PROVO Most LDS students at Brigham Young University are too deferential to the Bush administration, a BYU professor said Monday during a panel discussion about Vice President Dick Cheney and the war on terror.
Professor Scott Cooper said many BYU conservatives refuse to question President Bush or Cheney on virtually anything, but he agreed with another panelist that much of the faculty is just the opposite.
Professor Ralph Hancock said, "It is hard to find someone on the faculty willing to say something good about the administration."
During the 90-minute discussion at the Varsity Theater in the Wilkinson Student Center, Hancock, like the other three political science professors on the panel, criticized some decisions made by Bush and Cheney.
The panelists all agreed that BYU's Board of Trustees made a respectable decision when it invited Cheney to speak at commencement on April 26.
"The real question is: Where do we go from here?" Middle East expert Donna Lee Bowen said after the discussion. "We have people thinking and talking. Who else can we bring in to make people think harder?"
A desire for deeper thought and better questions led Cooper to express concern for what he said is increased polarity in American political dialogue. He sees a growing tendency on both the political left and right to overlook the faults of those on their "team."
First, he took on the far left, saying it is too critical of Bush and Cheney when it vilifies them and portrays Cheney as "the evil puppetmaster of the president."
But on the right, Cooper said, too many Americans, especially many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at BYU, are willing to give the Bush administration a free pass.
"Instead of vocal criticism of poor policies, they say, 'I support the president,' 'I respect the office,' and nothing else," he said. "It's the Pied Piper model of American politics. This model is an electoral monarchy. We elect a king and allow him to do what he wants for four or eight years."
Cooper said the philosophy is more pronounced among members of the LDS Church, who he said especially practice it if the president is known to pray.
"I don't think Mormons would be as deferential to presidential power if Bill Clinton were the one fighting the war on terror."
Christensen said feminist groups that supported Clinton engaged in similar evasion during the Monica Lewinsky affair. "They said, 'We don't need to look at that; let's look at his record,'" Christensen said. "Even when it might be the right thing to do, some can't bring themselves to agree with criticism of their candidate."
Hancock supported the administration during the panel discussion and asked, "Is it not obvious the leadership of the Democratic Party and the mainstream media openly hope for defeat in Iraq?"
But Hancock, a specialist in political philosophy, said the administration underestimated what it would take to achieve stability after unseating Saddam Hussein in Iraq, simplistically believed democracy would be the natural desire of Iraqis and did not properly prepare Americans for how expensive and extensive war would be.
Hancock also said there were notable defects in the leadership of the president and vice president in preparing for the aftermath of the war.
Hancock also called for better debate at BYU about Cheney's visit and politics in general.
"We need more serious and informed political debate, not just more debate or more open political debate. We need good, strong discussions without exciting all these sensibilities about orthodoxy and dissidence."
Human rights specialist Darren Hawkins criticized Cheney's public positions on torture.
Bowen said she preferred the 1991 version of Dick Cheney, who preached against going to Baghdad after Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War because of potential destabilization in the region.
BYU student Megan Mitchell of Sydney, Australia, appreciated the panel discussion.
"What I think was useful was the idea that there is no need to think just because I'm a Mormon I'm going to be a Republican or think a certain way," Mitchell said. "I think it's a constructive discussion to be having. Like one of the panelists said, we need to be willing to ask the big questions and the tough questions.
"Without doing that, it's hard to say you're really engaging the topic."A political science professor who missed the panel discussion disagreed with Cooper's assessment of BYU Mormons. "I don't agree with the statement that somehow Republicans at BYU are more prone to do that," said Ray Christensen, who supports the Bush administration. "It's a general phenomenon that people are invested in their candidates and their views."