Over 30 years ago, I sat in a dorm room talking to a black, pre-law student from Detroit. As he glared at me, he said that it made more sense for us to think about being Republicans than Democrats because of the unique needs of our community in the 70s. That was out-of-the-box thinking at that time. Today this man is a successful investment banker, leading a powerful firm.
A few years later my first cousin, a Harvard Law graduate shared a vision of becoming a patent attorney and later a political leader. He spoke of shaking things up and making a lasting difference in our nation. As a result of his hard work, he joined a prestigious law firm at age 25 and was elected to the Richmond City Public School Board the same year. At age 32, he became a partner at the firm. He was nominated for the Virginia Supreme Court at age 34 and elected the first black Chief Justice of the Virginia Supreme Court at 47 years old.
During the last few weeks, there has been much discussion about the future of the evangelical movement and its impact on the American culture. For years, prophets of doom have been busy telling the world that the evangelical movement is dead or dying. This year as President Barack Obama's administration has shifted the nation's stance on embryonic stem cell research and abortion, many in the faith community have justifiably become concerned. Further, RNC Chairman Michael Steele's decision to lower his personal and his party's vocalization of socially conservative issues, such as protecting the life of the unborn and preservation of traditional marriage, has left many evangelicals feeling abandoned by both parties.
What's next for evangelicals? It seems to me that evangelicals are on the verge of finding their collective voice in a very new way. In the future evangelicals will seek to be more of a swing vote, placing pressure on both parties to advance a theologically conservative and fiscally conservative agenda. They will base these stances on a combination of biblical orthodoxy and common sense. The conservative movement would do well to attempt to re-build bridges behind the scenes with mature and developing evangelical leadership - especially in minority communities.
Last week as I was discussing the difficulty of communicating issues of faith on secular media, a Catholic friend of mine asked why the Pope had spoken out so boldly on the AIDS problem. It seemed to this liberal Catholic that the Pope had once again stuck his nose where it did not belong. Pope Benedict XVI made the following statement in Yaounde, Cameroon, "You can't resolve it with the distribution of condoms ...On the contrary, it increases the problem."
As far as I can tell, contrary to my friend's opinion, the Pope was right this time. In fact, his statement was not just a doctrinal position on sexuality; it was also a practical observation about a dreaded disease that the Roman Catholic Church has invested billions of dollars to fight around the world. I agree with the Pope that a responsible and moral attitude toward sex would help fight the disease.
It was appropriate that his statement was made in sub-Saharan Africa, where some 22 million people are infected with HIV (accounting for two-thirds of the world's infections in 2007, according to UNAIDS). Adding insult to injury, this region also accounted for three-quarters of all AIDS deaths in 2007. In four southern African countries, national adult HIV prevalence has exceeded 30 percent: Botswana (38.8 percent), Lesotho (31 percent), Swaziland (33.4 percent) and Zimbabwe (33.7 percent). Food crises faced in the latter three countries are also linked to the HIV/AIDS epidemic by some experts. In just the past year, the AIDS epidemic in Africa has claimed the lives of an estimated 1.5 million people in this region. Perhaps most concerning of all is the fact that more than eleven million children have been orphaned by AIDS, according to the UNAIDS 2008 report.
The Pope's observation about the use of condoms also applies to the spread of HIV in the developed world as well. There needs to be a world- wide initiative aimed at two things: 1. stopping the spread of the disease and, 2. finding a medical cure for HIV/AIDS.
Just days before the Pope issued his statement in a far away national capital in the impoverished land of Cameroon, leaders in the world's most powerful city also threw up their hands in exasperation. Washington, DC health officials discovered that at least 3 percent of residents are living with HIV or AIDS. The report points to increases of incidence in every race and sex; in fact the disease has impacted every population and neighborhood within the District.
This is particularly disturbing compared to the 2006 report. The DC report does not conclusively show that condoms do not work. It suggests to me, that many people are not even trying to use condoms. The increase in the HIV/AIDS infection rate is not the only surprise in this work. Let's look a little deeper into the study.
Cases of HIV and AIDS in DC jumped 22 percent in the last two years. What has caused such an abrupt increase? The report states that men having sex with men accounts for most of the cases. Heterosexual transmission and injection drug use follow. The raw data states that of those living with AIDS, 37.5 percent were due to homosexual contact, 25.6 percent were due to heterosexual contact and 23.5 percent were due to drug use.
I was personally shocked by how many older people in the nation's most powerful city assumed that all "the noise" about safe sex was for someone else. Those in the 40-49 year age bracket had a startling 1 in 10 rate of occurrence among residents. Further, the black community in DC seems to need a very intense HIV/AIDS education program since black men reached the highest infection rate. In the 2008 DC update, the black female infection rate is equal to that of white males.
The overarching lesson the DC numbers show me is that the AIDS pandemic has similar dynamics here in the states as it does overseas. Dr. Shannon Hader, Director of the HIV/AIDS Administration at the DC Department of Health, stated (somewhat defensively) that Washington does not have the highest rate of the disease among the world's capital cities - but it does have the highest rate among US cities.
Thankfully, Dr. Hader stated that the District is still looking to initiate a comprehensive response, including early detection and prevention of ongoing transmission. Even the Washington HIV/AIDS Administration agrees that responsibility toward sexual encounters is a primary factor in preventing the virus from transmitting. In fact, Dr. Hader stated that along with other preventions, "...serious decisions about relationships can make a large prevention difference."
In conclusion, let me applaud the Pope's boldness to state the primary way HIV/AIDS can be stopped. I felt sorry for him that his brave statements have been interpreted as petty, bigoted, and out of touch with modern sexuality. I also applaud the Roman Catholic Church for having the wisdom to minister to people around the world suffering with AIDS. Many of us non-Catholics are guilty of criticizing the way problems are being addressed without investing anything in a solution. For this reason, I have made a commitment to stamping out AIDS in our lifetime. I have raised thousands of dollars to fund research for a world famous, D.C.-based organization. My vehicle for raising the money was running several marathons. The fund raising has been my contribution. What's yours?
We should all do what the hymn writer said, "If everyone lit just one little candle, what a bright world this would be!" Let's take every opportunity to combat the spread of this dreaded disease.
Last Tuesday, I stood in front of the steps of Maryland State House as one of the speakers at an annual pro-life rally. Nearly 1,000 demonstrators chanted, sang and vowed to return to their homes that night to strategize organizing their houses of worship, schools, and communities to fight the continuing devaluation of human life by the American public. When it came time for my remarks, I reminded the crowd that the battle for life was not over - we simply have new battle lines.
The day before our rally, President Obama made a powerful but concerning speech, justifying his decision to remove the restraints against government funding of embryonic stem research. The president warned twice that overstating the promise of stem cell research is wrong. This was wise, as embryonic stem cell zealots are promising handicapped men and women breakthroughs during their lifetime for the most debilitating diseases. Although it was refreshing to hear a cry for tempered expectation from the president, future research could lead to major ethical transgressions, such as human cloning.
Most pro-life conservatives believe that Congress should have banned federal involvement in human embryonic stem cell research based on the fact that it destroys a human being. We believe that the nation should never approve the destruction of living human beings to preserve or promote the health of other living human beings in the name of science. Based on this moral posture, the religious community especially encourages the use of alternative sources of stem cells, such as adult stem cells, those from umbilical cords or placentas, or other new sources such as reprogrammed skin cells by increasing federal funding for this type of research.
The embryonic stem cell research debate became personal for me this past September when my wife needed a stem cell transplant. All other treatment for her blood cancer - multiple myeloma - had failed. Let me take a moment to describe her treatment protocol. Weeks before the transplant, she went into the hospital where her own stem cells were frozen and stored. Later on, high-dose chemotherapy was administered to her in a sterile hospital unit on a 24-hour basis for a week. Finally, her stem cells were given back.
What I have just clumsily described is an autologous stem cell transplant. This by far is the most common type of transplant performed on myeloma patients today. The term "autologous" refers to stem cells that are collected from an individual and given back to that same individual. Autologous transplants are also referred to as auto grafts. The doctors believe that this treatment has given my wife back her life and her future. Ironically, this encounter with modern science reminded me why I am pro-adult stem cell research (which has yielded 72 treatments or cures like my wife's) and anti-embryonic stem cell research (which has yielded no treatments or cures).
Congress should obviously not have opened the flood gates of embryonic stem cell research because it's ineffective!
In the 10 years that embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) has been conducted, there have yet to be any successful treatments of any medical condition. In fact, ESCR is problematic in that the cells divide and multiply so rapidly that they create tumors. There are also problems of host rejection. There is, however, a successful and ethical alternative: adult stem cell research.
Unlike ESCR, seventy-two breakthroughs have been made in adult and cord blood research. These breakthroughs are addressing major health concerns, such as ovarian and breast cancer, diabetes, and heart disease among others. With the success of adult stem cell research, logical people conclude that we should put money where the breakthroughs are occurring and stop cloning embryonic cells.
We should be investing our resources in this kind of medical and scientific research that is not only effective but is also ethical in that it does not require the destruction of a human embryo. In this debate over human life, regardless of whether it is over abortion, embryonic stem cell research, or end of life issues, we must have a fixed reference point from which we do not deviate. That point is simply this: all innocent human life is deserving of our collective protection.
Research that involves the destruction or manipulation of embryonic human beings should be eliminated from universities. Higher institutions affiliated with religious institutions must understand the indictment they bring on our beliefs if they participate in research involving human embryonic cells. College alumni must take the time to find out if their alma maters are participating in morally suspect research. If an institution is using human embryos, its alumni should petition to halt such research. The academic community should set standards that define the precious and unique nature of each human life.
In a legal brief filed by Mother Teresa in a court case in New Jersey a number of years ago she wrote:
I have no new teaching for America. I seek only to recall you to faithfulness to what you once taught the world. Your nation was founded on the proposition-very old as a moral precept, but startling and innovative as a political insight-that human life is a gift of immeasurable worth, and that it deserves, always and everywhere, to be treated with the utmost dignity and respect.
The goal of life should not be to enrich and prolong our own lives at all costs, especially when that cost is the next generation. If we aggressively follow the path of cloning and embryonic stem cell research, we will become the first generation of Americans to fail to make sacrifices so that our posterity might prosper. We will also wrongly commit to sacrificing our posterity in the pursuit of the elusive fountain of youth. We are better than that. Let's commit to the protection all human life.
Harry R. Jackson Jr. is senior pastor of 3,000-member Hope Christian Church in the nation's capital. Jackson, who earned an MBA from Harvard, is a best-selling author and popular conference speaker. He leads the High-Impact Leadership Coalition.
Michael Steele has been the consummate politician for a number of years, but his recent public appearances have made people wonder what the "New Republican Party" will actually stand for. Some fear that his propensity for headline grabbing will render him less than credible as a serious leader of the party of Lincoln. Currently, he is an enigma to blacks and whites, Democrats and Republicans, and the rich and poor. It is safe to deduce that Mr. Steele is attempting to find his voice; unfortunately his movement needs bold leadership - now.
The media has said much concerning the downward spiral of the Republican Party, which has caused it to lose control of the House, the Senate, and the White House. It's clear that the current economic policies of the Obama administration have given true conservatives an opportunity to become the "loyal opposition" and regain a sense of purpose and dignity. Unfortunately, the party is so out-gunned that it has to have a level of unity and political sagacity that is unusual in these days.
Ultimately, Steele wants to enlarge his following and make the GOP a thriving brand again. Grassroots leaders are painfully aware that the first step to building a huge movement is often making it small. Making it small means redefining the movement's vision and its core values. It means making sure that everyone knows what it means to be a conservative or a Republican.
Last week, Rush Limbaugh helped the conservative movement by clarifying and refining the definition of current conservative principles. While Michael Steele apologized to Limbaugh for diminishing him as being "just an entertainer," I wonder if Mr. Steele really understands the sequence that his messages to the nation must take. Re-establishing a unifying vision comes first. Recruiting new members comes second. The unifying phase does not have to take an entire year, but it must be given some time.
Social conservatives are especially fearful that the new chairman will throw them under the bus. They believe that he has already minimized their battle to secure constitutional amendments around the nation. Since Steele is personally a social conservative, I can only deduce that his new "handlers" have coached him to avoid stereotypes. They say that he must break with the dead weight of the past. The party must become more secular and it cannot be an old boy's club for gentlemen from the south. While the need to change the party's image may be real, preserving the core values of a much-needed movement is incredibly more important.
For these reasons it concerns me that Chairman Steele seems to have been caught in the communications wars of the mainstream media. Instead of issuing a clear rallying call, he has temporarily created the potential for factions within the party. The balancing act that Steele must perform is focusing upon his current opportunities to protect the nation, without throwing his political base overboard by trying to grow the party too quickly.
For now, the GOP cannot and should not be for everybody. The chairman's current role should be used to expand his party's influence by excellence of instead of switching constituents. Last week, James Olliphant of the Chicago Tribune made an interesting assessment on Michael Steele's first days in office. He wrote:"A man of constantly colliding analogies, he compares Republicans to drunks in need of a 12-step program and to the mentally ill. He has insulted Rush Limbaugh and moderate Republican senators alike, and he has promised a ‘hip-hop makeover' that would attract even ‘one-armed midgets' to his party." Olliphant is hardly a Steele supporter, but his skepticism of the chairman's ability to pull off his makeover is valid.
Again, I remind my readers that the noble goal of inclusion can come soon, but must not be rushed (no pun intended). Recently Steele's praise of Charlie Crist's work in Florida was uncharacteristically "ham handed" for the chairman. Desperate for a success story, Steele has publicly cited Crist's high approval rating and the strong majorities Republicans have in the Florida House and Senate. Although the chairman may view Crist's modus operandi as a model for the party, Crist is not always a unifying figure for the GOP.
Steele has unwisely attributed Crist's popularity to "his habit of working with Democrats and talking more about pocketbook issues instead of conservative social issues like abortion, gay marriage and guns." Notice that these words unnecessarily pit one group of supporters against another.
In the same Associated Press interview, Steele added insult to injury by telling reporter Brendan Farrington: "Florida is not the red state that Alabama is and it's not the red state that Mississippi is. It may be a red state, but it's a different hue of red...A lot of folks believe that if we're not constantly beating that drum on one or other social issues, that we're somehow less Republican and my argument is quite the opposite. The beauty of our party is that we appreciate and know what we believe. It's core to who we are, and we have the flexibility and dexterity to speak to people on a broad array of issues."
Although the lawyers and strategists in the party understand that Steele's previous comments were intended to show the national party's resilience and ability to change, unfortunately no one is talking to either social conservatives or southern Republicans. This kind of oversight could prove to be political kryptonite for the man of Steele. It would be a shame for someone so talented to miss an opportunity to pull off a David-vs-Goliath-type coup around economic issues because he talked too much to the wrong audience at the wrong time.
In conclusion, let me state that Michael Steele is a true American hero. An adopted child who was raised in the ghetto, he has achieved what few people from his background could have. AfterSteele's father died in 1962, his mother, Maebell, refused to go on welfare. She demonstrated a genuine "pull-yourself-up-by-your-boot-straps" philosophy, which became a part of Chairman Steele's worldview.
Because of her efforts and Michael's hard work, he attended Johns Hopkins undergraduate school and Georgetown Law School. Similar to Barack Obama, Steele emerged from statewide office (Lt. Governor of Maryland) to the national scene in a meteoric fashion. He personally embodies the values and perspective of the Republican Party over the last forty years.
With this outstanding background, Mr. Steele could undoubtedly lead the GOP into an innovative, revival of conservative influence in the nation despite his rocky start. Let's hope the chairman gathers the kind of advisors around him that will establish the proper priorities for the future of the RNC.
Like most Americans, I have been challenged recently to make sense of a great number of speeches given by politicians, political appointees, and media pundits. We are in an era in which many of our community leaders desire to rewrite or redefine history, while selling us philosophies and theories instead of proven solutions to our pressing problems. As an English major and a student of public speaking, I have been shocked by how poorly our greatest leaders have used the opportunities they have had to speak to the nation.
This week there were two important speeches that were distinct opposites. The first was President Obama's economic speech last Tuesday and the second was Rush Limbaugh's speech last Saturday at the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC). These two speeches seemed to be polar opposites. The President should get an A+ on style, but a C- on substance. While Rush Limbaugh followed a brash politically incorrect approach to his speech, it should be graded a C- on style but an A+ on substance.
The president's financial message finally struck a nerve with average Americans listening from their living rooms. It seemed to me that "President Barack was Back!" As he addressed the Congress and Senate, he showed his ability to move an audience, showcase outstanding Americans, and seemingly speak from his heart to the issues of the day.
After the speech, the polls showed that it was a hit in terms of style, force, and building confidence. Anthony Salvanto, who directs surveys for CBS, spoke about the president's address: "Before the speech, 71 percent said they were optimistic about the next four years with Barack Obama as president, and that went up to 80 percent after they tuned into the speech." Unfortunately for the nation, business leaders and the financial markets did not grade the president on style; they looked for content and fiscal responsibility that could be "sold" to business leaders around the world. In the absence of an encouraging fiscal blueprint from the president and his economic advisors, the stock market and business leaders continued to make plans to weather the biggest recession the nation has seen in over 60 years.
Economists are waiting to hear the figures as to how many jobs we have lost in February. An official report will be posted by Friday but many researchers feel as though the Obama speech was too little, too late. In the minds of leading economists, his positive remarks about the economy were focused on the wrong audience. Managers, who undoubtedly wanted to delay layoffs, received nothing of substance upon which to hang their hats. Leading economists, like those who write for Barclays Capital, say that next week's job report is "likely to be the weakest to date." They expect payroll losses of 675,000 and an unemployment rate of 8 percent. Global Insight's Bethune and Gault are predicting payroll losses of 750,000 and an employment rate of 8 percent - making "February ... the worst month yet."
Stephen Stanley, chief economist for RBS Greenwich Capital had a slightly less, dire view he assumes a jobs loss of only 625,000. Yet his prediction is based only on gut feelings. In fact he writes, "Our sense, admittedly based mostly on anecdotes, is that labor market conditions remain dismal but are not necessarily accelerating to the downside."
Where does all of this leave the president, his speech writers, and the American people?
It seems that the savviest of our business community still feel as though there is an anti-business tone in the president's public addresses. They believe that the trillions of dollars of expenditures planned in the stimulus package will probably take a long time to bring positive change. In the meantime, businesses and business owners will be blamed for our problems.
Moving on to Rush Limbaugh, I had the privilege of reading his speech in its entirety and watching most of its salient clips. Naturally, there were many excerpts taken out of context and played on what Rush would call "the drive by" media. Rush is not my favorite broadcaster. Even though, I am a conservative, I prefer to listen to the Fox News team instead of Mr. Limbaugh. Although he frequently resorts to meaningless name-calling and endless stereotyping of liberals, his speech's content should be graded as an A+. But he seemed to purposely leave himself open to criticism from his detractors because of the style of his presentation. Despite his polarizing comments about hoping President Obama fails, he made it clear by the end of the speech that he was opposed to the new president's stimulus package for many clear reasons including the following three:
unnecessary growth in government,
disincentives for small businesses,
the ratcheting up of "class warfare" rhetoric.
In addition to these points, Limbaugh talked about what bi-partisanship should mean to conservatives and how they should wage a war of principled public awareness. I felt personally encouraged by Limbaugh's speech. I will keep on presenting my conservative views with boldness during these trying times, because there is a war for the soul of the nation, which continues to rage.
In conclusion, while the president's speech won style points last week, Rush's speech won points on substance. After Rush's inspiring words, I believe more than ever before that America has a bright future, which will be built by the hard work and ingenuity of great Americans from every ethnic group, financial background, and social class.