Sam Brownback of Kansas: The Beatific Conservative


TO SAM BROWNBACK of Kansas, a “kinder, gentler” America is more than just a line from a speech by Peggy Noonan. It’s about who he is, what he believes. It’s about the kind of America he would like to lead.
    The bumper-sticker take on Mr. Brownback is that he’s the Christian Conservative in the GOP presidential field — or one of them, anyway. But in his case, we’re talking actual Christianity, as in the Beatitudes.
    Or maybe we’re talking Micah 6:8 — as president, he says he would act justly, love mercy and walk humbly.
    That’s what drew Columbia businessman Hal Stevenson, a board member and former chairman of the Palmetto Family Council, to the Brownback camp. He was disillusioned by “some of the so-called ‘Christian Right… I was looking for someone who exhibits, and walks the walk that they talk, and that’s a rare thing in politics.”
    When Sen. Brownback met with our editorial board Wednesday, I was impressed as well. I was struck by how interesting things can be when you get off the path beaten by national TV news and the covers of slick magazines. You find a guy who brings “Christian” and “conservative” together in ways that belie our common political vocabulary.
    Sure, he’s adamantly pro-life. But for him, that means being “whole life” as well — “Life’s sacred in the womb, but I think it’s also sacred in Darfur.” He’s just as concerned about genocide or starvation or slave traffic in Africa or North Korea as about abortion clinics in Peoria. Did he get there, as a Catholic convert, via the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin’s “consistent ethic of life?” No — he explains that initially, he was more influenced by “the great theologian Bono.”
    This sort of atypical association plays out again and again. His plan for Iraq is the same as Joe Biden’s, quite literally. (You know Joe Biden — the Democrat who has campaigned in South Carolina the longest and hardest, the one who’s arguably the best-qualified candidate in that field, but you don’t hear about him much on TV? Yeah, that Joe Biden….) Their bill would partition the country more along the lines of the old Ottoman Empire.
    I have some doubts about that plan, but let’s suppose it worked, and we achieved some sort of stasis in Iraq. What about the next crisis, and the next one after that? What about Sudan, Iran, North Korea? What is America’s proper stance toward the world?
    “I think we’ve got to walk around the world wiser and more humble,” he said. It’s an answer you might expect from Jimmy Carter, or a flower-bedecked pacifist at an antiwar vigil. Sure, the true conservative position, from Pat Buchanan to George Will, has been one of aversion to international hubris. But Sam Brownback carries it off without a tinge of either fascism or pomposity, and that sets him apart.
    “Africa’s moving. Latin America is moving,” he said. “That’s where I’m talking about walking wiser and humbler. The first step in Latin America is going to be to go there and just listen.” Why is it, we should ask ourselves, “that a Chavez can come forward with his old, bad ideas, and win elections?”
“People in Latin America are saying, my quality of life has not improved.” And as a result, they’re willing to go with a dictator. “I think we need to go there and say, what is it we can do to help these economies grow…. It’s our big problem with Mexico and immigration.”
    Back to Africa: “This is a place where America’s goodness can really make a big difference to a lot of people in the world, and it would be in our long-term vital and strategic interest.”
    Asked about domestic issues, he cites “rebuilding the family” as his top concern. That may sound like standard, right-off-the-shelf Christian Right talk. But he comes to it more via Daniel Patrick Moynihan than James Dobson. He said he’s had it with beating his head against the brick hearts of Hollywood producers, and draws an analogy to smoking: Sure, people knew there was a connection between cigarettes and their nagging coughs, but Big Tobacco had room to dissemble until a direct, scientific line was drawn between their product and lung cancer.
    Just as the government now puts out unemployment statistics, he would have it gather and release data on out-of-wedlock childbirth, marriages ending in divorce, and the empirically demonstrable connections between ubiquitous pornography and a variety of social pathologies. He’d put the data out there, and let society decide from there how to react. But first, you need the data.
    His second domestic issue is energy (push electric cars) and his third is health care (he would “end deaths to cancer in 10 years”). He’s a conservative, but by no means one who wants government to butt out of our lives.
    “Humility, as a nation or as individuals, is an effective thing,” Mr. Stevenson said in explaining his support for Sen. Brownback. “It’s the right thing, and it’s also a Christian principle.”
    But that doesn’t mean you don’t take action. The Kansan summed up his attitude on many issues, foreign and domestic, in describing his reaction to Darfur: “Well you look at that, and you know that’s something that ought to be addressed… I mean, you’re the most powerful nation in the world… you can’t learn about these things and then say, well, I guess I’m just not going to do anything about it.”
    Well, some could. But it reflects to Sam Brownback’s credit that he says he could not.


5 thoughts on “Sam Brownback of Kansas: The Beatific Conservative

  1. bud

    I just finished reading Brownback’s stand on the issues. He’s basically just a warmed over version of what has failed for the last 7 years. In particular his stance on Iraq sounds like more of the same. Now we have a new record:
    “At least 250 Iraqis killed in war’s deadliest attack
    BAGHDAD (AP) — Rescuers uncovered dozens of bodies in the wreckage of clay houses in northwest Iraq on Wednesday, sending the death toll from suicide truck bombings of a small Kurdish sect to at least 250 — the war’s deadliest attack on a single area.”
    The whole fiction that this surge is somehow different from anything else we’ve done over the past 4 years has been rammed down Americans’ throats in a diabolical effort to fool people into buying into this failed attempt at nation building. In the meantime, as Bob Herbert so eloquently pointed out yesterday, our homeland is enduring a new wave of crime. The number of lives claimed from incidents of homicide since 9/11/01 is now approaching 100,000. This is still somewhat below the carnage we saw late in the first Bush presidency but it is still far higher than what the Clinton administration was able to achieve. No Rudy, you really didn’t have much to do with reducing violent crime in NYC. That was mostly the result of a very healthy economy and crime initiatives at the national level. New York was one of many beneficiaries in that effort.
    The question then becomes: who is best to lead us out of this mess? We can easily reject all the republicans simply because they support the status quo in Iraq. Further, Rudy, Sam and the rest of the republicans harp constantly about the most inconsequential issue: Immigration. Collectively, the candidates for president from the GOP are the most clueless bunch ever. They just don’t get it. They don’t understand the plight of the average American nor do they appreciate the world-wide catastrophe we’ve created by our ham-handed foreign policy.
    So who among the dems? History suggest one logical choice, Hillary Clinton. The Clinton’s have proven they can lead the country and the world in a positive direction to make people’s lives better. The other dems are all good people with great ideas but they all fall short in proving they can produce results. Many would make outstanding cabinet members. But at the end of the day there is one candidate who stands head and shoulders above all the rest. I’m supporting Hillary Clinton in the South Carolina primary next year. She, more than anyone else, can lead us back from the dark hole we’re currently in.

  2. Doug Ross

    If he really said that he would end cancer deaths in 10 years, he’s living in a dream world.
    And his support for “partitioned Iraq” is more pie-in-the-sky political hogwash. Would this be like East Germany and West Germany? or the Confederacy and the Union? Or North and South Korea? It will take a civil war, with the Sunnis being wiped out, in order to achieve this “goal”.
    And I see you’re already laying the groundwork for a Joe Biden endorsement later on this year. I guess you’ll rig the process again as you did for Joe “2%” Lieberman.

  3. Brad Warthen

    First, Doug, here’s what he actually said about cancer. It sounded awfully ambitious to me, but in a good way. And it did not sound impossible.

    On partitioning — an idea I’m not at all sold on (remember, I’m a "surge" believer, and Brownback is not) — I should point out in fairness that his model is more the former Yugoslavia. Essentially, we couldn’t settle things down there until we recognized the historical and cultural realities, and allowed the Balkans to be balkanized. That’s his argument, not mine.

    Finally, I didn’t "rig" the Lieberman endorsement. I did it the old-fashioned way, running the ball right up the middle. I talked for three hours. I literally lost my voice, and was unable to speak for several days. I talked and talked until opposition weakened. Accuse me of running roughshod over the consensus — which would be bad enough, and which I do not acknowledge — but I certainly didn’t "rig" anything.

  4. Karen McLeod

    Brad, can you name one place where we (or anybody else) has been able to ‘nation build’, that is go in and change the fundamental culture, unless either the great majority of people wanted a change (eg. the French helping the colonies during the War of Independence) or else the nation doing the ‘building’ has gone in and utterly subdued the populace (i.e. massive power) and stayed there for many years overseeing what was done, and pouring much money and manpower into the place to rebuild infrastructure, and to teach the new culture, so that the next generation could be comfortable with it (eg. Rome’s Pax Romana or our (US/Europe) change of Japanese and German culture (and there we had to rebuild a lot of Europe first). Unless we want to flatten Iraq first, its not going to happen there. Same with Dafur. Thanks to negotiation, not arms, we may have gotten to the point where the UN may be able to do something about Dafur, via primarily African troops. I hope so. Meanwhile, to those who want to build a wall between us and the rest of the world, all I can say is, We are one world. We may not like our brothers and sisters, but that doesn’t keep them from being our brothers and sisters. And where is anyone to go, if we throw them out of this one house, our planet?

  5. Jim

    Great piece. Shows Brownback as he is, that’s all you can ask. As for the comments, I can’t believe that people don’t understand that freedom creates security, and “partitioning” Iraq would actually restore it to the traditional order. Brownback isn’t a “warmed over” anything. He has the most well thought out plans for our world because he has thought the most about solving them, not the most about how his statements will sound to others. It constantly surprises me how people who want to be thought of as intelligent don’t think about what others say or even about what they write. How many homicides were there under the Clinton Presidency? Did he constantly promote the value of human life like Sam Brownback? When will people spend their time thinking about what should be done – or even not done- and not about what string of words makes them feel authoritative?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *