Columns » John Brummett

Guns, God and Mark Pryor


In a remarkable speech in October, which I missed at the time but the transcript of which I recently ran across, U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor told a "Guns, God and Guts" conference that a Democrat can compete in the South if he's gun-loving and deeply religious. More to the point, Pryor said a candidate needs to be showy about both because "silence is not golden ... silence is an admission of guilt." To what charge? Well, there are two, apparently. One would be not caring to shoot firearms. The other would be a desire to keep private whether or how you love the Lord. This was a conference in Washington of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council. Pryor was the toast of the gathering as the only Democrat to buck the national Republican sweep in the midterm elections. He unseated Tim Hutchinson by running to the center and the right thereof. Pryor's remarks seemed cynical until you noticed that he asserted the blessed coincidence of personal sincerity. How con-,veeen-yent, as the Church Lady might say. How inconvenient, though, for the poor Southern political candidate who doesn't want to wear his shotgun on one sleeve and his Bible on the other. Pryor apparently actually is an avid sportsman who knows his guns and his game. He told the group that the first pro-hunting brochures for his campaign came back with pictured landscape he noticed to be from Texas and photographs of a hunting activity he noticed to be for the "wrong kind of bird." He ordered up changes. He said he got a kick out of traveling the state during that campaign and seeing cars with his camouflage stickers on one end of the bumper and Bush-Cheney stickers on the other. As for religion, Pryor is a Fellowship Bible Church true-believer. He said in the speech that he really does read the Bible to his kids at night and lead them in table prayer, which he videotaped himself doing for television commercials two years ago. He said that his out-of-state consultant spent a few days with him in Arkansas and came away saying Pryor should never give a speech without quoting Holy Scripture. Pryor said that came naturally for him because he's been studying the Bible hard for two decades now. There was one moment of raw cynicism in Pryor's speech, though. He told the group that you need to get out front on abortion with a strong position. But Pryor had no strong position. Instead he had a tortured straddle by which he said he personally found abortion abhorrent but couldn't see the point to repealing Roe v. Wade because that would make the country a state-by-state mishmash. Managing to be essentially pro-choice in spite of his moral compunction helped him collect hundreds of thousands of dollars from national pro-choice groups targeting his race because of its potential significance to the balance of Senate power and the disposition of judicial nominations. More to the current point, then, is this: What do you do if you are a Democratic candidate hailing up from East but running in the South, and who hunts, but got an "F" from the NRA anyway, and is a Catholic, but one under fire from some of his faith for his pro-choice position? I invoke, of course, John Kerry. Pryor didn't say, specifically. He did say, though, that the first order of business is to be yourself. So, if you are a Democrat who doesn't care to hunt or invite cameras and lights to his prayers, then you confront two don'ts. One is don't dare try to fake it. The second, it seems to me, is don't bother running.

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