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When will Sam Brownback end up on short lists for McCain’s VP?

It seems like everyone is putting together a list of Vice-Preside ntial candidates that John McCain could pick. Everyone. No, really, everyone. I mean it, everyone. This guy. That guy. Everyone.

So the speculation is out there. Tim Pawlenty from Minnesota? Mark Sanford from South Carolina? Tom Ridge from Pennsylvania  ? Rob Portman from Ohio? (Really, Rob Portman?! The budget director at the White House? That’s like the equivalent of someone picking the captain of the Titanic, just as the band members start plummeting to their death.)

I’d suggest a bit more stealth thinking. There’s one guy, an informal advisor to McCain’s campaign, that’s in the trenches right now. No, not Karl Rove, even though McCain has brought him on board. No, not Ken “Diarrhea of the Mouth” Mehlman, even though McCain’s brought him on, too.

But what about the guy who is in charge of the McCain campaign’s Catholic voter outreach – Sen. Sam Brownback?

Why Brownback?

  1. Brownback is conservative Christian with a capital CHRIST. But he’s also received some plaudits from liberal groups for having compassion, especially on issues like Darfur and human trafficking.   He’s like one part Bill Richardson, combined with nine parts Rick Santorum. In other words, he’s the type of Christian conservative that can spin the compassionat e yarn, while still rallying the “God’s warrior” crowd – a base that McCain is sorely thin with. Rolling Stone even dubbed Brownback “God’s Senator.”
  2. Brownback ran for President up until October 2007. After his pummeling by Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee in a pre-caucus Iowa straw poll, Brownback dropped out. Who did he subsequently endorse? John McCain. And at the time, McCain’s campaign was in tatters, near bankrupt, and his support in polls was dropping faster than Britney’s.
  3. Brownback is influential within the institutiona l Catholic Church. He was even baptized in a private chapel tucked between lobbyist’s offices, and owned by Opus Dei. There’s a great deal of difference between the institutiona l Catholic Church, and the prophetic, authentic Catholic Church. That said, ain’t no megaphone like a bunch of hell-bent bishops. Take Hillary Clinton’s recent appearance at a Catholic college in Texas, which drew the rebuke on San Antonio’s Archbishop, Jose Gomez, who said that Clinton’s pro-choice views were not welcome on a Catholic campus. With Brownback on the ticket, McCain could ensure that pews across America are filled with GOP talking points.
  4. Brownback refused to sign the Contract of America in 1994…becau se he thought it was too tame. Like Ron Paul, he once said that he wanted to eliminate the departments on energy, education and commerce. That’s sure to please not only the Libertarian, money bomb crowd, but also the “drown your government in a bathtub” fanatics, like Grover Norquist.
  5. Brownback sat on the Senate Judiciary Committee back before the 2006 mid-term elections, and as such is to blame for the death nail in Harriet Miers’ nomination, and the confirmation of Justice Samuel Alito. Brownback was apparently so influential in throwing Miers overboard that none other than John McCain held Brownback’ s hand up at a press conference after Miers withdrew her name, to boast, “Here’s the man who did it!”
  6. Brownback is only 51 years old…more than two decades younger than McCain, which would quiet any concerns about McCain being too senior. At 51, Brownback is barely older than Obama, and nine years younger than Hillary Clinton.

Brownback is all of this, and a bag of v-chips. In his time in the Senate, he’s shepherded the creation of the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act (in the wake of the cultural phenomenon known as Janet Jackson’s nipple); he spear-headed the Silk Road Strategy Act, which sought to smother the growth of Islam in Central Asia by bribing countries and communities with sweet trade deals; and he supports the Houses of Worship Act, which would allow churches to endorse candidates in elections.

Are there problems with the thought of McCain picking Brownback? Hells yes. He’s not well known, he’s a little uber-religio us for a large swath of the country (Opus Dei? Really?), he’s not particularly charismatic  (this site says he looks like Flattop from Dick Tracy), he thinks gay people are inherently immoral but compared Sen. Larry Craig to Thomas Jefferson in the wake of Craig’s “wide stance” scandal….yea h, there are issues.

But Brownback is certainly worthy of being on the short-list. I suggest watching out for him, especially if McCain keeps being dogged by a chasm in the GOP base.


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Five years after Sen. Wellstone’s death

It’s weird…it seems like every year on October 25, I post some sort of reflection about the life of Sen. Paul Wellstone, who died five years ago today in a plane crash (along with his wife and daughter, three campaign workers and two pilots). I worked for Wellstone during his 2002 re-election campaign, in Minnesota’s Sixth Congressiona l District.

My favorite Wellstone words still stick with me today: Never separate the life you live from the words you speak. It’s a challenge I still find difficult to live up to today, as I imagine most people even tangentially involved in politics do.

Though I’m not crazy about politico.com  , they have a nice piece today on Wellstone’s legacy, five years after his death. For me, I recall a Senator who called me up on my cell phone when my mom had her stroke, and listened to me burst into tears. I recall a Senator who marched with me in Stillwater, MN during one of the ugliest parades I’ve ever been in (people actually started spraying the Senator with a hose!). And I recall a Senator who told us during the campaign: “The future will not belong to those who sit on the sidelines. The future will not belong to the cynics. The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

So on this day, it seems only appropriate to remember Wellstone’s words, that the future belongs to those with passion. As Mark Twain once said, “Really great people make you feel that you, too, can become great.” That was Wellstone, constantly trying to make all of the members of his campaign team — and his state — feel great.

And that’s what I remember most every October 25.


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The unimaginable cowardice of St. Thomas University

One reason why I continue to read alternative weeklies? Quotes like this, referencing St. Thomas University’s decision to withdraw an offer to Nobel Peace Prize Winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu to speak on campus.

“This is pure bullshit,” said Marv Davidov, an adjunct professor within St. Thomas University’s Justice and Peace Studies program.

Here’s the story of a lovely St. Paul, MN university, who was busy being influenced by a bunch of misguided, right-ward leaning interest groups. Here’s the gist in four sentences:

Archbishop Tutu gets invited to speak at St. Thomas University as part of an annual lecture series sponsored by the Justice and Peace Studies program, where Nobel Peace Prize winners come to teach young adults about peace and justice. The Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas gets wind of Tutu’s scheduled appearance, and contacts St. Thomas administrato rs alerting them that Tutu has said things critical of the state of Israel. St. Thomas administrato rs, bowing to pressure from this group (as well as from a national organization called the Zionist Organization of America) go over the collective heads of the Peace and Studies department and rescind the invitation. The rest of the world wonders whether there’s such a thing as academic freedom anymore.

The story doesn’t stop there, though. The Chair of the Justice and Peace Studies program, Professor Cris Toffolo, writes a letter to Tutu informing him that St. Thomas University administrato rs nixed the invite (and indicating her disappointme nt that her university would do such a thing), and that in case he wasn’t aware, Tutu should be prepared for a smear campaign by the hyper-Israel lobby. The University, its britches all in a twitter, gets word of this letter. Tom Rochon, Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs, decides to write a letter of his own – to Prof. Toffolo – revoking her position as chair of the Justice and Peace Studies program.

Moral of the story? Tom Rochon is more consigliore than leader of an academy. Demoting a Professor for pulling the curtain out from behind the spineless wizard? Lame.

What’s even worse is that this is St. Thomas’ mission: “Inspired by Catholic intellectual tradition, the University of St. Thomas educates students to be morally responsible leaders who think critically, act wisely and work skillfully to advance the common good.”

The common good? I’d venture to say that Archbishop Tutu knows a hell of a lot more about that than Tom Rochon and the rest of St. Thomas University’s administrati ve leadership.

For a great recap of this, check out this article from the Minneapolis/ St. Paul City Pages.

Davidov, the professor quoted up top, has a great quote in this article. “As a Jew who experienced anti-Semitis m as a child, I’m deeply disturbed that a man like Tutu could be labeled anti-Semitic and silenced like this. I deeply resent the Israel lobby trying to silence any criticism of its policy. It does a great disservice to Israel and to all Jews.”

Hopefully that’s a lesson that St. Thomas University students taken with them as they move beyond their college years.

If you think you might want to send Tom Rochon a note expressing your disappointme nt that an institution dedicated to educating students to be critical thinkers would actually rescind an invitation to one of the world’s foremost spiritual leaders, AND demote a professor who breaks rank and sides with Tutu, here’s his email address: trrochon1@st thomas.edu.

Seems only fitting to end this post with a quote from Archbishop Tutu that may in fact be a lesson moving forward for St. Thomas University administrato rs: “I am human because you are human. My humanity is caught up in yours and if you are dehumanized, I am dehumanized, and anger and resentment and retribution are corrosive of this great good, and the harmony that has got to exist between people.”


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Thoughts On The Loss Of Life In Minnesota

Tragedy elicits many responses…of ten automatic reactions that we rarely seek to understand…a nd that is as it should be given the shocking nature of the assault upon our psyche and the overwhelming grief that will certainly follow.

As I watched the unfolding of the bridge collapse in Minnesota and the devastation that will undoubtedly accompany the sudden loss of vibrant lives, I began to think about the function of faith and the impact of a belief in god during such moments of distress.

As a person who grew up closely affiliated with Catholicism… but no longer believes in any conventional construct of god…I often reflect upon the differences between my reactions to tragedy then and now. Before expanding on these thoughts, let me first provide some background information.

Several years back, I found myself in the midst of a difficult situation…on e of those moments where one is uncertain how one will be able to survive the magnitude of the event…a period of time we’ve all experienced where we feel that our ability to hold our lives together is being challenged.

As I was lying in bed, unable to relax and enduring waves of anxiety along with rapid fluctuations of being hot and cold, I found myself praying for god to intervene…so mething I suspect we’ve all done and a practice that can often bring comfort.

Suddenly, out of the blue, I became angry with myself and what I perceived to be a pattern of living that no longer resonated and, more importantly, no longer brought comfort. There I was, asking god’s help and feeling helpless and I just stopped. Instantly, I vowed to stop praying, to stop relying upon an external mechanism to save me from my moments of despair…to begin to accept the nature of this human existence, and to find the strength to endure…on my own.

Thus began my journey away from faith and towards facing the complexities of life more bravely and without the need to invoke the assistance of a higher being. It’s important that I explain my thought process. My decision wasn’t born of anger with the god I had believed in for many years. In fact, I felt ashamed for having asked god’s help so often and I tried to imagine him as a friend whose role had become little more than the comforter…th e go to guy that everyone calls upon in times of trouble…and I decided it was wrong and that it must cease.

Over time, I came to believe that in letting go of god, I had actually become a better person…and if he did exist, my actions better honored the friendship and kinship he had provided. I accepted responsibili ty for my life…regardl ess of its origin or its inevitable end…and I faced both with a resolve to avoid the instinct to succumb to fear.

In doing so, I feel certain that if there is a god, I am finally living as he would have wanted…exerc ising my free will and finding harmony with the random nature of the world in which I live…all the while accepting that mortality is part of this wondrous journey.

Coming back to the disaster in Minnesota, both now with my new perspective, as well as back then with my prior beliefs, I find great sadness in the loss of life…but it has taken on a new meaning for me. While the pain is the same, I understand and accept that the life we know and live here on this earth is a sacred gift…regardl ess of how it was received…tha t must be celebrated…a nd even though it comes to an end…for us and for those we love…it lives on if we live it well…and finally, when we leave this life with grace, it has no doubt been well lived and will certainly be well remembered.

As we say goodbye to those lost in Minnesota, I celebrate their lives and I honor their memories. Today, I accept what I can know and I know what I can accept. In that harmony, I am humbled by both the beauty and the immense uncertainty of the human condition.

Cross-posted at Thought Theater


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