Trump v. Clinton: Round One

The first thing to say is that Hillary Clinton won this debate.  She won the debate when it should have been almost impossible for her to do so.

Why do I say it should have been impossible?  The answer is that Donald Trump faced a super low bar of expectations.  Basically, all he had to do was to appear calm, decent, and rational.  Despite that, he tripped over a bar sitting at ankle height.

He had moments.  Hillary referenced her vast experience.  He made out a case that much of it was bad experience for the country.  When she offered a short treatise on the implicit racism of police officers and systemic racism in the nation, he responded with a call for law and order for the benefit of people in the inner cities who have to live in unsafe conditions.  I thought that was reasonably well done.

He missed a big opportunity.  Hillary talked about how he had been very fortunate to have a rich father.  I thought he could have responded that she “had the great fortune to marry the future president of the United States.”  But he missed that.

In addition, let’s face it, he was a boor.  He frequently interrupted Hillary during her turn to speak.  When it was his turn, he often rambled and struggled to make a point.  There was a low information density to his answers.

But what about Hillary’s performance?  She betrayed no sign of ill health.  The concentration was there.  So was the patience and endurance.  I have to give her credit for being alert enough to tweak Trump at virtually every opportunity.  She knew what the points of attack were and she pressed them relentlessly.

And how about the email controversy?  Hillary was asked about it and made no attempt to excuse or explain.  She simply said that she made a mistake and takes responsibility.

Trump attempted to push that point, but he would have been wise to follow her example.  When she pointed to issues regarding his taxes, bankruptcies, etc., he put forward long, windy rationalizations that just made him look untrustworthy.  It would have been better for him to say that he has spent his life in an ultra-competitive business environment and often competed in a cutthroat way.  He might have regrets, but you’d want somebody as tough as him looking out for the country.  Something like that.  And again, he may have tried to basically say that but it was lost in the meandering mess of rhetoric.

By the end, Trump seemed deflated and beaten (and so was I).  He walked off the stage with his family while Hillary stayed up front shaking hands and smiling.  She knew she’d thrashed him.


The Need to Prepare for What You Want

During the past month or so, I concluded a campaign for Congress, wrote a couple of articles about it, submitted a significant scholarly project, and then spoke at one of the big Southern Baptist seminaries.  In between, there was a lot of teaching.

As I stood in front of the seminary audience of what looked like a couple hundred people or so, I felt the challenge.  Felt the necessity of having had to write something that would be meaningful to them.  Felt the obligation to try and keep their interest.  I had written about 6000 words for that purpose.

When you speak to an audience and have about 50 minutes, that can be a big mountain to climb.  It isn’t the same as teaching.  When you teach, you invite the students into conversation (or at least I do) and between the questions and answers 50 minutes can go by quite rapidly.  But when you carry that ball alone (and the audience is grading you instead of receiving a grade from you), it’s a bigger task.

I thought about how much I wanted to speak to audiences like that one when I was younger.  How I wanted to get the attention of groups and have them listen to what I had to say!  Now that I look back, I realize that was a classic example of the immature desire to do something when you aren’t even close to being ready.

I make no claim to being a great speaker.  For example, I don’t have the gift of memorization.  (It was tremendously comforting to me when I learned the same was true of William F. Buckley.)  But I do make a strong effort to develop the content and to really have something to say.  When I was younger, I think I would have felt fantastic about speaking to a big audience all the way up until the moment when I suddenly realized I didn’t have the rhetorical horse to ride.  (The same was true of the first time I tried to write a book.  I suddenly realized that I barely had enough for a chapter!)

I didn’t begin to hit my stride career wise until I was in my mid-thirties.  But all during those earlier years I was reading, thinking, making attempts at writing, learning from wiser men and women, and generally preparing.  I didn’t know whether all the preparation would bear fruit, but it did.  And now, when the time has come that there is some interest I have something to offer.

So, to follow the title of this piece, I want to offer advice to the young (or maybe even the mid-career or the old).  Perhaps you are like me.  Maybe you are that person who didn’t have a clean path to engineering or accounting or nursing or whatever profession where the steps seem fairly clear.  Maybe you have had some ideas about what you want to do with your life, but you have a lot of uncertainty about how to do it.  My advice is to turn preparing for that life into your hobby.  Read, watch, and learn.  Find smaller opportunities to do the things you hope to do on a bigger and possibly professional scale.

If you spend enough time getting ready, you just might have something to offer when a door opens before you.


Diary of a Congressional Candidate – Obion County Edition

Last night was the second big candidate forum of the campaign for TN Congressional district 8.  We had thirteen candidates in attendance and 235 people present to hear from us.  There was a straw poll.  Several of the big candidates brought a posse, including staff.

There are a few notable things to tell you.  First, I suspected there would be a question about Trump.  I drew the final answer on that one.  I watched as every candidate before me embraced him.  George Howell, expressed some reservation.  When it came my turn, I just told the audience exactly what I think.  I said that as a person who has spent my life in conservative and pro-life causes, I am incredibly disheartened by his nomination.  In addition, I characterized him as a crony capitalist.  However, I added, I view him as a wild card in comparison with Hillary and that I may end up voting for him in the general election.  Whether that stance alienated people I can’t say, but I suspect I gained ground in terms of voters who feel the same way.

Another question had to do with our likelihood of selling out the district when we go to Washington.  I pointed out that I am a Christian conservative who chose to go into higher education.  Such a move, I said, is either a sign of madness or of the utmost sincerity.  I think it is the latter.  I also noted that I have publicly promised not to become a lobbyist when I’m done.  Instead, I have pledged that I will return to Union University as a professor if they will have me.

We had the opportunity to make closing statements.  I used mine to talk about Nietzsche’s claim that every time a new sanctuary is built, the old one must be shattered.  There is a movement to build a new sanctuary, a secular progressive one, and an effort to destroy the old one, which is Christianity.  I reflected on Christ considering the coin and how he told us to render unto Caesar what is Caesar, but also to God what is God’s.  The soul is for God.  The soul is for God.  I said it twice to get across the reality that Caesar (the government) is overreaching.  It is not entitled to our souls and our consciences.

After we finished, several people came up to me to express their agreement and to thank me for some of the things I’d said.  The straw poll results came in.  Greer (the hometown candidate) won, Kelsey came in second, and Flinn came in third.  All three brought substantial posses with them.  I had just a handful with me.  Despite that, I came in fourth by one vote.  I was one vote behind a candidate with millions of dollars.  And I was ahead of two of the major suburban Memphis candidates.

What this tells me is that the message resonates.  If I can speak with the voters, I can share that message.  The website and facebook pages are the next best thing.  If I sound like your kind of candidate, please help me spread the word.

(I didn’t spend any money on this post, but Paid for by Hunter Baker for Congress.)

Diary of a Congressional Candidate

Last night I had my first real opportunity to participate in a candidate forum.  It was held at Union University, which is my home turf.  The Union University College Republicans hosted the event.

When I arrived, I was surprised to find that a straw poll was being held.  I panicked a little as I had brought with me Andrew Baker (age 13) and Grace Baker (age 11), neither of whom I felt would make sense as straw poll voters.  I considered what a disaster it would be to lose at the place where I teach.

In addition, I had to bribe the kids to sit through the two hour event with the promise to take them to Sonic afterwards.  They won their prize and even provided a little comic relief as Andrew shouted “Amen!” when one candidate said he agreed with me about religious liberty.

I’ll save you the suspense on the straw poll.  I think the students came through for me.  I won.

The event was a “forum,” which translated into each candidate giving a five minute speech and then answering questions in rounds at the end.

It may not surprise you to hear that I left thinking that we could save everyone a lot of time (and money) if we simply sat down for an essay test on the issues of the campaign and then let the voters apply their own grades.  (That’s the kind of answer a professor would give, isn’t it?)  🙂

One candidate promoted the credibility conferred by fundraising.  I wonder what he would have said if I had responded, “The candidate sitting next to you has raised about four times what you have.  Does that mean he is four times as credible?  In fact, should we just forget the forums and debates and put the guy with the best fundraising in the office?”

It’s pretty crazy to be a lifetime observer of politics actually on the stage watching a candidate do one of the things you have noticed in the past.  I’m not naming names because the phenomenon is what’s important.  One candidate clearly had something like a focus-group or poll-tested phrase to describe himself and his record.  He was careful to repeat it several times during the debate.  It reminded me very much of the 2000 election when Al Gore developed tremendous discipline around using the word “lockbox” to refer to his plan for social security and “risky tax scheme” to refer to Bush’s tax cuts.

I talked about the things you would expect me to discuss.  I said there is a civil rights struggle yet to be won, which is for the rights of the unborn.  Hillary Clinton has said the unborn have no constitutional rights.  I pointed out that many great thinkers, including Martin Luther King, Jr. have declared that an unjust law is no law at all.  Roe is an unjust law and must not stand.

I recited a list of the victims of the new sexual orthodoxy:  Brendan Eich, Kelvin Cochran, Eric Walsh, Barronelle Stutzman, David Daleiden, and even the Susan G. Komen Foundation.  Then I launched into a discussion of the aggressive secularism developing among the Fortune 500/DC/Hollywood nexus and how the only way to combat it is with solidarity of the type shown in the examples of the Chick-fil-A firestorm and the attempt to subpoena sermons of Houston pastors.

We covered all kinds of issues during the Q & A, including gay marriage to the consternation of some who complained the issue is “settled.”  The highlight of the evening probably came at the end when we received a question about transgender bathrooms.  George Flinn was unable to attend and sent a proxy.  His proxy was boisterous and loudly declared, “If you have a bathroom in your house, then it’s a transgender bathroom!”  Lots of laughter and a nice way to end.

Information about Hunter Baker for TN Voters

baker union pic

Hunter Baker is an associate professor of political science and university fellow at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. In addition, he serves the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission as a research fellow.

Hunter is married to Ruth Baker, M.D. They have two children, Andrew and Grace, who attended Thelma Barker Elementary School and now attend the Augustine School. They are members of Englewood Baptist Church. His father’s family, the Bakers and Johnstons, have lived in Tennessee for over 200 years, which includes Hunter’s grandmother Winnie who turns 100 this spring in Columbia. The Johnstons still occupy the old family farm in Hohenwald near the Natchez trace.

Baker holds a degree in economics and political science (double major, Florida State University) and graduate degrees in public administration (University of Georgia), law (University of Houston), and politics and religion (Baylor University). He has worked as a corporate analyst, a public policy director, and college dean, in addition to his time on faculty.

He is the author of three books (The End of Secularism, Political Thought: A Student’s Guide, and The System Has a Soul), has contributed chapters to several others, and has spoken in venues around the nation (including Hillsdale College and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary). Baker has also published widely in both popular and academic outlets including National Review, the Federalist, Touchstone, the Journal of Markets and Morality, and the Journal of Law and Religion. His work won him the Michael Novak Award in religion and liberty given by the Acton Institute.


I’m Running for Congress in the 8th District

Baker Outside CFA Jet

UPDATE:  The campaign now has an official website.  You can see it here.

Thanks to my friend, Rod Dreher, the news is out that I am running for the 8th Congressional district seat in West Tennessee.  I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of friendship and goodwill that has arrived from friends and brothers and sisters in Christ in the wake of the news.  Their good opinion and encouragement helps me to walk out on the field and to run the race.

I am not running out of a desire to check a career box.  My goal in life was to write books and to teach and speak.  God has been gracious to allow me to achieve those goals and to enjoy a loving wife and children.  I do not crave office or the difficulties of coordinating a life in Washington, D.C. and a life in Jackson, Tennessee.

I am running because I feel called to do so.  The people in this district hold the same values and beliefs that are dear to me.  I have spent much of my adult life trying to represent their views in the court of public opinion and in academic discussion.  It is important to me that their convictions are well-advocated and strongly defended in the American capitol.  I believe that I am prepared to do that work.

Religious Liberty

As Chief Justice Roberts warned in his dissent to the Obergefell decision, a right not found in the Constitution (gay marriage) is now likely to threaten one that actually is present in the text of the First Amendment.  Religious liberty is already under attack as Christians in the wedding trades are discovering.  But see also non-profit organizations such as the Catholic Little Sisters of the Poor.  Without a vigorous defense, it is entirely possible that orthodox Christian organizations will be severely marginalized as part of the non-profit sector in American life.  I think that result is wrong because religious liberty helps us to live together in peace whereas the lack of it puts us into conflict with each other.  It is also wrong because government should try to avoid putting its citizens into a crisis between God and Caesar.  The state must not overreach.

I should add that many of the large corporations in the United States are not friends of religious liberty.  They are not friendly to accommodations for religion and conscience.  Part of that is because they are slaves to elite opinion in many cases.  And part of it is simply in their nature.  Big Business tends to be pretty comfortable with Big Government.


While religious liberty is the issue that most strongly drives my sense that I should run, I will also be as good an ally as the pro-life cause could have.  Likewise, I will be an implacable foe to the agenda of Planned Parenthood.  While I recognize that people of good will believe strongly in abortion rights, we cannot escape the reality that the unborn deserve to be protected as members of the human race and not as merely a part of the mother.

Economic Liberty

Another reason I am running is in an attempt to moderate the appetites of the state.  I look at the virtual printing press of regulations that pour out of Washington and the thousand page bills few can read and understand and see threats to freedom and self-government.  If we make our government too complex, too unwieldy, and too expensive, we will sap the initiative of our people and cause them to wither under the weight of something that overpowers them.  We need a simpler government that does fewer things better.  It should be easy to work, easy to do business, and easy to pay taxes.  Government is first and foremost a hammer.  It is the one entity in our society that operates with a legal monopoly on the use of violence.  We should resort to it as little as possible.  There is good that government can do, but it should rarely be our first answer.

I also believe economic freedom is critical to the future of our young people.  Every year, I watch a new group of graduates leave our university in search of opportunity.  The same process occurs across the globe.  Opportunity tends to shrink as government spending dominates the economy.  The more free and dynamic our economy can be, the more likely it is that the young and generations following them will be able to make a good start in life.

Something We Should Expect from Candidates

Office holding too often becomes a device for generating great fortunes.  We might look to the Clintons as a grand example, but there are many others on both sides of the ideological divide who turn office into millions.  We deserve representatives who do not see Congress as a career or wealth-building opportunity. With my yes being yes and my no being no, I will tell you that I will not go to Congress only to become a lobbyist and influence peddler when I’m done. I will go to defend life, religious liberty, and to moderate the appetites of the state so that freedom and self-government remain.  That will be the whole of my mission.  When I am done, I will return to the district and take up my old life if I am able.