Taking On The Religious Right…In Kansas? Yes.

Hot sandwich, this press release from Tom Holland, a Kansas State Senator and the Democratic candidate for Governor, is good politics!

“I have read the stories in the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Lawrence Journal World and by the Associated Press detailing Senator Brownback’s relationship with Lou Engle, and my staff has shared with me additional information on Mr. Engle’s views and statements. I found all of this to be very troubling.

“The next Governor of Kansas will need to bring people together, not divide them along lines of fear and bigotry.

“Whether it’s upholding the executive ban on workplace discrimination against gays and lesbians, or preventing our state from being defined by the messages of Fred Phelps and Lou Engle – the next Governor has a responsibility to protect the rights of every Kansan.

“We’ve seen what happens when right-wing extremists get the spotlight; our state becomes a punch line on late night talk shows and companies think twice before bringing new jobs to our state. We can’t go down that path again.

“I’m running to be a leader for all Kansans, so that we can continue our legacy as a Free State, where discrimination and bigotry – against anyone – is not tolerated.”

Why is this so good (or at least why am I so excited by it)? Let me count the ways:

  1. It’s true. Check the Holland site for the citations, which are difficult to refute.
  2. Lou Engle has horrible politics. Brownback should have his judgment questioned for hanging around with him. More to the point, whether you like it or not, hanging a bigoted person around your opponent’s neck is an accepted and efficient political tactic.
  3. Fred Phelps has even more horrible politics. More to the point, he has horrible politics and he is loathed by Kansas. His clan has been terrorizing Topeka for decades. Hanging Westboro around Brownback’s neck isn’t entirely fair, but see the point about bigoted people above.
  4. Engle and the rest of the Religious Right deserve to be challenged. Not simply because they have horrible politics, though that’s also the case, but because their values are not universally held. In fact, there are man many folks who are not all about banning abortion, hating gays and lesbians, and generally establishing a right-wing theocracy. Though he doesn’t necessarily share every extreme position out there, there’s no arguing that Brownback has positioned himself out on the far edge of social conservatism. Kansans deserve to know that and have the opportunity to vote on it as they feel appropriate.
  5. Finally, somebody’s calling out right-wing extremism instead of made-up BS about supposed left-wing values.
  6. They’re doing it in the context of economic development. Like Holland says, it’s hard enough to encourage growth in a flyover state like Kansas. Why make it harder by convincing people it’s a hotbed of intolerance? (To put it another way, headlines like this are the bane of Mississippi booster clubs.)
  7. Last but not least, all of this comes along with a generous, constructive alternative: “a Free State, where discrimination and bigotry – against anyone – is not tolerated.” That’s not weak whining about Democrats having values too, nor pleading for civil discussion. It’s an alternative: you can have Sam Brownback or you can have a governor who will “protect the rights of every Kansan.” Your choice.

I have no idea if this will work. Holland’s campaign probably should have been pushing the narrative all along, doing their best to force Brownback off-message. But better this than nothing. More, please, from Holland and other Democratic campaigns.

P.S. I don’t think this is a shining example of what the religious Left is or could be. Rather, it’s an example of how liberals can use sharp contrasts in social positions to their advantage, without waffling or apologizing.