Facts, a trilogy
April 20, 2012By Dick Polman
Three items have caught my eye:
Here we go, with the Mormon thing. Brian Schweitzer, the Democratic governor of Montana, apparently decided yesterday that impugning Mitt Romney's religious faith would be a great way to help Barack Obama. Not.
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Schweitzer contended that Romney will have problems connecting with women voters. That's supposedly because "his family came from a polygamy commune in Mexico. (Women) aren't great fans of polygamy, 86 percent were not great fans of polygamy. I am not alleging by any stretch that Romney is a polygamist and approves of polygamy lifestyle, but his father was born into (a) polygamy commune in Mexico."
Short-hand message: polygamy equals Mormonism equals weird.
Moreover, Schweitzer was playing fast and loose with the facts. (What's up with that "86 percent" stat? I can't determine where that came from.) It's true that Romney's father was born in Mexico, to Mormon parents who settled there with other Mormons after the U.S. government lowered the boom on polygamy. But, by all accounts, Romney's parents were monogamous, and, more importantly, the church has officially banned polygamy for the past 108 years.
During the Republican primaries, some evangelical Christian leaders characterized Mormonism as a weird cult, and, just as in his 2008 bid, Romney fared poorly with evangelical Christian voters. But Schweitzer is the first prominent Democrat to cast aspersions on the faith (aspersions that are more than a century out of date), and an Obama spokesman swiftly responded: "Attacking a candidate's religion is out of bounds, and our campaign will not engage in it, and we don’t think others should either."
Granted, the roots of Mormonism seem weird to outsiders - that Joseph Smith unearthed a book of golden plates from a New York hillside in 1827 with the help of an angel, and translated hieroglyphics to discover that Jesus came to North America after his resurrection - but, as I've noted before, most faiths have elements that look weird to outsiders. Like the parting of the Red Sea.
But here's the most basic fact: Article VI of the U.S. Constitution states that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." That should be good enough for everyone, including the fact-challenged charlatans who somehow still think that Obama is a Muslim and therefore an existential threat to the republic.
Speaking of fact-challenged charlatans, I'm glad to see that Republican Congressman Allen West is finally getting a smidgen of public attention for his April 10 smear-assertion that "75 to 81" House Democrats are actually "members of the Communist Party." Indeed, a writer for The Chicago Tribune has invoked the West whopper in a brilliant tongue-in-cheek obituary about the death of Facts ("360 B.C. - 2012 A.D. After years of health problems, Facts has finally died").
Check it out. I only wish I had thought of it:
To the shock of most sentient beings, Facts died Wednesday, April 18, after a long battle for relevancy with the 24-hour news cycle, blogs and the Internet. Though few expected Facts to pull out of its years-long downward spiral, the official cause of death was from injuries suffered last week when Florida Republican Rep. Allen West steadfastly declared that as many as 81 of his fellow members of the U.S. House of Representatives are communists. Facts held on for several days after that assault - brought on without a scrap of evidence or reason - before expiring peacefully at its home in a high school physics book. Facts was 2,372.
"It's very depressing," said Mary Poovey, a professor of English at New York University and author of A History of the Modern Fact. "I think the thing Americans ought to miss most about facts is the lack of agreement that there are facts. This means we will never reach consensus about anything. Tax policies, presidential candidates. We'll never agree on anything."
Facts was born in ancient Greece, the brainchild of famed philosopher Aristotle. Poovey said that in its youth, Facts was viewed as "universal principles that everybody agrees on..."
Facts is survived by two brothers, Rumor and Innuendo, and a sister, Emphatic Assertion.
But in a refreshing ode to empirical fact, the quote of the week goes to conservative legal scholar Henry Paul Monaghan, a longtime critic of liberal judicial activism, a defender of Reagan high court nominee Robert Bork, and a fan of the Roberts court's 2010 Citizens United ruling. He's now the fifth prominent conservative (three of them, federal judges) to read the literal language of the Commerce Clause and conclude that Obamacare's insurance coverage mandate is constitutional:
The individual health mandate surely passes constitutional muster under settled judicial principles. The Constitution’s Commerce Clause grants Congress the authority "to regulate commerce...among the several States." The Court's precedents establish without question that Congress may regulate intrastate economic activities that Congress (not the Court) reasonably concludes have a substantial effect on interstate commerce. The existence of such congressional authority is especially clear when the challenged provision itself is part of a comprehensive legislative scheme that regulates interstate commerce.
Moreover, the market for health care is distinctive....(U)nlike other markets, uninsured individuals who are unable to pay directly for needed medical services necessarily shift the cost of those services to others - to health care providers, the government, individuals with insurance, and taxpayers....The purported limit on congressional power favored by the mandate's opponents - between constitutionally permissible regulation of "activity" and unconstitutional regulation of "inactivity" - is simply unknown to Commerce Clause jurisprudence, is wholly unworkable, and makes no economic sense.
Hey, maybe there's still some life in our old friend Facts after all.
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