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J.C. Watts (Caitlin O'Donnell/The Pendulum)

The cheer of the crowd

Q&A | Politicians and pastors, says former Congressman J.C. Watts, should beware of the intoxication of praise

Issue: "The GOP and Hispanics," May 19, 2012

Julius Caesar "J.C." Watts Jr., born in 1957, was a football star in high school, college, and the Canadian Football League. He became a youth pastor and then a Republican member of the House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. Over the past nine years he has been a businessman and corporate board member.

You've had four careers of seven to 10 years each: football, pastor, Congress, business. Any commonalities in those? A common thread in all of those is that the cheer of the crowd is so intoxicating. So seductive.

Wait ... you're saying pastors also like praise? It's intoxicating in the back of the church when you're shaking hands and people say "Thank you for coming" and "That was such a wonderful message" if you're not fighting that and keeping the focus where it should be-on God's word.

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Glad to be out of politics? Politics is worse than any arena I've ever been in. You're called "the honorable" and you wear those little pins that get you through security and you don't have to stand in line and you've got staff that come at your beck and call.

You came to Washington in 1995 as part of the Republican Revolution. That revolution fizzled. What killed it? Seduction? All the things we accused Democrats of doing for 40 years when they were in the majority: We became the majority and started doing the same things. Our guys went to jail. Our guys were in cahoots with lobbyists and concocting deals.

Missed opportunity? We had an opportunity in 1995-1996 to push the envelope and be transformational-but many go to Washington thinking it's a cesspool, stay for six months, and think it's a Jacuzzi. The cheer of the crowd is just as seductive for Republicans as it is for Democrats.

Did you like being a Republican in Congress? I often felt like the outsider looking in with Republicans. Maybe I spend too much time thinking about it, but next time you turn to Christian television, watch T.D. Jakes or Tony Evans or other black pastors: You can't get to the right of those pastors theologically, on life, on marriage, on economics, but 90 percent of their population votes for the other guy. They don't vote for the conservative Republican candidate. Why? Why do we not work as Republicans to have a deeper relationship with those constituencies?

Why? When my wife and I were looking for a church home in northern Virginia I told her, "I'm not looking for a church that looks like me. I'm looking for a church that looks like heaven: red, yellow, brown, black, and white." We found one. I'm not looking for a party that looks like me. I'm looking for a party that looks like us. I can give you Scriptural arguments for diversity, for inclusion, but when we talk like that as conservatives we think that's liberal code language for big government or progressiveness. No! I feel that way because of what Scripture encourages me to believe.

Welfare reform is often looked at as the one major success of the Republican Revolution. Very few things were right with welfare. Penalize moms for saving money. Penalize moms for marrying the father of the children. We're going to keep you right below the poverty level. Our federal government advocated that for many years. We reformed that in 1996. And we've lost ground on some of those reforms.

Are we losing ground because the left has a different understanding of compassion? The left measures compassion by how many people you can have on food stamps and AFDC and public housing. I define compassion by how few people are on food stamps and AFDC and public housing because we've helped them climb the ladder to economic opportunity!

How do those who are poorly educated climb that ladder? We need to make sure that every child in America goes to a school every day that is safe and will teach them how to read and write and do arithmetic and gain the computer skills necessary to allow them to compete in the global marketplace. If we can get that through the public schools, fine. If we can't, I'm all for parental choice in education to allow that parent to take his/her/their child to a school that is safe and teaches them, even if it is a faith-based school!

The big GOP initiative a decade ago was No Child Left Behind, but it clearly doesn't seem to have worked. What would you propose as the alternative? In some school systems around the country you have better odds of winning the lottery, if you choose to play it, than you do of getting rid of bad teachers. When I was a quarterback, I was graded on every play. I got a score on my performance. Sundays after the game we'd watch film and I'd get a grade sheet. I usually got some sense of how well I was doing, and whether I was going to start the next Saturday, based on that grade sheet. And coaches had no problem saying "Olasky, you're not getting the job done, buddy."

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