Starts at 34:21

Sen. Smith: Both the Democratic and Republican Parties are uncomfortable coalitions. The Democrats are labour unions, environmentalists, trial lawyers and ah, other assorted miscreants.

Laughter from Sen. Smith and the room

Sen. Smith: Shouldn’t be that judgemental, I know.

Sen. Smith: The Republican party are economic types, they are Christian evangelical conservatives. They tend to be culturally conservative people, and so the Republican Party’s ability to hold to family values – well I’m glad I did. I know I paid a political price for it in a secular state.

See video here.

The recently released “Mormon Leaks” videos allow a previously unseen part of the operation of the upper echelons of the Church. Most of the content of these videos are benign, however there are a few pearlers. One of them concerns the opinion presented by Senator Gordon Smith regarding his feelings about certain “democratic policies” such as universal health care. He refers to such schemes as being of the “Pyramid” variety and that they cause people to look to government and not God. He further outlines that this is why more socialist countries are rejecting the church.

I’m sure the 90% of readers of this blog that are from the USA have an opinion about this. Here in Australia we are (unfortunately) exposed to a great deal of your political commentary. I would hesitate to say that an average Australian is far more versed on US politics than visa versa. Your recent Presidential debate was televised live here (I watched some of it). I’m no political scholar and many reading would have complex understanding of the finer points of such things. I’d like to offer a couple of thoughts from an Australian perspective as I try to make sense of what he is possibly getting at here.

  1. Universal Health Care – known as Medicare in Australia – is not socialism.

Regardless of whether you might support a Medicare style system or not, the presence of such a system does not make the country or its supporters socialists. Some aspects of service to the population are arguably better provided by government. Most countries have socialised (I’ll just use this term) education, child welfare and protective services, road building and policing services. For profit companies may augment or provide specialist skills to a component of these services.

A Medicare type of health service, as in Australia, does NOT provide FREE health care. I recall watching the Michael Moore doco “Sicko” where he tells his story of the health system in the US. In speaking with some Canadian citizens (and I think some UK citizens as well), they mistakenly refer to the system as providing free health care. Tax payers in Australia make a contribution of 2% of their taxable income to the Medicare levy. This partially funds the provision of health services to those who require them. Anyone is also free to obtain health insurance (similar to the US) and they then do not pay the levy.

I can’t see how this is fundamentally different to a percentage of your taxes going towards education, roads or cops. People use these services to a greater or lesser extent, but everyone who pays taxes contributes.

For those who do not pay tax or are on government benefits the health costs are minimal.

His reference to a universal health care system being a pyramid scheme is laughable. Wikipedia summarises a pyramid scheme as:

“…a business model that recruits members via a promise of payments or services for enrolling others into the scheme, rather than supplying investments or sale of products or services. As recruiting multiplies, recruiting becomes quickly impossible, and most members are unable to profit; as such, pyramid schemes are unsustainable and often illegal”.

  1. Democrats are (insert job type), Republicans are (insert philosophical position)

I find it really interesting that Smith categorises a democrat as belonging to a certain type of job – environmentalist, trial lawyer. So they are whinging, protesting idealists that defend murderers. On the other hand, Republicans are categorised using a philosophical descriptor – conservatives, economic types. So they are responsible, religious and cultured. This is classic in/out group bias and is almost exclusively what is peddled during any political battle. Such behaviour was studied extensively by Henri Tajfel.

In Tajfel’s studies, participants were split into groups by flipping a coin, and each group then was told to appreciate a certain style of painting none of the participants were familiar with when the experiment began. What Tajfel and his colleagues discovered was that—regardless of the facts that a) participants did not know each other, b) their groups were completely meaningless, and c) none of the participants had any inclination as to which “style” they like better—participants almost always “liked the members of their own group better and they rated the members of their in-group as more likely to have pleasant personalities”. By having a more positive impression of individuals in the in-group, individuals are able to boost their own self-esteem as members of that group.

In a room full of Republican voters and supporters, Smith’s comments sought to boost the strong in group mentality. I wonder, were such a presentation be given today, what sorts of discussions would be had regarding Trump as the Republican Presidential candidate.

From an Australian perspective, Smith’s commentary raises an interesting point. On a sliding scale, our Republican Party equivalent – the Liberal Party – is probably more “socialist” than the US Democratic party. So, by definition, Smith has lumped pretty much all mainstream Australian political parties in the “miscreant” category.

I felt a great deal of concern with the partisan nature of the political statements made by Smith in the context of the meeting with the Church Executive. Speak about policies, speak about ideas – but completely disparaging an entire party and those who vote for them is highly inappropriate.  And I’m pretty confident that Smith was unable to see (as were his audience) how that myopic perspective was little use to that group who are meant to be leading an international series of congregations. Those of us in far flung countries often shake our heads when the church seems to adopt US centric cultural and religious policies. Prop 8, SSM and the apparent attack on religious freedom are prime recent examples. Australia will have a plebiscite in 2017 about SSM. I’m 100% confident that the church will not take any interest in that (locally maybe, but no further than Australia). We are in the process of legalising Marijuana as well. Heard nothing. We have a heroin injecting room in Sydney that opened 10 – 15 years ago. Didn’t hear anything then either. In 1997 the Australian Government pretty much disarmed the entire nation. That was done by a Liberal (Republican equivalent) leader. No comment from the Church.

So there’s a few thoughts on Sen Smith’s comments from a perspective outside the USA. I think statements from the Q15 regarding the political neutrality of the Church are going to be a little harder to sell following the release of this video. I’m not sure if I am more concerned about the over-involvement of the Church in US political matters or their complete lack of interest in pretty much any political situation outside the US.

I’m particularly interested in hearing from those outside the US regarding your thoughts on Smith’s comments.