Huckabee drinks a different ‘Jesus juice’

huck2 Suppose American politics were a colas war, with conservatives representing Coca Cola and liberals Pepsi. A reporter tells you that a top presidential candidate drinks neither brand. That would be a real insight, right?

Well, yes, except that the reporter never mentions what brand the candidate does drink. Wouldn’t you want to know the name of the brand?

Los Angeles Times reporter Richard Fausset’s profile of Mike Huckabee is a perfect example of this scenario.

Fausset’s thesis is that Huckabee drinks a “different kind of Jesus juice” from most Republican politicians. While the former Arkansas governor takes a traditional stand on cultural issues, he is populist or liberal on many social and economic ones:

He is the Southern preacher who favors droll wit over brimstone sermonizing, a rock ‘n’ roll bass player who believes in creationism, with an Oprah-ready story about a 110-pound weight loss that probably saved his life.

Here in Arkansas, where Huckabee ruled as governor for 10½ years, voters grew accustomed to a different brand of Republican — a governor with an idiosyncratic agenda that was sometimes difficult to categorize, but always driven, Huckabee insists, by his Southern Baptist faith. That faith influenced major policy decisions that could be deemed moderate, if not liberal, including a significant environmental initiative and a vastly expanded healthcare plan for low-income children.

Though Huckabee took strong stands against abortion and same-sex marriage, his record on taxes — a key pillar of Republican orthodoxy — was distinctly heterodox. He supported tax hikes on cigarettes, gasoline, groceries, sales and income. A video circulating on YouTube — and played, in part, on the CNN-YouTube Republican debate Wednesday — shows Huckabee addressing the Arkansas Legislature in 2003 and suggesting that he would be open to raising a broad range of taxes.

flynnandpopeFausset’s evidence is revealing and evenhanded. On the one hand, Huckabee expanded government health insurance to working-class children who didn’t qualify for Medicaid, reducing the share of uninsured kids in the state from 22 percent to 9 percent — the largest drop in the nation. On the other hand, Huckabee played a role in pardoning a convicted rapist, who killed a woman after being released from prison; and was cited five times by the Arkansas Ethics Commission for violating ethics rules, though none was a major infraction.

The only real omission in Fausset’s story is the origins of Huckabee’s worldview. Did Huckabee manufacture it himself after years in office? Or is there a deeper, moral and philosophical grounding for it?

Here is my guess, and it’s no more than a guess, as to what “Jesus juice” Huckabee is drinking. It’s Catholic social thought.

For one thing, Huckabee sees a role for government in helping the working classes and the poor, the middle classes and the vulnerable. Such a stance has defined many Catholic politicians — former Boston Mayor Ray Flynn, former Pennsylvania governor Robert Casey, and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy. For another thing, Huckabee has invoked the name of the late John Cardinal O’Connor of New York for his opposition to homosexual marriage.

Is it possible that this former Baptist minister embraces the social teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, or has, at the very least, been influenced by it? Talk about another good story.

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  • Roberto Rivera

    A long time ago, someone associated with Get Religion asked me to fill in the following: “I’m not a conservative, I’m a [blank].” Or something like that. I replied “I’m a Catholic.” You just articulated why I replied as I did.

  • Steve Schofield

    What about calling it simple biblical Christianity — the sort that motivated John Wesley and the Evangelical Methodist Revival. Wesley declared there was no such thing as a “solitary Christian” and that faith was always lived out in a social context through works of piety and works of mercy.

  • Raider51

    Hmmm… Maybe this is why this pro-life political liberal sees something in Huckabee I can support.

    I confess that before I knew anything about Huckabee, I heard he was a GOP and “former Baptist minister” and wrote him off. But the more I’ve heard, the more I like.

    Anyway, you are right — if you are going to indicate they guy is different, they need to figure out what it is. Although, as you indicate, the story appears to do so, it just doesn’t reduce it to a cubbyhole.

  • Jerry

    Huckabee is demonstrating that socially conservative Christians are not necessarily economic conservatives. I’m not sure I’d call it Catholic, but I do agree that there is a similarity between many Catholics and Huckabee’s positions. It’s going to be a very interesting election!

  • Cathy

    I know lots of Southern Baptists with points of view like Huckabee’s. Could it be that Catholics might be reading some of the same scripture?

  • Easterangel

    Huckabee is now Catholic? Now, I think I’ve heard everything in this election.

    Huckabee must be really more in the upswing than the mdia reported. Everybody seems to be kicking him iin the rear even of all places

    Just because you are a Christian and you are interested in the flight of the ordinary amn doens’t make you Catholic. Jesus told us to care for the poor didn’t we. Plus the article doesn’t make sense, if Huckabee embraces social reforms then why attack him on taxes as well?

    The taxes video on Huckabee is rather unfair. What is the context of those speeches when he agreed on raising taxes. In reality, Gov’t can’t function without taxes. Unless of course you have very rich deposits of oil.

    Are some republicans just afraid that Huckabee will not win against the democrats so they’d rather have somebody even against their principles represent the party? I thought republicans look to God more, if they do then how big a God do they have?

  • Joseph M. Smith

    Look at the faculty and the curriculum of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth at the time Huckabee attended. It was before the full force of the SBC Conservative Resurgence hit. There were sophisticated, urbane faculty with exposures wider than Southern Baptist popular religion. I’ll wager he was influenced in those directions by his divinity training there.

  • Ken

    ABC World News Tonight just ran a segment on Huckabee as the current Republican front-runner. Apparently he is leading in Iowa. Well, we have seen many early front-runners fade (trivia: who prattled on about “the Big Mo”, but faded?)

    To say that Huckabee is just following scriptural teachings is not adequate. Many Christians practice personal charity based on scriptural doctrine, but deny that government has a legitimate role in the relief of poverty. What Huckabee and Catholic social doctrine say is that the institutions of a just society, including government, play a role: corporate entities, and not only individuals, are legitimate means for fulfilling the command to feed the hungry and house the homeless.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    You hit the nail on the head. For decades Catholics–including myself- have bemoaned the fact that neither party has run a “Catholic” candidate for president. That is a candidate of any religion who is culturally–morallly traditional yet liberal on economic issues. Gov. Huckabee seems it. Sen.Brownback, who converted to the Catholic Faith, was a candidate of that type.
    The only trouble with Gov. Huckabee is that he is an ordained Baptist minister. I could care less–it is the candidate’s stands on public issues I care about (thus I can’t stomach any of my fellow Catholics running for office all of whom don’t even want to stop the killing of babies even at the moment of birth).
    However, if Huckabee becomes the Republican nominee, the secular media will crucify him because he is a minister. They will draw and quarter him for any of his conservative social stands –probably equating him with Iranian Ayatollahs.
    Consequently, I think Gov. Romney has a better chance of beating any of the radical leftists running for president on the Democrat side. I think Romney’s Mormonism would be a more difficult target for the secular, liberal media because it would come off as bigotry directed against a whole religion whereas attacking Huckabee can be made to look as the only concern is that he is a member of the Christian clergy.
    As a Catholic I give Romney credit for planning to give his “religion” speech in Texas. Already newscasters are talking of him in the same breath with Mass. and Catholics’ favorite son JFK for having to face down a similar pile of bigoted garbage about his faith.

  • tmatt

    Remember, folks, that famous Gerson quote that the battle inside this White House was between the Libertarians and the “catholics” — many of whom were not Roman Catholics.

    You think that is part of what we are dealing with here, yet again?

  • Steve Schofield

    No one can honestly read the Prophets (esp. Isaiah) and believe that the only requirement is personal charity . . . however, my primary point was that this is not only “Catholic theology” unless the early Methodists/Evangelicals were really Catholics in disguise.

  • Elias Reeves

    Well, we have seen many early front-runners fade (trivia: who prattled on about “the Big Mo”, but faded?)

    I’ll bite
    The guy who talked about “The big mo” was George H.W.Bush back in 1980.

  • Mattk

    As for Huckabee being the front runner, well, in 44 straw polls to date,Ron Paul beat Huckabee in 37 of them. And Huckabee is swamped by Ron Paul’s fundraising. He doesn’t have enough money to compete. I think the MSM is just doing everything possible to make sure an establishment Republican wins the nomination. They know their party isn’t going to win the election so they have to get a Big Gov’t Republican to win the GOP nomination. It is their only hope.

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  • Jeffrey Weiss

    I’m going to invoke Weiss’s Second Law of Religious Relativism: “People tend to believe that the parts they like best about their own religion are harder to find in other religions.”

    You really want to claim that social gospel thinking, even as applied by Huckabee, is exclusively or even significantly a Catholic-only franchise?

  • Stephen A.

    I have to shut this Paul nonsense down quickly, so pardon the diversion.

    No offense, Mattk, but these straw polls are not a great reflection of reality, despite the Paulista’s hyping them. He’s in the mid-to-upper single digits in every legitimate phone poll.

    Many of these straw polls allowed outsiders to vote in them, often without even checking party registrations. As a result, this summer we’ve seen the Paul supporters travelling around like Dead Heads (and some were, no doubt) voting in state straw poll after state straw poll. Many Maine and Mass. voters voted in New Hampshire straw polls this summer, for instance. And yes, I know that first-hand.

    The notable exception was Paul’s home state of Texas, where they didn’t allow out-of-state voting. Paul came in a distant third. Like most straw polls, turnout was also very poor.

    In my experience, Paul supporters act like Scientologists when criticized, so I’m saying up front that I’m not responding to endless posts (perhaps by numerous people of whom we’ve never heard before) on this issue.

    Back to religion. Huckabee’s appeal is that he’s not a fiscal anarchist (like, the previous guy I mentioned) and therefore cannot be set up as some kind of boogie man by Democrats. He takes “mean-spirited” off the table in 2008.

    I also want to point out that Reagan, as governor of California, raised taxes. And like Huckabee, believed that spending on good things (like roads, schools, healthcare) isn’t “evil” but that it should be done (for the most part) locally, so that it’s not wasteful.

    Whether this means Huckabee appeals to Catholics or not, I don’t know, but I bet it does, given the comments posted here. One caveat: Arkansas is only 7% Catholic, so he has no record to appealing to Catholics, as Mitt Romney surely does, given his state’s demographics.

  • FrGregACCA

    Is it possible that this former Baptist minister embraces the social teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, or has, at the very least, been influenced by it? Talk about another good story.

    Maybe. Perhaps some Godbeat journo type should ask him.

    Mark, something of an off-topic question: in your bio, you state that you “attempt to follow the Seven Sacraments”. What in the heck does that mean exactly?

  • Ken

    Elias Reeves -

    You are right, it was Bush the First. But I have to admit that I was thinking of Gary Hart in 1984. 25 years, give or take, does funny things to the memory.

  • RevMe

    The readers of this blog are amusing. Especially the one who thinks being called “catholic” or “influenced by catholics” is an insult.

  • Mattk


    I know you said “no offense” but I was offended. I disagree with Huckabee but i wouldn’t call his supporters dead-heads or Scientologists. Neither I wouldn’t call call the words of Huckabee’s supporters nonsense. I have a lot of respect for Huckabee, and a couple of months ago,when I was still undecided about who I was going to vote for had him on my short list (I don’t mind voting for protestant clergy). Unlike some, I don’t think politics needs to be rude.

  • Stephen A.

    Mattk, for the record, I didn’t call Paulites “dead-heads” it was an analogy to “Dead Heads,” fans of the Grateful Dead who travel from state to state.

  • Mattk

    Ahh. Now I understand what you meant by Dead Heads. I thought you meant something like zombies.

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