McNaughton Responds to Questions Concerning Paintings

Yesterday I received a thoughtful post on my Facebook from a man who had sincere questions regarding the intentions of my paintings. I felt that I wanted to respond because I think his words reflect many who have opposing views to “One Nation Under God” and “The Forgotten man.” I think it is always a good thing to have a reasonable discussion without digressing to name calling which often occurs on both sides. I have written my responses in grey text :

Austin Baird

Jon - I appreciate your explanation. I don't at all believe that you're being racist by singling out Obama. I think that people who accuse others of disliking Obama for racist reasons are too lazy to come up with real arguments. I think it's insulting to accuse you of being racist. Let me make sure I understand you - your "ranking" of the presidents isn't based on constitutionality of their actions but instead on how their actions enlarged the government? If that's the case then I have three questions. 

1.) Do you believe that your ranking of the presidents is entirely accurate or fair? I mentioned earlier that it's not intellectually acceptable to espouse political opinions without having backed them up factually. I clearly show the information about each president on my website. http://www.mcnaughtonart.com/artwork/view_zoom/?artpiece_id=379National debt actually had its biggest increase under Reagan. I don't want to turn this into a debate, but if anyone would like those statistics I will gladly send them your way. The point of my question is that your rankings seem to be based more on what the perception of the presidents is (like that Reagan cut spending, which is not backed up by facts) than what the reality is. I never said I was ranking the presidents. My thoughts when I chose where to place the presidents was to put in a prominent place on the right side some of the presidents who had a significant part in expanding the role of the federal government, they would be clapping. I placed G.W. Bush next to Obama because he was guilty as well. I put Wilson between FDR and TR, but didn’t have room to show him clapping. There are a few others like LBJ and Nixon that I’m not crazy about. It’s not so cut and dry. Many people want to think I actually lined them all up based on politics. Not so. I put prominent presidents closer to the front. I wanted to paint the question, “If the presidents of the past could speak to us today, what would they say?”

I know that Reagan raised the debt considerably. Under Reagan the United States borrowed heavily both domestically and abroad, raising the national debt from $900 billion to $3 trillion. Reagan described the new debt as the "greatest disappointment" of his presidency. But much of the federal deficit increases were due to military spending, which eventually led to the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. Many of Reagan’s fiscal policies led to American prosperity well into the next century. Stephen Moore of the Cato Institute stated that "no act in the last quarter century had a more profound impact on the US economy of the eighties and nineties than the Reagan tax cut of 1981. … The American economy grew by more than a third in size, producing a $15 trillion increase in American wealth. Every income group, from the richest, middle class and poorest in this country, grew its income.” This doesn’t mean I think Reagan was perfect. He also unconstitutionally ratified the Salt II Treaty before having Congressional approval. As for as the debt, remember G. W. Bush raised the debt more than Reagan, and Obama is on track to outdo them all! My painting never made the statement that the other presidents were not guilty. Many have made poor decisions.

2.) The above question stems from the one I ask now, which is the question that I would most like to hear your response to. In some of your other writing (notably on the BYU Bookstore issue) you make much of the fact that "liberal ideas" have led to your painting being taken down and you mention several times that these liberal ideas are problems that need to be dealt with. As I said above, I have no interest in debating with you and so I won't bring up the numerous General Authorities who have been Democrats or had liberal ideas. Your work (meaning all of your paintings and everything that you have said about them) is taken as a whole by your fans and so the ideas espoused in one work (how customarily "liberal" professions are in the darkness in "One Nation Under God") or written by you directly (your blog post on the Bookstore issue) are inseparable from your other works (The Forgotten Man). Do you intend for the viewers to take away from your painting that liberal = bad? That's an idea you've shared numerous times and if it's not one that you intend to convey in this painting, how do you suggest that your fans separate the concepts? I have stated countless times that I don’t want to class “liberals” as bad simply because its not my place to say what is in their heart. What I have repeatedly said is that they are “confused.” There are many definitions of liberal. I am speaking of those who believe that the definition of what is good or bad depends on what is acceptable by society. Liberals see things usually not as black and white, but as a moving grey target and believe they are on the higher ground because they are watching out for the oppressed and down trodden. It is a different paradigm than the conservative American who often sees things as black and white. In my painting I take issue with abortion, the secularization of the schools, the moral denigration of the entertainment business, the liberal bias of the media, the corrupted politician to name a few. These figures represent metaphors for certain types that I believe have weakened our country. They do not represent a sweeping judgment of everyone. In the painting I have people divided to represent the division that is taking place in our country. How can anyone deny that the country is divided on these issues? On the right side the judge feels remorse and the pregnant woman has decided to keep her baby, which shows that they have a change of heart. The patriots in the background are pleading from the dust to the living Americans to change their ways and support the Constitution, which defines a limited federal government. The only people offended by this painting are those that believe in “liberal” ideologies: Never speak of God and government in the same breath, abortion is a choice, Darwinism is supreme, don’t ever judge people, don’t shove your conservative idealogy on me! They are immediately offended because they identify with the right side of the painting and feel I am judging them. Only God will judge. By the way, the painting is not political. I do not speak for Republican or Democrat. JFK stands in the painting a few heads to the left of Reagan. There are liberals and conservatives on both sides of the political aisle. Fifty years ago this painting would have hardly raised an eyebrow because liberalism was almost nonexistent in America. Today, this painting is divisive. Twenty years from now will it be offensive to show a painting that represents a traditional family with a man and woman? Just because society tolerates change should we bend on principle? My fans know what liberalism stands for and they don’t need an explanation. Only liberals need an explanation.

3.) Before I ask this last question - I should clarify that I'm a staunch libertarian. I promise you that any sort of beliefs you hold on the desirability of small government, low taxes, etc. are shared by me. My question isn't about your beliefs, but instead about the way that they're shared. The USA is fairly unique among western, industrialized societies in our libertarian leanings. Most other countries believe in a strong social safety net, often strong enough to constitute a quasi-socialist state. In these countries, most of the citizens believe in these safety nets and are the type of people who you would call liberals or socialists. Among these people are many strong LDS members. Running through your work is the implication that the type of government that God and Jesus approve of includes low taxes and as small of a government as possible. What do you say to the millions of LDS members worldwide who share your religious beliefs but who completely disagree with you politically? Do you only intend for your American fans to take away these inferences? Do you really intend for your viewers to take away what I've said, that political beliefs in big government are antithetical to the sort of government that God intends? 

I apologize for writing you such a novel, but these are questions that I've wanted to ask you for some time. If you don't feel like answering all of them, the second and third questions are the ones that I'm the most interested in. No rush on the response; I imagine that you're busy. I appreciate your participation and civility. This question seems to have more to do with political liberalism (socialism) and not the moral issues of liberalism. America is unique in that we have our Constitution, which clearly defines the extent of government’s involvement in its citizen’s lives. Over time our “republic” has morphed into a democratic socialist model and the Constitution is the only thing between us and a European form of government. As far as liberals who are Christian living in foreign countries, sure they may have a different perspective. People in different parts of the world have less freedom than us and may be perfectly fine with that. I am an American, and do not want to give away a single freedom I have. When the founders created the Constitution and the Bill of Rights they were embarking on something new to the world. A government of the people, and they believed they were endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights. Not the rights or privileges bestowed on them by Kings and Nobles. Many countries since have adopted parts of our Constitution, but it is difficult for people to remain free. Too many want to be taken care of by their government at the cost of their liberties.

I believe that the Constitution was inspired and countless Americans have believed this since our country’s inception. As LDS, we believe the words written in D&C 101:80, “And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood.” But this is not limited to an LDS perspective. Many Christian denominations see that God has had a hand in the founding of this nation. Everyone can make their own choice as to whether that is true, but for an LDS person to deny it is to deny the doctrine of the church and that has nothing to do with politics. In my mind God’s plan is about freedom, Satan is for slavery. The more we cut away at the original intent of the Constitution the less freedom we have. In my painting “One Nation Under God” the painting makes the point that the Constitution is divinely inspired and that Americans need to make a choice. If you feel it is wrong for me to say liberalism is the source of the problem, then we cannot agree. I find it interesting that you refer to yourself as Libertarian. What kind of Libertarian are you? I will consider your points and I hope you will consider mine.


  1. Please, you need to learn the basics of Constitutional law. A good place to start is Chemerinsky's book. He's probably the country's leading Con Law scholar. It's a very easy read but will teach you things that you don't understand about history, theory, and application of the Constitution.

    If you are so passionate about these issues, you should have a desire to learn the truth.


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  3. It's not a crazy left wing book - it's a very good account of all of the different arguments about the constitution.

    There have always been multiple approaches to the interpretation of the constitution. "The Founding Fathers" never agreed on ANYTHING. Learn more about the Madisonian/Jeffersonian arguments. It will enlighten your mind and make you appreciate how amazing of a document it truly is.

  4. Just Reading this Inspires me as much as your paintings. I also appreciate your total respect for one another during this Q&A.
    I am enlighten by your ability to shed intellectual and spiritual light on the subject of your paintings meaning and intent. Thank you for sharing this and I hope a lot of people take the time to read it.

  5. Appealing information you have provided. It gained me more knowledge and idea. Please keep up the good because i like the way you are writing. Thanks!

    Liberal Bias