraqi oil, the American armed forces aren't going anywhere, not for a long, long time; and no relative lull in the fighting -- temporary or not -- will change that reality. This is the Catch-22 of Bush administration policy in Iraq. The worse things go, the more our military is needed; the better they go, the more our military is needed."
It is too bad that Chuck Hagel decided against running for the Republican nomination for president. While it is true that Texas Congressman Ron Paul is saying much of what the Republican senator from Nebraska would have said about the madness of the war in Iraq, Paul is actually too polite about the madness of the president and the vice president.
Hagel minces no words.
In an address to the Council on Foreign Relations this week, Hagel told the crowd of foreign-policy wonks that he would give the Bush-Cheney administration "the lowest grade of any I've known."
"I have to say this is one of the most arrogant, incompetent administrations I've ever seen or ever read about," said Hagel, according to a report on the meeting that appeared in the Washington Post.
Speaking of Bush, Cheney and those around them, Hagel said: "They have failed the country."
There is much talk about the prospect that Paul might exit the GOP to mount an independent or Libertarian Party bid for the presidency in 2008. But Hagel's willingness to express his fierce disdain for Bush and Cheney in the bluntest of terms offers a reminder that an outsider bid by the Nebraska senator -- either at the top of an independent or Unity Party ticket, or running alongside New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, with whom Hagel again met this week -- remains the more intriguing possibility.
As the lead editorial in The Nation noted last week, the recent maelstrom surrounding Governor Eliot Spitzer's proposal to issue driver licenses to undocumented immigrants revealed the fear-mongering and racism that too often characterizes the so-called "immigration debate." It illustrated once again the desperate need to overcome the demagoguing and engage in an informed conversation – all the more challenging as people feel increasing economic anxiety and dislocation.
That's why a report released recently by the Fiscal Policy Institute (FPI) – Working for a Better Life: A Profile of Immigrants in the New York Economy – is such a critical contribution at this moment. FPI does rigorous analysis to promote public policies that create a strong economy in which prosperity is broadly shared by all New Yorkers. This report reveals that immigrants – making up 21 percent of the state's residents – added $229 billion to the New York State economy in 2006, representing 22.4 percent of the state's Gross Domestic Product.
"These figures should wipe away any impression that immigrants are holding the New York economy back," said David Dyssegaard Kallick, senior fellow of the Fiscal Policy Institute and principal author of the report. "In fact, immigrants are a central component of New York's economic growth." And Kallick told me, "The debate around immigration has gotten so overheated that it's become difficult to distinguish myth and hyperbole from simple reality…."
According to the report, New York City immigrants make up 37 percent of the population and 46 percent of the labor force. They are more likely than U.S.-born residents to live in families in the middle-income brackets. Immigrants represent 25 percent of CEOs who live in New York City, half of accountants, one-third of office clerks, one-third of receptionists, and one-third of building cleaners. In sector after sector, immigrants are found in the top, middle, and bottom rungs of the economic ladder.
In the downstate suburbs, 18 percent of all residents are foreign-born, with immigrants making up 23 percent of the labor force. More immigrants work as registered nurses than in any other occupation. 41 percent of physicians and surgeons in the downstate suburbs are foreign-born, as are 28 percent of college and university professors, 22 percent of accountants and auditors, and 19 percent of financial managers.
In upstate New York, five percent of the population is foreign-born, but immigrants play a disproportionately important role in some key areas: immigrants make up 20 percent of all professors; 35 percent of physicians and surgeons; 20 percent of computer software engineers and 13 percent of computer scientists and systems analysts. An estimated 80 percent of the seasonal workers who pick the crops are immigrants.
"This report clearly proves that immigrants fuel growth and vitality in every economic sector and every geographic area in New York," said Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of The New York Immigration Coalition.
"A wave of federal raids, ‘real ID' cards, or English only ordinances may be intended just to affect undocumented immigrants, but the reality is that they tear apart families and communities," Kallick told me. "If we create an anti-immigrant political climate, we run a very real risk of alienating exactly the people who are helping revitalize urban areas and contributing to economic growth…."
The report also finds that immigrants are subject to the same economic forces as everyone else in our increasingly polarized economy. "We can see that low-wage workers – both immigrants and U.S.-born – are not sharing in the economy's growth," said David R. Jones, president and CEO of the Community Service Society of NY. "The right answer is to enforce basic standards that are good for all low-wage workers, not to pit one group of workers against another."
Andrea Batista Schlesinger, executive director of the Drum Major Institute, recently wrote, "The ‘immigration debate' is a misnomer. The debate isn't just about illegal immigrants. It's not even just about immigrants. It's about the future of America and the role of all American workers in that future…. recognizing the economic contributions of immigrants while strengthening their hand in the workplace can define a progressive agenda that will unite both immigrants and native workers."
Yet we see in the presidential campaign that Republicans continue to fight over who will be "toughest on illegals", and most of the Democratic candidates tiptoe around the issues to avoid saying anything that might be used against them by any interest group. Kallick noted, "The two leading candidates in the primaries are from New York. We hope this report will make them aware of what's at stake as they fumble around for a position on immigration…. The right answer on immigration would include not just policies to help immigrants succeed, but also efforts to enforce labor laws and improve standards for all workers…. What we would hope for in a candidate is a leader who could wrench the discussion away from inflammatory talk radio and steer the country toward a sensible set of policies. We haven't seen that from the front-runners yet. But there's still time."
Tom Tancredo, the immigration-crazed congressman from Colorado, is never going to be the Republican nominee for president. But Wednesday's night's CNN/YouTube debate confirmed that he has prevailed in the contest of ideas -- if raw xenophobia can be called an idea.
For much of the first stretch of what should have been a critical debate for candidates who are racing toward Iowa caucuses that are now just six weeks away, the Republicans who would be president stumbled over one another to out-Tancredo Tancredo. And, while they did not quite rival the congressman's rabid rhetoric, the other contenders made it clear that they can be just as crudely aggressive as the Coloradan when it comes to rejecting the Biblical injunction to welcome the stranger.
After former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney tore into Rudy Giuliani for being insufficiently hateful toward immigrants during his time as mayor of New York, Giuliani ripped Romney for employing undocumented workers in his home.
The two leading Republican contenders, who were standing next to one another on the stage in St. Petersburg, Florida, raised their voices to levels rarely heard in presidential debates as Giuliani accused Romney of operating a "sanctuary mansion."
Noting that during Romney's tenure as governor six Massachusetts cities had committed to treat immigrants with respect and sensitivity -- identifying themselves as "sanctuary cities" -- Giuliani growled, "In his case, there were six sanctuary cities. He did nothing about them. There was a sanctuary mansion -- at his own home, illegal immigrants were being employed."
Romney angrily denied the allegation before attacking the candidate who actually poses a bigger threat -- at least in Iowa -- to his tenuous front-runner status, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, for being soft on children.
Huckabee, who is now essentially tied with Romney among likely Iowa caucus goers, allowed as how it was reasonable to provide education to the children of undocumented immigrants -- on the theory that children ought not suffer because of the status of their parents.
That might be a position that George W. Bush would respect, but Romney was having none of it. Insisting that giving the children of immigrants equal access to education amounted to "preferential treatment," Romney sneered at Huckabee, "Mike, that's not your money, that's the taxpayers' money. Illegals are not going to get better breaks than our own citizens."
Of course, equal access to education is not a "better break" for anyone. But logic is not required at a Republican debate where immigrant-bashing is on the agenda.
Indeed, it fell to the Tancredo to offer the most reasonable assessment of the evening.
The most explicitly anti-immigrant candidate for the presidency since the demise of the Know-Nothing Party observed that the other -- supposedly more credible -- Republican contenders were attempting to "out-Tancredo" him.
On this point, there could be no debate.
This is supposed to be Mike Huckabee's make-or-break night.
The former Arkansas governor has emerged as the potential "Jimmy Carter" of the 2008 presidential race – a virtual unknown from the south who, with little money and few national endorsements, uses a breakthrough win in the Iowa caucuses to go national. Huckabee is now statistically tied with the GOP frontrunner in Iowa, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.
A strong performance in tonight's CNN/YouTube Republican debate could give Huckabee, who must rely on free media to offset Romney's self-financed "money-is-no-object" campaign, the boost he needs to take the lead.
But with competitiveness should come scrutiny. And that is why tonight's debate must address the fundamental – or, perhaps, we should say fundamentalist -- question that has been raised by the rise of Huckabee.
Is the Arkansan's campaign intentionally stoking anti-Mormon bias in order to draw evangelical conservatives in Iowa and elsewhere away from Romney's bandwagon?
No serious observer of what's playing out in Iowa will disagree with the New York Times assessment that: "The religious divide over Mitt Romney's Mormon faith that his supporters had long feared would occur is emerging in Iowa as he is being challenged in state polls by Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist pastor who has played up his faith in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination. Mr. Huckabee's rise in Iowa -- some recent polls now put him in a dead heat with Mr. Romney, who had led surveys for months -- has been fueled by evangelical Christians, who believe Mormonism runs counter to Christian orthodoxy."
Huckabee backers in Iowa have been quoted as referring to Romney, a member of one of Mormonism's most prominent families, as a politician "who's going to be acting on an anti-Christian faith as the basis of their decision-making." The former Arkansas governor's Iowa campaign co-chair, veteran Republican activist Daniel Carroll, has been quoted as saying that Christians prefer Huckabee over Romney because Huckabee "prays to the God of the Bible.'
Mormon's do pray to the God of the Bible, by they add another book to the Old and New Testaments: The Book of Mormon. Evangelicals reject the Book of Mormon as false prophesy. And they mince few words with regard to Mormons. "Evangelicals who conclude Mormonism a cult do conclude that Mormons' prayers to God do not ‘get through' because they are not actually petitioning the God of the Bible but a deity of a cultic base," writes Maine pastor Joseph Grant Swank Jr., who writes frequently about what evangelicals refer to as "truth-in-conviction" matters.
In a pluralistic society, evangelicals have a right to their views, as do Mormons.
So what is the question for Huckabee? A simple one: Does he, as someone who seeks to be the president of the United States, respect and endorse Article VI, Section 3, of the Constitution, which states that: "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States"?
If Huckabee were to be nominated for the presidency, he would on January 20, 2009, place his hand on a Bible and swear a solemn oath to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
That oath, necessarily, requires a rejection of precisely the sort of religious test that Huckabee backers are applying to Mitt Romney.
If Huckabee avows that he is indeed committed to the Constitution, and if he declares that he opposes the application of any religious test, then he must face a second question: Will the candidate Mike Huckabee and the Huckabee campaign make it absolutely clear that they want neither the support nor the votes of those who would oppose Mitt Romney's candidacy on the basis of religion?