Cover Story

Parable of the Talent

"Parable of the Talent" Continued...

Issue: "Jim Talent: Majority maker," Nov. 23, 2002

Not that Rev. Stortz is complaining. And not that Jim Talent isn't supportive of issues important to his brethren-social-conservative staples like educational choice, pro-life legislation, and resisting the gay political agenda-or that he doesn't want the president's conservative judicial nominees confirmed; he is and he does. But here's a typical answer to questions about the likelihood of banning partial-birth abortion and human cloning: "Since we now have leadership that is favorable to the whole agenda of protecting life, I hope we will step back and ask ourselves, 'What is the best way of doing that right now?' And then pursue those in a respectful way, in a way where we listen to the other side, where we seek as broad a coalition as we can, but we keep moving forward."

The Talent political style is to make no mistakes. His Senate campaign was seen almost universally as flawless. As a senator, there will be no shooting from the hip, no hot rhetoric. He will cautiously seek consensus where possible, and on difficult-to-compromise issues, that style is likely to grate on social-conservative activists and voters.

He is careful when discussing how the Bible informs his politics. Asked the question directly, Mr. Talent demurs that his conservative political philosophy was formed before he met Christ and his core views of limited government haven't changed much since. He's a product of the economically libertarian University of Chicago law school, from which he graduated with honors in 1981. Mr. Talent, reared in a Jewish family, turned to Christ while listening to a Focus on the Family program on the radio. Host James Dobson's guest that day was internationally known evangelist Luis Palau, who ended his talk with an invitation for listeners to a prayer of repentance. Jim Talent pulled the car to the side of the road and prayed along with Rev. Palau.

Mr. Talent joined Covenant Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, worshipped there regularly, and sat under the teaching of Rodney Stortz. He worked through the ranks of the Missouri state legislature-he ascended to House minority leader-before a successful run for the U.S. Congress in 1992. He never had trouble with reelection until he vacated the seat to run for Missouri governor in 2000.

That race he would lose. Mr. Talent could have become bitter and cynical coming off that narrow defeat. His loss came under dubious circumstances: Evidence of voter fraud in the heavily Democratic, African-American precincts of the city of St. Louis-where polls were kept open late into the evening, hours past closing time-had Republicans demanding a federal probe. Even the left-wing newspaper in the city carried stories of fraudulent voter registrations; in one case the paper cited, a dog was registered to vote. A liberal columnist for the paper actually referred to the statewide elections as "stolen" and expressed surprise that George W. Bush was able to carry the state despite the cheating.

After that defeat, private citizen Talent turned to Pastor Stortz; both in 1990 had moved from Covenant to a new church Covenant planted, Twin Oaks. "I said, 'Let's use your spare time to study and learn,'" Rev. Stortz recalls. "I trained him in theology and evangelism." He says they met weekly with very few exceptions for a year, in addition to the Tuesday night evangelism training program called Evangelism Explosion. "People were a little surprised seeing this man who had run for governor knocking on their door" to pay them an evangelistic visit on behalf of a church. "He led people to Christ," Rev. Stortz says. "He's always talking about people he'd had an opportunity to share his faith with."

The 2000 election cycle also saw John Ashcroft swept out of the Senate not only by probable vote fraud but by sympathy votes for his opponent, Democrat Mel Carnahan, who died in a plane crash with just weeks to go in the campaign. A majority of voters selected him posthumously and, in a legally questionable move, the Democratic governor appointed his widow, Jean Carnahan, to the seat. Republicans likely could have successfully challenged the process in court, but Mr. Ashcroft was much too gentlemanly to have anything to do with it. He shut down his campaign and accepted the result.

Jim Talent will say only "it's possible, I guess" he was robbed in 2000, but here his theological training becomes evident: He turns to the reality of providence. "I do believe that God governs in the affairs of men in that He raises up whom He wants to raise up, and He humbles whom He wants to humble," he says. "That doesn't mean you sit there listlessly and wait for God to do something. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord and not for men. But the final decision is in His hands. So I never thought of it that way and, as a factual matter, I don't believe that whatever went on in the city was enough to have made a difference in my race."

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