a bird and a bottle

Brownback Strikes Again

Here’s a quite from a recent profile of Republican 2008 candidate Sen Sam Brownback (KS):

“I believe the child in the womb should be protected, and that we should also protect the person that’s in poverty, and the child that’s in Darfur, and working with prisoners so they don’t have so much recidivism and always back in the system.”

This quote is disturbing for two reasons:

First, it seems like prisoners’ rights activism is becoming a Republican, nee, far right issue. While I’m glad to see that somebody is taking this on, I’m pissed off that it’s not the Dems. Maybe this is a real moment of possibility for bipartisanship activism. But that would require the democrats to get off their rears and actually take a real interest in prison reform.

Oh, and Second: missing form that list of lives that Brownback cares about? Women. If life is so important, how about protecting women’s health, and guaranteeing reproductive health care? To Brownback, women are important…but only as incubators for those fetuses he is so eager to protect.

via ATL.


24 Comments so far
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interestingly, the middle-class generally – men, women, whatever – is absent from the list. clearly, he’s trying to make a moral case for fetuses (“the child in the womb”) to be counted among society’s defenseless, in need of our protection. this is utter paternalism and it assumes that the core of our society is fine and that only those at the very bottom need to be rescued. (how can he make this argument and not, for example, support national health care? because that would change the core of capitalist society rather than merely ameliorate some ‘aberrant’ problems at its fringes.)
as you indicate, this could make an alliance over prison reform a lot more difficult.
that said, systematic change is not on the political map right now. so his paternalistic prison reform program may be something worth exploring.

Comment by professorplum

it’s a good point, profp. Brownback is focusing on society’s “neediest” — a very Christian notion indeed. My question is this: how do we do what we want to (reform prisons, provide better welfare benefits) without being paternalistic? Is it the rhetoric or the policies?

Comment by bean

It seems you are being a bit unfair to Sam Brownback. You shouldn’t be taking out your anger at your own party on Sam Brownback. He cares about all life, including the child in the womb, those suffering in Darfur, those languishing in prison, those exploited by human trafficking, those stuck in poverty, families with children and more.

You seem to be stuck on the false premise that pro-life refers only to abortion. That’s where you would be wrong.

See Blogs 4 Brownback and learn the truth, before a bird and a bottle strikes again.

Comment by Psycheout

Hi. Nitpick: I think you mean “nay” and not “nee”.

Also, I’ve been thinking a lot about prison being paternalistic lately. I’m a criminal defense lawyer as well as a “children in need of aid” lawyer for parents whose kids fall into state custody, so the comparison is right in front of me. The whole premise of paternalism is the assumption that our power over this person – let’s start with the child – is based on our superior knowledge and his inferior developed state. That’s why I get to order my kid to brush his teeth, that’s why I get to use force [though not excessive] to enforce that order. The fact that someone had to be removed from the population and controlled – the prisoner, obviously – assumes also the superiority/inferiority bit, but, unlike with the kid, decisions and policies are not made with the prisoner’s wellbeing or future independence in mind. With the kid, my job is to protect him and also prepare him for an independent role in society. They don’t do that with prisoners, and given that they’re going to get shoved into that cell for the good of society, they should. Everything I’m saying is pretty obvious, but the nutshell is: More paternalism, please. Paternalism would be a huge step up in this case.

Comment by Phoebe Love

Re: paternalism:
The last words of my comment were: “his paternalistic prison reform program may be something worth exploring.”
The dangers, however, are the broader implications of a paternalistic approach to governing. I think it’s fair to say that paternalism and women’s rights do not mix well – which, i think, was the point of bean’s initial post. I would conjecture – please correct me if i am wrong – that his stances on immigrants and minorities (two additional groups that have not faired well under paternalism’s strict hand) probably leave something to be desired.

Comment by professorplum

See for yourself here: http://www.brownback.com/s/Issues/tabid/60/Default.aspx. Immigration – one of the key issues for this year’s Congress – is not even mentioned once (I searched for it on the “issues” page). Nothing on poverty either. Though there is room for Brownback to declare that he is against same sex marriage, for lower taxes, and thinks we can win the war in Iraq. hmm….

Comment by bean

how about an immigration grade of “D” from Americans for Better Immigration:


That said, his support of prison reform seems to be the real deal and should not be taken lightly. For example:

According to the Times’ Chris Suellentrop, Brownback is one of the leading backers of the Second Chance Act, “a bill that focuses not on how to ‘lock them up’ but on how to let them out,” Suellentrop reported. If passed, The Second Chance Act would allocate close to $100 million over two years for individual states to develop programs to assist ex-offenders as they reenter society.
source: http://www.mediatransparency.org/story.php?storyID=170

Comment by professorplum

It’s worth mentioning that Brownback’s support of prison reform isn’t as innocuous as it seems. He supports programs that encourage rehabilitation by religious conversion; what he wants is to find captive audiences that Evangelicals can forcibly convert on pain of remaining in prison or having worse parole terms.

Now, I don’t mind a bipartisan coalition including Brownback to institute some prison reform. I suppose Obama could do it, although so far he’s only come out in favor of the religious portions of Brownback’s program without supporting real reform. But it’s important to make sure the resulting bill will be a prison reform bill rather than yet another anti-separation of church and state measure. Two years ago I wouldn’t have worried so much because the Supreme Court would’ve stricken the religious language; now that O’Connor has given way to Alito, who like Roberts will likely declare such a measure constitutional, this strategy is no longer feasible.

Is it the rhetoric or the policies?

Policies, likely. The problem with the current welfare policy in the US isn’t that people talk about welfare queens; it’s that welfare benefits are distributed as if welfare queens were a widespread problem. For example, take food stamps: does the government trust the poor so little it would rather give them food stamps than just distribute them money to spend on what they need?

Welfare reform was supposed to get around the problem of paternalism by offering worker retraining programs – in other words, truly helping people help themselves. If I’m not mistaken, Congressional Republicans struck worker retraining from the original bill because that would make welfare more than a program of systematic humiliation.

Comment by Alon Levy

First off, count me among those who believe paternalism is misplaced when dealing with minorities and women!
Thing 2: My google foray into the Second Chance Act reveals a seemingly extremely cool nonprof of the same name:
a lovely article in the wall street journal:
and then I went and paid five dollars very grudgingly to the NYT for its December 2006 magazine article “The Right Has a Jailhouse Conversion” which has made my day. I take back everything I moaned about Willie Horton on another post’s comment. Democratic candidates can now afford to talk about this stuff without being tarred and feathered.

Comment by Phoebe Love

Incidentally, a lot of Republicans are unhappy with people like Brownback and Huckabee; the phrase they use is “big government social conservatives.” It’s not just name recognition that’s putting Giuliani ahead of everyone else in the Republican Party; the other contenders are even more unpalatable to conservatives than he is.

So it’s entirely possible that any effort the Democrats make to ally with Brownback on issues like prison reform will only backfire, causing Brownback to distance himself from any program they come up with in order to pander to the conservative base.

Comment by Alon Levy

It’s not just Brownback, though. This is what I gathered from the NYT article – super hardcore “law and order Republicans” have flipped on this across the country, and support the Second Chance Act and its goals in general, i.e. rehabilitation. The fact that Brownback is for it is an indicator of a larger trend – he’s not alone in this at all.

Comment by Phoebe Love

Right – it’s not just Brownback. And the fact that it is happening so broadly among far-right ‘law and order’ Republicans makes me nervous. Very nervous.

Comment by bean

And this could – and should – be framed as a money saver, this act, not a budget drain, because of the impact it would have on recidivism and more incarceration $$. The nonprof has demonstrated this in their own tracking of former students/patients/whatever.

Comment by Phoebe Love

Bean – spend the five dollars and read the nyt article, I swear, I’m as paranoid as anyone but this seems legit, and even plausible. Search for “The Right has a Jailhouse Conversion”.

Comment by Phoebe Love

Phoebe Love, I have read the article (and found it really encouraging) — and for free! You get free TimesSelect with an .edu email address). I think what makes me uneasy is the connection I see between this interest and religion. Many of these new rehabilitation programs have religious over and undertones (for example, one program allows inmates to shave time off their sentences and secure better housing if they accepted Jesus).

So maybe my insecurity about this is exaggerated, but I can’t help but not feel 100% jubilant about this development…

Comment by bean

I understand, and that is certainly going to be a skirmish down the road, but what encourages me at this moment is the shift in mindset – that these people are not garbage, that it is our duty as a society to provide them with the tools to reintegrate [or integrate for the first time] into lawful society. This is a huge shift. And it seems rooted in the very religion that makes us wary establishment-clause-wise. When people are seen as people like this, it precludes the use of phrases like “pure evil” and everything that follows from such terminology. I read a post today on Sullivan’s blog – annoyingly I can’t link to the exact one, but here’s the address:
and you have to scroll down to March 29, 11:48 a.m. (just below the happy grimace of Rudy G.)-
and it’s a reader who takes Sullivan to task for using the term, and makes a Christian case against it in very strict terms. This mindset – even if faith-based – I respect enormously and agree with whether or not it’s bible-endorsed. If this is what’s motivating the shift, then I’m happy, because a real recognition that human beings aren’t trash will ultimately change everything. Maybe even someday prisoners will get times-select for free!

Comment by Phoebe Love

But it’s not a program meant to help prisoners; rather, it’s a program meant to provide preachers with a captive audience.

Comment by Alon Levy

Alon, it might be a little of both. BUt I do think the religious aspects are misguided at best and violate the establishment clause at worst. But I do think that faith based organizations and community services are not as black-and-white as I make them out to be — in some communities, the church is the center of life and the best way to disseminate information. Does that mean that they should be banned? No – but it does mean that maybe they shouldn’t receive public funding in the same way as non-religious orgs.

I do think, though, that Phoebe is right o point out that this shift in mindset is notable – and encouraging. As I’ve said throughout this (really great) thread, though, I think Dems need to step up and take part (or leadership) in this, particularly because the dems can help temper the discomforting religious aspects…

Comment by bean

Mr. Levy: What program are you talking about?

Comment by Phoebe Love

Yes, what Bean said, and because the right wing is now saying all this, there’s no [Willie Horton] reason any more why Democrats can’t.

Comment by Phoebe Love

hmmmmmm! Ok I just found out that the Second Chance program, linked to above, appears to be Scientologist run:
“Through a licensing agreement with Criminon International, the Second Chance Program, Inc. uses manuals in the field of education as well as drug and criminal rehabilitation based upon research by American researcher and humanitarian, L. Ron Hubbard. These manuals have been evaluated by the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C. and compare favorably to best practice in the criminal justice field.”
I mean, who else describes L. Ron Hubbard as an “American researcher and humanitarian”? Shoot. Well I hope people are at least getting something useful out of it. Yikes.

Comment by Phoebe Love

Phoebe Love, I was commenting on “one program allows inmates to shave time off their sentences and secure better housing if they accepted Jesus.”

Comment by Alon Levy

OK, Alon Levy, I agree that’s frightening in more ways than one. But I can’t figure out where that quote was from. Could you direct me please? I’m sorry if you said it before. I couldn’t find the reference, though.

Comment by Phoebe Love

It’s from Bean’s 3/29, 4:02 pm comment on this thread.

Comment by Alon Levy

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