I Declare Amnesty (No, Not That Amnesty)

We’ve entered the post-Labor Day season, during which, by tradition, many voters will begin taking our presidential race seriously.

Meanwhile, many of us have already been paying attention, and we like what we see far less than usual. We’re doing things like leaving our political parties and wondering if our deluded country isn’t worth our political exertions any more.

It’s time for me to make an announcement.

My friends, I am neither God nor the government, so I don’t expect you to think this is earthshaking, but . . .

I hereby grant you amnesty.

Perhaps I should explain.

To Whom and for What?

Yes, amnesty.

To all of you.

No, not for everything you may have done lately. For example, some of you primary voters got us a choice between Trump and Clinton. I’m not presently offering amnesty for that.

Today’s amnesty is mostly preemptive. It’s for your vote or lack thereof in the presidential race this November — and for any reasons, opinions, or gut feelings you may have or offer in support of that vote (or nonvote).

Why I’m No Longer a Republican

The “what” is in my title. Here’s the “why.”

It may help if I explain why I was a Republican in the first place — officially for one-third of a century, and unofficially for several years before that.

Reagan and Me

I conducted my first political poll before the 1976 Republican presidential primary in Idaho. I was in fifth grade. As went my poll of voters’ children, so went the actual vote in my adopted home state: former California Governor Ronald Reagan won by a huge margin over incumbent President Gerald Ford. Ford went on to win the nomination, then lost to Democrat and former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter. Reagan was elected president in 1980 and reelected in 1984.

Even in 1976 I was aware that the GOP didn’t really want Ronald Reagan. He was too conservative for the party establishment. As we saw then and more strikingly in 1980, much of the rank and file felt differently.

Ronald Reagan
Photo courtesy of Ronald Reagan Library.

The Post I Never Finished Last Year (Updated)

For me 2015 was, among other things, a year in which I didn’t blog as much as I hoped to, and didn’t finish some of the writing I started.

I’m trying to avoid that this year, in part by scaling back my expectations, but also by doing a little better outside of election season. There are things other than politics and government about which I want to write — am writing — elsewhere, but these things matter too.

I have fragments of an unpublished post from last year in which I predicted some things for the coming year. I thought it might be interesting to look back, forward, and around on the same topics one year later.

SB 296, SB 297, Religious Freedom, and Nondiscrimination

My readers may know two things about me, based on statements in public meetings, private conversations, or what I wrote at this blog’s predecessor, LocalCommentary.com.

First, for a long time I have supported local and state legislation to prohibit discrimination in housing and employment based on actual or perceived gender identity or sexual orientation.

Second, the level of my confidence in the Utah legislature is perennially low.

These two themes came together last year at about this time, as the Utah legislature sat on its hands and refused even to debate last year’s version of a non-discrimination law (SB 100). I wrote:

It’s an extraordinarily discerning litmus test, where Mormon Utah Republicans are concerned. It tells us where people land on the freedom-versus-using-my-power-to-compel-universal-righteousness spectrum, which sometimes seems to be the primary axis of Utah politics.

Beyond the moral principles on which society generally agrees, and finds suitable for regulation by law, I believe that sinners as I define them and sinners as you define them deserve political, economic, and religious freedom. I believe that a person’s violation of someone else’s sectarian principles (or his own) should not jeopardize the roof over his head or his means of earning his daily bread, assuming he doesn’t work for an organization with a primary mission to promote those principles. . . .

I . . . believe that the greatest and most constant threat to free and healthy society and good government in Utah is the subset of Mormons who think the law is a suitable tool for imposing their principles on all people — and who think that this is somehow a proper exercise of their religious freedom. (“I Am Unfit for the Utah Legislature,” February 5, 2014. See also “Rights and Rites and Right and the Rights” and “Tonight in American Fork.”)

When the Utah Legislature took up the topics of nondiscrimination and religious freedom this year, I was skeptical of their competence to produce wise legislation on such a topic, and skeptical of their good will, too.

I Almost Forgot the Proposed Amendments

For Utah voters, there are three proposed amendments to the state constitution on the ballot this election. I realized this a few days ago, having already published my quirky, opinionated voter’s guide.

Here is a brief account of all three, with some of my thoughts appended. For more information, see the Utah Voter Information Pamphlet for this election and this piece from the Deseret News.

Constitutional Amendment A: Qualifications of State Tax Commission Members

The Utah State Tax Commission is essentially a panel of administrative judges who hear appeals on tax matters. They also issue administrative rules related to Utah tax laws. Currently, the Utah Constitution provides that no more than two of the four commissioners may be of the same political party. Amendment A proposes to remove that limitation and to authorize the Utah Legislature to determine other qualifications for the positions.

Recommended Small, Daily Doses

Books

Many books make sense, more or less, if you read them in small pieces, day after day. Some don’t. Here are some books that are particularly well suited to brief, daily reading.

Audio

A valuable companion to Reagan, In His Own Hand is Reagan in His Own Voice, which features audio recordings of dozens of his radio spots, with some commentary for context. This lives on my iPod and brings back memories of many early mornings in my youth.

(Links here are to my Amazon store. Purchases support this site.)

Do you have favorite daily doses?

Cheese, Sunroof, Freedom

Author's Note

This is the third in a three-part series of essays on freedom in America. The first was entitled, “The Gulf Which Divides Us.” The second was “I Am a Tocqueville Conservative.”

Cheese, Sunroof, Freedom

In a fit of dietary decadence a few weeks ago, I went to a Wendy’s drive-through and ordered a “single.” The Voice asked, “Would you like cheese on that?” I declined. I like cheese and cheeseburgers well enough, but I didn’t want to pay the extra quarter or whatever.

A couple of years ago I bought a well-used Honda Accord EX, which has a slightly peppier engine than the base model. It also has a sunroof. I wasn’t specifically shopping for an EX; that’s just what there was. The sunroof is fun, but I wouldn’t have chosen it as option at additional cost.

Freedom is like cheese and sunroofs. (I wonder if that sentence has ever been written in English before.) All else being equal, almost everyone loves freedom — and cheese and sunroofs, I suppose — but only some people are willing to pay any significant price for it.

You may have beaten me to two points. First, the word freedom is attached to so many concepts, including some which are mutually contradictory, that there’s little point it discussing it without a clear, specific definition of what it means in the present context. Second, when was “all else” ever equal?

I Am a Tocqueville Conservative

Author's Note

This is the second in a three-part series of essays on freedom in America. The first is entitled, “The Gulf Which Divides Us.” The third is called “Cheese, Sunroof, Freedom.”

I am and always have been a bookish fellow. (I do not wish to boast or drop names, but to make a point.) In the discipline of political theory I have read a lot of Franklin, Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, and the others. I’ve studied the debates at the 1787 Constitutional Convention. I have spent fascinating hours — sometimes months — reading and discussing Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Macchiavelli, Locke, Hobbes, Burke, Mill, Hegel, and . . . the list goes on.

I’ve also carefully studied some thinkers who particularly terrify a certain sort of conservative, the one who thinks that the safest intellectual course is never to wrestle with the words of those who disagree. As I write this, I’m about ten feet from a bookcase, one shelf of which is filled with well-marked writings of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Bakunin, Fourier, Saint-Simon and a number of other socialists and communists of whom most people never hear and never want to.

Some of these thinkers have influenced my own thought profoundly, as in many cases they influenced each other; some have merely challenged or informed, which is also useful.

You’re now thinking that it’s a wonder I can function at all in normal human society, or communicate plainly enough to buy a postage stamp. Perhaps it is.

There’s another thing that may surprise you about all this. I have not named the two individuals who I suspect have had the greatest influence on my political thought.