Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Part 2: 'Fear and Trembling' on the Campaign Trail

by Kyle Michaelis

In the primary – actually before the primary – I heard you talk about being the most conservative candidate in the race in many regards…What are your conservative credentials?

Well, it’s pretty straight-forward… I don’t want to say academic, but it’s a credentialed conservatism. In other words, it’s not this neo-conservative ready Republicanism that’s going on in Washington. It’s conservative in terms of more traditional community values.

I think conservatives by nature…at least, historically, have always been concerned about community values…. Whether that’s church, families, schools, local businesses – that’s been a stalwart of conservatism. Change - I don’t like change for change’s sake. And, I think that’s a fairly conservative principle….

We are changing very rapidly. With the transformation from a family, working-day small business-based kind of Nebraska to a more corporate organized [structure], conservatives would cast a long glance at that….

Let’s look at agriculture…I’m very committed to family farms and ranchers, and I don’t think the Republican Party is. I think there’s a lot of lip service. Governor Heineman is going to milk a cow because this month is Dairy Month, and it’s so hypocritical because under the Johanns/Heineman Administration we’ve lost nearly 1,100 family dairies in the state of Nebraska. We’re down to less than 400. When Johanns got in, we had about fourteen or fifteen hundred – I’ve got the exact numbers – and now we’re down to 378 or something the last time I looked.

That’s not conservative. All right?

The other thing about conservatives is that they tend to regard government – at least, their initial impulse is- that government is neither evil nor good, but you need to look at the size of government and its shadow cast over the individuals’ life. So, for me, when you talk about issues, for example, like abortion, it’s a conservative issue to say I don’t think the United States government should be involved in making that most personal decision for a woman.

Yes, it’s a moral decision, but that’s not the point. The point is, as a conservative, how far do you want the United States government involved in those moral decisions. We all have to make a lot of moral decisions – whether to get married or not, once you’re married, whether to stay married or not – those are all moral decisions and I don’t think that every step along the way we want government involved.

So, that’s what I’m talking about when I talk about being a conservative. And, conservatives also have a tendency to value heritage and ancestry a lot, and I do. If you’ve heard me speak you know that I look back a lot to what principles were guiding my great-great grandfather…my grandmother and so forth. That’s not a flippant statement.

We’re so topsy-turvy. Especially at the federal level, we have quote-unquote “Republicans” in charge who are not conserving anything. So, where does that get you?

For those voters for whom their conservatism has become so tied-in with these hot button issues like abortion, can you break that kind of single-issue hold on voters?

I think I’ve been successful when I’ve had the time to speak with people. You know, it’s very interesting, the very first time the World-Herald interviewed me the first question – even before they asked how to spell my name right – the very first question was “are you pro-choice or pro-life”.

That indicates to me there are certain media in this country that are more interested in portraying candidates in these fighting modes than they are serious dialogue. And, that’s unfortunate. So, my approach with these social issues has not been to…narrow the debate and try to get away from it as soon as possible. I take them head-on, and I explain to people where I’m coming from in terms of my own belief and faith….

And, I’ve got to tell you that many times, more often than not people come around and see that I’m more a moderate on that than the ideological extremism…of where Gov. Heineman has positioned himself. I mean, think about what he said. I love philosophy but, as much as possible, I hate abstraction. I like to boil things down to real life. So, abortion, that issue tends to become more abstract than almost anything we talk about – which is not a conservative principle. Conservatives like to think about things in real terms – as do Nebraskans, by the way. We’re very practical people….

Instead of talking about the will of God…what you really have to do is boil it down. And, as I’ve said before, as Governor, you have to say, “all right, would I be able to tell a woman that she and her doctor are going to jail if she has an abortion.” That’s the question, the real-life decisions. It’s not… roll your eyes back in your head, glaze over, and repeat the mantra of any particular religious group. My view is God wants us to decide with fear and trembling so many issues. And, he or she wants us to make those decisions.

In my view, a woman should make that decision with fear and trembling with her God – not by being imposed on.

I also have tremendous concern in today’s life with the trampling, the diminishing of the line between church and state. Not only is it not good for the state; it ain’t very good for the church either. And, I’m very committed to the role of the church in society….

I was reading a book the other day by Huston Smith, “The Soul of Christianity” – and he talks about what did Jesus mean when he said, “My Kingdom is not of this world.” You either believe that or you don’t. So, if you’re a Christian and you’re involved in politics, you have to make a clear distinction about what civil society is and what it is not…. It’s not going to bring about the Kingdom of God. It disturbs me that in today’s world we don’t see that because so much of our political history, in the founding of this country… thinking Christians understood that.

We’re crossing a line. Unfortunately, I think peoples’ religion is being used for unsavory political ends….

You have quite a background in theology. Does that really inform who you are as a person?

Yes, it does. It really does. I was having dinner the other night with some friends and…we got into that discussion. And I said I understand a lot of the evangelical fervor because I’ve been through that in my life. I went to a small evangelical Christian college…. I was President of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. I was in a group called Young Light. I’ve been to Billy Graham’s Evangelical meetings. That was all a part of my being and I don’t disavow it at all. It’s not a negative, certainly. In fact, it gives me…insight….

I feel very comfortable, for example, going to churches and talking to people. The tragedy is that certain powers, certain political powers, have realized they can manipulate church participation for very cynical, political ends. That disturbs me greatly…..

Let’s look at another issue – the ban on gay marriage. The reason I would have voted against it? Because it’s the ultimate in hypocrisy…..There is no question this has been used as a wedge issue. There’s no evidence whatsoever that people who are homosexual and want to have a relationship or marry has an impact on heterosexual relationships. There’s no evidence of it….

Does that mean I would try to change Nebraska’s constitution? No. Nebraska’s Constitution has been passed – it’s a state’s right issue. But, on the other hand, those who are so concerned about preserving the family ought not be hypocrites if they want to carry that through, and they ought to tack onto that amendment a ban on divorce.

Right? Because the Bible teaches against that. It says “whatever God puts together, no man shall tear asunder”…..It’s very clear that God and Christ teach against divorce, but I don’t see any Senator standing up and saying “We want to preserve the family. What’s the biggest threat against the family?......It’s not gay marriage; it’s divorce.”

We have a divorce rate in this country of over 50%, so if we want to fix it let’s ban divorce. But, of course, they won’t do that…. They’re not going to do that. It’s obvious to me that unless someone has the moral courage to stand up and say that, then I won’t even listen to them. And guys like Rush Limbaugh – I think between he and his wife… they have 4 or 5 divorces between them. Does that mean he’s a bad person? No. It means he’s a hypocrite when he calls for a ban on gay marriage. And, as Democrats, I think it’s time we all stood up and start saying that. So, here I am saying it – Rush Limbaugh is a hypocrite when he calls for a ban on gay marriage.

Not that I’m promoting it. I don’t want it twisted that this is my keystone issue because it’s not, but as a Christian I am offended by the amount of hypocrisy towards gay marriage. That’s probably the core of why I get so upset about it.


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