Cover Story

Parable of the Talent

"Parable of the Talent" Continued...

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

The context of that question was a discussion of the late-night scare he received when Sen. Carnahan-who trailed most of the evening-announced that urban votes were pouring in and the tide seemed to be turning. At the Talent election-night headquarters, where supporters expected a concession speech from Mrs. Carnahan, there was a sense of deja vu from 2000 when an 11 p.m. surge swamped the Republican. But this time the lead held and CNN switched live to Mrs. Carnahan's early Wednesday morning concession. Said anchor Aaron Brown, "That seals the deal.... Now we can say [the Republicans] have taken control of the Senate." Mr. Talent wound up with a 30,000-vote victory-not a squeaker, but not a landslide.

"Relief" was the word Mr. Talent used to describe his election-night feelings: "I did not want to let people down another time. When you run for office in a high-visibility office like this, there are literally thousands and thousands of people working for you and praying for you and wanting you to win.... You have a sense of how many people are disappointed if you don't do it."

That is Jim Talent's emphasis: It's not about him; it's about the "tremendous sacrifice" others make on his behalf in time and treasure. If he has an ego problem at all, it's maybe that he has an ego about not wanting to be perceived as egotistical: "I don't want anyone out there to think that he thinks he's God's gift to people. That's not what I'm saying." He says his Christian calling is politics and governing as a vocation, which means he has to rely for support on those who have other callings in life. "That's why I'm consistently humbled when people give something," he emphasizes. "I have had people who on a volunteer basis have spent hundreds and hundreds of hours."

In the choir room of Twin Oaks church, Mr. Talent refills his Styrofoam coffee cup, which has developed a small hole in the bottom. As hot java drizzles onto the tile floor, he quickly dumps the remaining coffee into a sturdier new cup. He drops the compromised cup into the trash and nabs a fistful of napkins, takes a knee, and mops the mess. He's dealt with other messes around the church: Nursery coordinator Kathy Hartmann recalls a Christmas Eve service when she, Mr. Talent, and another volunteer took care of the infants. "Christmas Eve is the hardest time to find volunteers," Mrs. Hartmann says. Did Jim Talent change diapers? "Oh, yes," she said without hesitation. "That's the kind of guy he is."

Thinking providentially, it's easy now to see how it's good for President Bush and the Republicans that Mr. Talent and Mr. Ashcroft lost in 2000. Now the U.S. attorney general, John Ashcroft-an experienced, trusted GOP elder statesman-is the point man for TeamBush in the domestic war on terrorism. Mr. Talent's loss of the governorship freed him to win back the majority for President Bush in the Senate; his experience shepherding welfare reform through the House could make him a player in the coming debate over the president's stalled faith-based initiative.

"Welfare reform has to be what they call reauthorized, which means repassed, reenacted, and they should have done it last year, but it was one of the many things that the Senate was unable to do. So now I will be in the Senate that considers welfare reauthorization. Of course, I have a big interest in that, and I want to not only not retreat from the work provisions in it, but it's so very, very important that we move ahead in encouraging marriage through the welfare system. And also I would say encourage people to consider adoptions as alternatives to out-of-wedlock births. What we've found with the last welfare bill is that when you move the system towards encouraging the right thing-good values-it has this enormously beneficial impact. If we can make the whole system work pro-marriage, the impact around the country could be tremendous. It's as simple as saying that as a young woman comes in to register for Medicaid, she's pregnant, while giving her the range of services we are encouraging her, nurturing her, saying to her what's the situation with the father? Have you guys talked about getting married? What are the obstacles? Let's talk about this because in many cases that really is an alternative and it's just not considered."

What about Jim Talent's own home life? He's not moving his family to the Washington area-as many senators do-and he plans to commute weekly to the Capitol so as not to "uproot their whole lives": church, school, friends, and family. "I think it would be foolish to move them there and for me to be here [in St. Louis] more than half the time anyway." He did the same thing for eight years in the House, but his kids are bigger now, and busier: Michael is 12, Kate 10, and Chrissy 6. He will guard his family time and "just stay close to the Lord.... I love the 103rd psalm, which says He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust. God is so forgiving to us. He knows our weaknesses, and from everlasting to everlasting the Lord's love is with those who fear Him and His righteousness for their children's children. That is a great, great psalm."

Nick Eicher
Nick Eicher

Nick lives in St. Louis, loves the Blues (as in the NHL), is executive producer of WORLD Radio, and co-hosts WORLD's radio news magazine The World and Everything in It. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickEicher.

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