Talkin' trash to the garbage around me.

23 February, 2007

Just come out and say it already

You've got to hand it to Sam Brownback, claiming the mantle of a 19th Century abolitionist hero:
Senator Sam Brownback: William Wilberforce Republican.

If you don’t know who he is, never fear—Hollywood is coming to the rescue with Friday’s release of “Amazing Grace.” The film details Mr. Wilberforce’s successful, 20-year effort as a British member of parliament to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire. He was inspired by his evangelical Christian beliefs. And Mr. Brownback, a devout Catholic who was previously an evangelical Protestant, “is deeply inspired by William Wilberforce,” said Brian Hart, his campaign spokesman.

A March 2006 article in The Economist first named Mr. Brownback a “Wilberforce Republican,” referring to his faith-grounded efforts to end human trafficking, fight genocide and AIDS in Africa and to reform prisons.


“We must continue to follow Wilberforce’s example and fight for the dignity and freedom of every person,” Mr. Brownback said in a press release about the bill. “It is intolerable that 200 years after Britain banned its slave trade, there are still hundreds of thousands of victims of human trafficking who are used as bonded labors, sex slaves, and in other horrifying capacities [my emphasis].”


Mr. Wilberforce is familiar to evangelicals (i.e. Republican voters in the Iowa caucuses and South Carolina primary) because people like Charles Colson and James Dobson mention him on their radio shows, said Mr. [Michael] Cromartie [of the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center].

What the Times blogger neglects to inform us is that Brownback's media savvy branding effort (and it is particularly well thought out) is a subtle wink to the militant anti-choice movement. How could we infer that from Brownback's statements? Context is everything, here. Given that it's a central tenet of the far right's faith that abortion is the modern-day moral equivalent of slavery, it's not at all difficult to see the image Brownback is trying to convey to anti-choice zealots. Not that we'd expect a major newspaper like the NYT to provide context.

Moreover, what are we to make of the phrase "victims of human trafficking who are used... in other horrifying capacities" comment, given his positions on embryonic stem cell research and fetal rights? Somewhat tangentially related, is Godwin invoked when the Brownback crowd begins to refer to stem cell researchers as "a bunch of Doctor Mengeles?"

I've gotta say, it's great PR to have a NYT blogger magically tranform, through the power of journamalism, this theocratic reactionary into a "compassionate conservative" who appeals to religious Dems. I don't doubt the sincerity of Brownback's beliefs (he's a True Believer if I ever saw one - that's what worries me) or his efforts to end human trafficking, and I'm not particularly concerned that he feels his faith compels him to act in this regard. Good on him. But let's not be polite and pretend that his invocation of Wilberforce was meant to draw attention to his good deeds in Africa. It's a wink and a nod to the John Browns of the forced birth movement, pure and simple: "I'm one of you."

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