Saturday, October 15, 2005

Kansas Senator, Looking at Presidential Bid, Makes Faith the Bedrock of Campaign

MANCHESTER, N.H., Oct. 13 - After testing his stump speech on Tuesday night, Senator Sam Brownback rose early on Wednesday for a tour of the cavernous chapel and regimental dining hall used by the 30 remaining Benedictine monks of St. Anselm's abbey.

"I wondered if the numbers were starting to tick up?" Mr. Brownback asked hopefully of the monastery's population.

"It is more of a trickle than a stream," said the Rev. Jonathan DeFelice, president of St. Anselm College, noting that there were more than 70 monks when he arrived 30 years ago.

Mr. Brownback, an evangelical-Protestant-turned-Roman Catholic from Kansas who attends services in the two faiths each Sunday and once washed an aide's feet in a gesture of humble devotion, is contemplating a big bet on a resurgence in traditionalist faith that he hoped to find in the monastery's numbers.

He came here to assess the potential for a Republican presidential primary campaign centered on opposition to abortion and support for God in public life, while back in Washington his current role as the Republican most publicly questioning the Supreme Court nomination of Harriet E. Miers is becoming the first big test of his long-shot campaign.

"The thought does come into my mind," Mr. Brownback, 49, conceded with a furrowed brow in an interview. "But then I really work at saying: 'No, this is not about that. This is about what is good for the country. This is not about presidential ambitions.' "

That is not stopping Mr. Brownback from bringing up Ms. Miers's nomination in his first steps to the campaign trail. When he was a guest lecturer at a St. Anselm class on politics on Wednesday, a student asked which "one thing" he would have done differently if he had been in the Oval Office over the last five years.

Other primary contenders have staked out critiques of the Iraq war or the budget deficit, but Mr. Brownback's answer was President Bush's second nomination for the court. With Ms. Miers, Mr. Brownback said, "we just don't know her background on judicial restraint and on the Constitution."

The premise of his ambitions is that the country has "re-engaged with its faith" in a historic revival. He hopes that his combination of a humble, earnest style and broader focus on human rights, prison reform and other humanitarian issues will enable him to capitalize on that revival more effectively than predecessors like Pat Robertson or John Ashcroft.

"The last time you had this many people of faith coming into the public square and the body politic" was 100 years ago, in the era of the populist champion William Jennings Bryan, Mr. Brownback told a group of St. Anselm students over lunch. "By the end of that period, a lot of people were really starting to look at it as harsh and exclusionary."

The senator added that he hoped to deliver his message of "faith in politics" with "a great gentleness" instead.

Before the debate over Ms. Miers, however, Mr. Brownback's message was not carrying very far, some conservatives said.

"I mention him oftentimes to grass-roots people who call me and say: 'What are we doing? We don't have a candidate in 2008,' " said Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation, a founder of the modern conservative movement.

In contrast to the familiarity with Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the majority leader, or Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, both Republicans, "most of them had not heard of him," Mr. Weyrich said.

"Sam would need, either by major legislation that he sponsored or by taking on the administration on something, to drastically increase his profile in order to have people around the country say, 'Boy, that is the guy we want to support,' " Mr. Weyrich added.

Bucking the president on Ms. Miers's nomination, though, carries risks. Many conservatives say Ms. Miers lacks the qualifications or a dependable enough conservative record to warrant a Supreme Court seat. But some evangelical Christians support her as one of their own.

"They're going to turn against a Christian who is a conservative picked by a conservative president, and they're going to vote against her for confirmation?" Mr. Robertson said Wednesday on his television program. "Not on your sweet life, if they want to stay in office."

Others in the Republican Party say Mr. Brownback's focus on abortion could alienate some voters. Jennifer Blei Stockman, co-chairwoman for the Republican Majority for Choice, argued that Mr. Bush was elected in part by soft-pedaling his opposition to abortion and emphasizing other issues.

"A lot of moderate voters voted for him because of 9/11 and because of our foreign policy, not wanting to change horses in midstream," Ms. Stockman said.

When Mr. Brownback, a former Kansas agriculture secretary, first ran for Congress in 1994, he also campaigned as a very different candidate. In a contested Republican primary, he was generally considered the candidate friendlier to abortion rights because he did not oppose abortions in cases of rape or incest or to protect the life of the pregnant woman.

He called for cuts in federal spending by eliminating government programs or selling a government building adjacent to the Capitol.

What shifted his focus, he said, was a case of melanoma in 1995.

"It really caused me to stare at the end of life, and I wasn't very pleased with how I was living at that time," he recalled. "It sunk my roots real deep into my faith."

It was at that time, he said, that a ritual at an event by the Christian men's group Promise Keepers inspired him to wash the feet of a longtime aide in front of other staff members at a farewell reception. It was, Mr. Brownback said, a "biblical model of what servant leadership is."

The renewed interest in faith led him to convert to Catholicism about three years ago, with the sponsorship of Senator Santorum.

In his Senate campaign in 1996, Mr. Brownback began to shift his emphasis from economic issues to social issues like abortion.

He now oversees a weekly meeting on Capitol Hill of a Values Action Team of social conservative groups, and his most high-profile moment before the Miers nomination was holding hearings on obscenity and violence in the news media after the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado.

He has championed bans on human cloning and embryonic stem cell research, as well as a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage. At the Republican National Convention in 2004 he rallied a closed-door meeting of Christian conservatives with calls for a "cultural war."

Mr. Brownback has also taken up causes not traditionally associated with conservatives like protecting human rights abroad, providing aid to Africa and building an African-American history museum.

He has maintained a staunchly conservative voting record on economic issues. But instead of calling for specific cuts in government programs, he talks about a nonpartisan commission like the panel on closing military bases to take the issue out of lawmakers' hands.

"I am giving you a bit of a different message here today," he told the St. Anselm students. "A lot of it is a very Republican message. But hopefully a big core of it is a, very hopefully, faith in politics message."

His hero, he told them, is William Wilberforce, the 19th-century British crusader against slavery. He twice quoted Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Democrat of New York, as a "great philosopher" on government and culture.

And Mr. Brownback reminded the students repeatedly that he considered himself just "a very imperfect beast" and a "dirty practitioner" of politics. He called the role of religion in government "the great debate of our season" and abortion "the defining issue of the difference between the political parties today."

Returning again and again to his frustration with Ms. Miers's nomination, he said: "That is something the president campaigned on. It is something a lot of people have been active on, to change the courts, to overturn Roe v. Wade. And now you have your second nominee who is not known on Roe."

Even so, he said, he still does not know whether he will vote for or against confirming her.

Why doesn't the news-media get that these people are not making faith the bedrock of anything, just their faith is the bedrock of their anti-American schemes; which, by the way, is not faith at all, but so much doubt that they feel the need to enforce their faith by law.
Faith and Fear cannot co-exist; they are polar opposites.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home