Ten Defining Phrases of 2012

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President Barack Obama (R) shakes hands with Mitt Romney after the debate. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Generally, we only know how history will be remembered once it is in the rearview mirror. Something, or some things, jump out and remain indelible in the collective memories of the culture. And in a world defined by sound bytes, sometimes only a few words tell us a lot about that moment in time.

In that spirit, here are my selections for the ten most defining phrases that will stay with us from the past year.

What the Most Negative Election in U.S. History Says About Us

In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, we learned that President Barack Obama would remain the leader of the free world. But his victory came at a price. He and Governor Mitt Romney now have the honor of participating in the most negative election in United States history.

“The campaign has already set records for nastiness and negativity,” Senator Joseph Lieberman commented to CNN in August. Howard Fineman echoed the sentiments on the Huffington Post, calling it “the nastiest, most abrasive personally accusatory presidential campaign in modern times.”

It’s hard to argue with their assessments, but does anyone care? And if so, what are we going to do about it?

Every campaign has a measure of negativity, but 2012 was exceptional.

Every campaign has a measure of negativity, but 2012 was exceptional. Mudslinging became an art form, and the lack of truth-telling turned “fact-checking” into a cottage industry. At one time in this country, disagreements could be settled by a good old-fashioned duel. (If you don’t believe me, ask Aaron Burr.) But in the media age, guns are no longer necessary. We have commercials.

The campaigns unleashed roughly 1,000,000 television ads during this election, and a record four out of five were negative.

‘Mormon Moment’ Ends with a Loss — But Romney’s Religion Still Won


Mitt Romney concedes defeat to President Barack Obama Nov. 7, 2012 in Boston, Massachusetts. EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

SALT LAKE CITY — Mormons in Utah and across the nation were thrilled by the prospect that one of their own might occupy the highest office in the land.

That won’t happen now. But Mitt Romney came closer than any other Latter-day Saint since that once-beleaguered brand of Christianity burst onto the American scene in 1830.

"For many Latter-day Saints, it was a surprise that a Mormon candidate was able to make it as far as Mitt," said Stuart Reid, a Mormon and a Republican state senator from Ogden, Utah. "He’s done more than any single person in recent church history to share with the general public what a Mormon is, putting up a very positive image about Mormons and creating interest in our faith that was unprecedented."

Despite the defeat for Romney, Mormonism came out a winner, said Philip Barlow, chair of Mormon history and culture at Utah State University.

"It developed a thicker skin in the eyes of the world," Barlow said, "and the world could see that a Mormon who runs for office isn’t, by definition, a nut case."

Overall, most observers say, the Romney candidacy was a net positive for his Utah-based faith.

Breaking Personal Pledge, Southern Baptist Leader Land Endorses Romney

Richard Land

Richard Land

Breaking a1e longstanding personal pledge, Southern Baptist leader Richard Land has endorsed GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, saying next week's election is the most important since Abraham Lincoln's win in 1860 and he can no longer stay silent.

“America is at a fork in the road and must choose between a President Barack Obama who wants to remake America in the model of a European welfare state and a Governor Mitt Romney who wants to restore a more economically vibrant and traditionally moral America,” Land wrote in an Oct. 26 column in the Christian Post.

Land, who is executive editor of the independent Christian Post and the top public policy spokesman for the SBC, said the “stark and revealing” differences between the Republicans and Democrats on abortion rights and same-sex marriage guided his decision. 

“For Christians of traditional religious faith, there cannot be more fundamental issues than the protection of the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death and the defense of marriage as a divinely-ordained institution between one man and one woman,” he wrote.

Land’s endorsement comes just as Romney's campaign has been trying to cast the candidate in a moderate light by downplaying the Republican’s views on abortion and gay rights and saying voters should not expect him to take significant action on those social issues if he is elected.

Obama's Biggest Religious Coalition? The Nones

The largest slice of President Barack Obama’s religious coalition -- at 23 percent --  is not very religious.

They’re the “nones,” also known as unaffiliated voters, according to a new American Values Survey by the Public Religion Research Institute.

Gov. Mitt Romney’s biggest bloc of religious voters are white evangelical Protestants, at 37 percent, followed by white mainline Protestants and white Catholics, each at 19 percent. Comparing the candidates' supporters, the more diverse religious and nonreligious coalition that's favoring Obama tends to be younger and growing, which could make it easier for Democrats to win elections in the future.

But there’s a down side for Obama, said Dan Cox, PRRI’s research director.

“The people most likely to support him are the least likely to vote: Latinos, the millennials (voters 18-29), and the unaffiliated,” Cox said.

Survey: Gap Between 'Social Justice' and 'Right to Life' Catholics

More American Catholics believe their religious leaders should be focused on issues related to poverty and social justice during this election season, rather than spending time and energy on other issues such as abortion, according to a new survey released this week by the Public Religion Research Institute.

The results of the 2012 American Values Survey demonstrate that American Catcholics -- and the "Catholic vote" -- is far from the monolith some politicians might like to believe they are.

"The survey confirms that there is no such thing as the 'Catholic vote,'" Robert P. Jones, CEO of PPRI and co-author of the report, told Reuters. "There are a number of critical divisions among Catholics, including an important divide between 'social justice' and "right to life' Catholics."

For instance, on the question of the public engagement of the church, the 2012 American Values Survey found important divisions between Catholics who prefer a “social justice” emphasis that focuses on helping the poor and Catholics who prefer a “right to life” emphasis that focuses on issues such as abortion.

Evangelicals Mobilizing for Romney Campaign

RNS photo by Katherine Cresto via Flickr

Mitt Romney speaks to crowd in Nashua, NH.RNS photo by Katherine Cresto via Flickr

The Romney-Ryan ticket is the first Republican presidential campaign in history without a Protestant candidate, but this hasn't deterred evangelicals from launching massive get-out-the-vote and registration efforts to help Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan win the White House.

Faith and Freedom Coalition founder Ralph Reed, who has been involved in pushing evangelicals to the polls since 1988, has launched what he described as the "largest voter registration, voter mobilization and get-out-the-vote effort ever targeted at evangelical voters," specifically those who would be new additions to the voter rolls.

Reed's effort targets not only presidential swing states but also those with critical Senate and House races to help elect conservatives down ballot as well.

Working with third-party contractors, Reed and his group were able to identify and mail voter registration packets to slightly less than 2 million unregistered evangelicals based on everything from Census data to television preferences to what books they may have purchased online.

"There are millions of Bibles purchased in the United States every month. Most people aren't interested in finding out who is buying those Bibles — I am," Reed said.

Reed said he has a voter file of 17 million evangelicals in battleground states, and each household will be contacted seven to 12 times before the election through mail, email, phone calls and text messages.

Debating the Value of the Debates

file404 / Shutterstock

Conceptual abstract background: Communication. file404 / Shutterstock

Why, exactly, does it matter if President Barack Obama gave a lackluster performance in the recent presidential debate?

These quadrennial campaign sideshows have nothing to do with one's capability, preparation, aptitude or suitability for the presidency.

Why does Gov. Mitt Romney's spirited performance matter? What does a “victory” by one candidate mean, other than momentary bragging rights?

Surely we know that these debates are about as meaningful as an Oscar winner's thank-you speech. What we want from a president is a steady hand in dealing with a wicked and wayward world, a collaborative spirit in bringing a broad reach to government, and a magnanimous spirit in consoling war widows, helping victims of disaster, protecting the weak from the relentless predations of the strong, and trying to preserve an “American Dream” to which all, not just a few, are invited. We want signs of character, not a telegenic mien.

Presidential debates are like first visits to possible in-laws. You hope not to belch at supper — and then you return to the world where you are actually exploring marriage and building a life.