Wednesday, April 29, 2009

In Defense of Sam Brownback: You Play to Win the Game

On Tuesday, Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, by a vote of 65-31, was confirmed as Secretary of Health and Human Services by the United States Senate. Despite widespread conservative opposition, including the rather substantial 31 votes against her, both Kansas Senators, Pat Roberts and Sam Brownback, voted for her.

Roberts and Brownback, both pro-life, were criticized in press releases and statements by conservative pro-life organizations, including Operation Rescue and Kansans for Life. Many conservative individuals will criticize them both -- particularly Brownback -- for a lack of principles, and threaten not to support him for Governor.

While their frustration with Senators Bronwback and Roberts is understandable, we believe that these individuals should take a step back and look at the big picture here.

Certainly, a vote against confirming Sebelius would have been acceptable. She has an atrocious record on life and health care issues. She has been commander-in-chief of the opposition to pro-life legislation and the pro-life movement in Kansas. Not to mention, she has stood in the way of reform on a number of other issues, whether it be on energy, taxes, or the size of government. She is no friend and certainly a no vote is justifiable.

However, it is for those very reasons that a yes vote was also justfiable -- particularly when all the other political AND policy factors are taken into consideration -- such as the fact it gets Sebelius out of Kansas, for one; and two, it ensure that the winner of the Tiahrt/Moran Senate primary will be facing a much weaker Democrat than the substantial and real political force that is Kathleen Sebelius.

Now, some may be aghast at such a statement -- "you're putting politics before principle!!" There is another argument, however. First of all -- there are actual principled policy reasons for removing Sebelius from the Governorship; and second of all, the fact is what we're talking about here IS politics -- there is no getting around it. Most dedicated principled conservatives compete in politics not for the political game but for the end results of such victories. However, in order to get there -- you have to win. In the famous words of former Chiefs Coach Herman Edwards, "You Play to Win the Game."

Now, does that mean you throw aside all principles for the sake of political victory? Of course note. Any effective principled politician must weigh both sides of those two words -- both the
"principled" and the "politician".

In this case, if a vote against Kathleen Sebelius would have meant we'd have a chance at a pro-life HHS Secretary, a no vote would be the only vote, even if there were political and policy consequences in Kansas.

However, everyone knows that that is not the case here. We have a very pro-abortion President in President Obama, who was going to nominate a pro-abortion HHS Secretary under ANY circumstance. Therefore, in this instance, the choices were as follows:

- Vote No (which from media reports, in both Roberts' and Brownback's cases, would have derailed her nomination) and she can't be HHS and conservatives are happy. However, she stays in Kansas as Governor, meaning she is not only a huge legislative roadblock but is a likely foe in the 2010 Senate race to succeed Brownback, and serves as a turnout force for Democrats in general in a year where conservatives have a chance to make substantial gains in Kansas. Not only that, Obama appoints another pro-abort.

- Vote Yes, which ensures her confirmation. She leaves Kansas and though she is a liberal HHS Secretary and conservatives are mad, she is no longer a legislative roadblock and less of a political force than before, and the deck is largely cleared for either Tiahrt or Moran to hold the Senate seat, and Democrats have no motivational force to drive turnout in 2010.

So, essentially, we have two terrible choices and it is up to every Senator to make an individual decision about what is the best one. For a conservative Senator outside Kansas, a no vote might make sense. There was no risk in doing so. However, for a conservative Senator from Kansas, whose vote could derail the nomination, the choice was huge. Do you vote to keep her as Governor and thus keep her as a legislative roadblock and political force that could potentially take over the very Senate seat you are leaving, putting in danger any hopes of major Republican gains...or....do you vote to send her to HHS, thus making conservatives mad and also putting this very pro-abort woman as head of this important cabinet department?

In this case, one could make a strong case that given the circumstances, particularly the certainty Obama would have appointed someone pro-abortion anyway, and given both the political and the policy consequences associated with keeping her as Governor,that the right political AND principled vote was to vote to confirm Kathleen Sebelius.

In the world of politics and policy, in order to achieve the right policy, you have to play politics. Sam Brownback played to win the game.