Senator Sam Brownback is the Senior U.S. Senator from the state of Kansas. He is a devout Catholic and also a candidate for president of the United States. His very conservative stance on life issues, his refusal to separate his religious beliefs from his politics as well as his controversial response to a question about evolution at a recent Republican debate have all contributed to a gathering momentum in his campaign. Senator Brownback spoke to Fr. Dave Dwyer on the BustedHalo show on Sirius satellite radio just after returning from a four day, twenty-seven city campaign tour in Iowa.
BustedHalo: Twenty-seven stops in Iowa sounds like a pretty extensive trip. How did it go?
Senator Sam Brownback: It is, but gosh we had a great time and it went well. We got a lot of support out of it, and heard a lot of ideas from individuals. As you’re out and traveling around you get to take a public opinion bath. We got a lot of good input from people.
BH: A public opinion bath? I like that one…
SB: Yes, it’s an Abraham Lincoln line. That’s what he considered it when he was out milling around the public. It was just a public opinion bath. It’s a good concept too. I find you pick up ideas; but it also verifies or puts more texture on the polling numbers that we often see.
BH: Is campaigning like the stereotype of what people think it is: shaking hands, kissing babies and that type of thing?
SB: Yes, it’s a lot of that and it’s also kind of modern day equivalent of “whistle stop campaigning” because you’re really just on the bus. We’ll have loud speakers, you pull into a town, we crank up the loud music and you hope people come out. You’ve sent flyers out ahead of time and you have a discussion in the town square and then you load right back up and head to the next city. It’s really a lot of fun and it’s a great way to campaign.
BH: Well, I’m glad you’re having fun running for president.
SB: Everyone should run at least once it helps rebuild your faith in the country (laughter).
BH: You’ve been called, by some, the most conservative candidate currently running for president. Do you think that’s a fair label?
SB: It’s probably a fair label. I consider myself a bleeding heart conservative because I am a pro-life and whole-life, and I fight for the child in the womb, but also for the child in Darfur, human rights, religious freedom cases. I just think that those are consistent philosophies. If they’re seen as strongly conservative, I’m fine with that. But I do think people want conservatism with a heart and that’s what I try to do and that’s what I try to live.
BH: You espouse what some in the Catholic Church would be familiar with from the late Cardinal Bernadin from Chicago. He talked about a consistent ethic of life that has also been referred to as a “seamless garment.” If we’re pro-life, then we’ve got to be all the way pro-life. Can you explain a little bit of that to our listeners?
SB: I absolutely agree with that. I think it draws people into the message. What I say to people is that I’m pro life: I believe that every human life is sacred, it’s beautiful, it’s a child of a loving God, deserving of our protection. But that doesn’t stop when the child is born, that philosophy continues. It continues to children in Darfur, and why we should work on ending the genocide and poverty in Africa. It applies to the person in prison that life is a precious, sacred one, and that’s why we should work on reducing recidivism and why I’ve worked on that topic, along with poverty issues. To me, that’s the pro-life, whole-life message, and I think it’s a powerful one to pull people into; the pro-life and culture of life total ethics.
BH: A lot of time pro-life becomes synonymous with abortion. Obviously that’s a huge part of the message, but there are so many other aspects to it.
SB: There are. And I find too, that a lot of people who are liberal or from different political persuasions, when you say pro-life and the child in the womb, they kind of say “Well yea, I’ve already thought about that and I’m not with you.” But when you talk about Darfur, and that child being sacred or someone being in prison, they say; “well now I agree with you on that.” It’s the same ethic—that child in Darfur is precious and scared but so is the child in the womb. You wouldn’t say “well okay, we’ll fight for this one and not for that one,” I think the consistency of the ethic helps draw more people into it.
BH: And where the consistency often falls down, at least apparently in American politics, is abortion on one side and capital punishment on another side.
SB: Right, it does. Although to me too, there is a clear difference between innocent human life and somebody found guilty of heinous crimes deserving of a death penalty. Having said that, I only support the death penalty in the case, “well we cannot protect this society from the perpetrator” because I think we need to go that distance to consistently teach a culture of life ethics.
BH: You’ve stepped out, maybe a bit controversially to some, because I think there are a lot of people who would be on board with a conservative stance or platform but when we start talking about being really consistent, pushing it all the way, some people have found your remarks somewhat controversial about in cases of rape or incest and abortion. Can you tell us a little bit about why you would push it all the way there, when a lot people would wince and kind of say, “oh I don’t know about that?”
SB: Well, again, it’s the consistency of it. Is the child that is the product of rape, is that child worthy of our protection? Is that child sacred? And I think you have to say yes. Rape is an awful thing. It is horrible that it happens. Is it then right? Or does it make the mother that’s been raped, in a better position if the child is killed, if an innocent child is killed? We talk about abortion, abortion is a procedure, what we’re talking about is killing an innocent child. I’ve talked now recently, after that comment, to several women who have been raped and kept their child. They are just so thankful that they did that; that something good came out of something so awful.
BH: From a faith perspective, that really is what we describe. In religious jargon, that is the Paschal mystery; it is life and redemption coming from death, coming from a horrible event.
SB: It is. And I’ve talked to some of these women and you just about want to cry over the phone hearing about this horrible thing that’s happened to them in rape. Many were pushed to have an abortion and some fought through and didn’t and they are so happy that they have this child now. It’s like it moves along this healing process or the abortion continues, the wounded ness and the anger and the wrong that took place. I am not condoning rape in any way. It is bad. It is awful. I just think that we need to think about then “what are we doing in response to that?” I think there’s a response, there’s a way that’s a much more healing process.