OxBlog

Sunday, December 10, 2006

# Posted 12:46 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHO IS SAM BROWNBACK? At first blush, the junior senator from Kansas is precisely the kind of right-wing Christian conservative that liberals and moderate Republicans love to hate. In October, Brownback threatend to block the appointment of a Michigan judge to the Federal bench just because she attended a lesbian commitment ceremony. Brownback is also responsible for legislation that has multiplied by a factor of ten the fines that can be imposed on broadcasters for even a single incident of indecency, such as Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" during the Super Bowl in 2004.

Thus, Sam Brownback is that person you'd expect to be the subject of a surprisingly positive cover story [subscription required] in The New Republic by senior editor Noam Scheiber. That's actually no surprise, you might say, since TNR is known for its habit of subverting almost any liberal consensus. But not on core social issues such as gay rights and freedom of speech. So why does TNR have anything nice to say about Sam Brownback?

The simple answer is that Sam Brownback's Christian principles compel him to support a lot of causes in which conservatives have often shown very little interest. One of the most important is human rights, especially with regard to violence and epidemics in Africa. As the Weekly Standard pointed out in its cover story [subscription required] about Brownback this past summer (written by Terry Eastland), the Kansas senator is more than ready to reach across the partisan divide in order to promote such causes:
He has made a habit in this arena of cosponsoring laws with Democrats, teaming up, for example, with Evan Bayh on the Iran Democracy Act, Ted Kennedy on the North Korea Human Rights Act, and the late Paul Wellstone on the Trafficking in Victims Protection Act.
Another interesting observation made by the Standard (but not by TNR) is that two of Brownback's five children were adopted from abroad, one from Guatemala and one from China. Thus, the GOP primaries could come down to a choice between two fathers of adopted children from abroad, Brownback and McCain. By the same token, both adoptive fathers could wind up on the GOP ticket in the general election.

One of the strongest aspects of TNR's cover story about Brownback is its description of the winding road that led him to become a man of principle. According to Scheiber, Brownback began his congressional career in 1994 as an ambitious but moderate Republican who had to hold off an aggressively pro-life opponent in the primaries. Caught off balance, Brownback chose to borrow as much of his opponent's rhetoric as possible, even though his sincerity was open to quesiton.

Even so, Brownback was successful and became a charter member of Newt Gingrich's Republican Revolution in the House of Representatives. The revolutionaries hoped to eliminate several entire executive Departments as part of their efforts to impose severe limits on both taxation and spending. But that agenda stalled, and the revolutionaries paid a heavy political price for shutting down the government in late 1995.

At about the same time, Brownback discovered that he had skin cancer. An operation removed the growth to his torso, but this brush with mortality led Brownback to embark on a spiritual quest. The result was both his conversion to Catholicism as well as aggressive commtiment to high-profile conservative causes.

A significant drawback of the Standard's cover story about Brownback is that it has little to say about this period from mid-1994 to mid-1995 that Scheiber describes as pivotal. Although Eastland takes note of the inspiration provided by Brownback's cancer, he suggests that Brownback's politics have been essentially the same since 1976, when Brownback first gave his support to Ronald Reagan.

There seems to be no question, however, that since 1996 Brownback has held fast to the same set of principles. What's interesting, however, is that TNR describes Brownback as profoundly intellectual, in contrast to the usual stereotype of right-wing Christians as kneejerk ideologues. The Kansas senator is a voracious reader with an avid interest in talking about Christian theology and doctrine. Scheiber goes so far as to describe Brownback as "a God geek".

In the GOP primaries, it may not matter so much how intellectual Brownback is. According to Eastland, the real question is whether primary voters are willing to nominate another compassionate conservative after what they had to put up with from George W. Bush, especially out-of-control spending and an absence of progress on any of the GOP's core social issues.

Scheiber wonders whether Brownback's stance on immigration is what will hold back his nomination:
In 2005, Brownback signed on as a co-sponsor to the relatively moderate Kennedy-McCain bill. The reaction from rank-and-file Republicans has not been kind. Steve Scheffler, the head of a conservative evangelical group in Iowa, told me, "The biggest thing [Brownback would] have to address is why did he vote for that horrendous bill?" [Campaign manager David] Kensinger says Brownback's answer is simple: "The Bible says you will be judged by how you treat the widow, the orphan, the foreign among you. That's the end of it."
What a dilemma for liberals. Many of them get furious whenever conservatives justify their politics by quoting scripture. Yet just as many of them have long insisted that scripture actually supports a liberal social agenda. But it is conservatives who will pass judgment on Brownback first. With George Allen, Bill Frist and Rick Santorum all out of the picture, Brownback has few challengers on the right, where resentment of John McCain and Mitt Romney is quite intense. Right now, Brownback barely registers in the polls. But that may change.

In the meantime, I strongly recommend reading both Scheiber and Eastland's profiles of Brownback. This post has only begun to describe their excellent work.
(9) opinions -- Add your opinion

Comments:
NR describes Brownback as profoundly intellectual...with an avid interest in talking about Christian theology and doctrine

Mmm, very intellectual. I think David may be a closet case for traditional morality. Does anyone else get that feeling?
 
I'm confused about your position, oxonmobile.

Regardless of David's secret beliefs, are you implying that someone who is a moral traditionalist and interested in Christian theology and doctrine is not able to be intellectual?

Even though I would probably disagree with Brownback on a number of social/moral issues, I still would be reluctant to accept your premise.
 
'...are you implying that someone who is a moral traditionalist and interested in Christian theology and doctrine is not able to be intellectual?'

Yes; people interested in that shit are morons!

Jk, jk, patrick. I know, you were shocked - shocked! - for a minute there...

But really, I'd argue that people who believed in Christian theology probably don't qualify as intellectuals. But before you start getting mad (STOP THROWING STONES! DO YOU HAVE ANYTHING TO BACK THAT UP!) I would just like to say that I have no way of backing that up. Just a feeling, Doc.

I still would be reluctant to accept your premise.

That's sound, since I don't really have one. I was afraid of making another big acquiesce/permissive mistake....
 
Is David endorsing Brownback for POTUS?
 
Yea, I think David is - from the right angle, Brownback looks a little like Ignatieff, and David loves that. He's bringing sexyback.

http://www.hillnews.com/052202/
visuals/Brownback%20Sam1.jpg

http://ctr.concordia.ca/2005-06/sept_29/
photos/Ignatieff-1.jpg

I'm just joking though, slightly; the real reason David likes him is that he has a well established habit of backing Jewish interests. Not that there's anything wrong with that, jigga. I'm just sayin...
 
"But really, I'd argue that people who believed in Christian theology probably don't qualify as intellectuals...I would just like to say that I have no way of backing that up. Just a feeling, Doc."

ok. I'm just reluctant to disqualify from being intellectuals the likes of Max Planck or Isaac Newton.
 
Patrick, Don't forget Descartes!
 
Patrick, I just feel that Isaac Newton endangers America's own security, because his regime is often unstable and incubates terrorist threats.
 
I just feel that Isaac Newton endangers America's own security, because his regime is often unstable and incubates terrorist threats.

Yeah, that's what Bishop Berkeley was getting at.
 
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