Huckabee the Christian leader

huckabee 01It’s tempting to view Mike Huckabee as a right-wing culture warrior.

He’s a Republican. He’s a social conservative. He’s an ordained Southern Baptist minister.

I’m from the Bay Area in California and commentators in that corner of the world have called the former Arkansas governor a “godmonger” and other felicitious appelations. Although most reporters portray him as a good guy and a witty straight shooter, some reporters view him as a media-sophisticated version of Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell.

Here is how Liz Clarke of The Washington Post ended her recent profile of Huckabee:

Years later, after he’d lost the Senate race but become governor of Arkansas, Huckabee would explain in starker terms his motivation for “getting inside the dragon’s belly.”

“I didn’t get into politics because I thought government had a better answer,” he told a group of pastors on the eve of the 1998 Southern Baptist Convention. “I got into politics because I knew government didn’t have the real answers, that the real answers lie in accepting Jesus Christ into our lives.” He concluded that speech with words he says he’d phrase differently today: “I hope we answer the alarm clock and take this nation back for Christ.”

Clarke did massive reporting for her profile. She must be the first national reporter to have written that an 18-year-old Huckabee attended and was transformed by his time at Expo ’72, the first worldwide gathering of evangelical youth, who met at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

Yet Clarke’s suggestion that candidate Huckabee seeks to evangelize the United States is troubling. It reflects the binary mindset in which reporters often think of our two major political parties: Republicans represent the Christian Right, while Democrats represent normal Americans.

Huckabee views himself as a Christian first and a Republican second. As he has said, “my faith really defines me” and “I drink a different kind of Jesus juice” from Christian Right leaders. His Christian-first attitude is often portrayed, inaccurately, as quixotic. In fact, Huckabee’s politics have a long tradition.

In the interior of the country, some Democrats continue to view and describe themselves as Christians first and foremost. Witness John Arthur Eaves Jr., the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Mississippi; Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska; and Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan.

Historically, many Democratic politicians saw themselves as Christians above all. Possibly the most famous example is William Jennings Bryan, the three-time Democratic presidential nominee. Others include the late Gov. Robert Casey of Pennsylvania (check out this tmatt interview with him) and former Boston mayor Ray Flynn (ditto).

To be sure, reporters are right to question whether Huckabee’s policies reflect Christian values. I would like to know how his support for replacing our progressive taxation system with a consumption tax would help the least among us.

But reporters should remember that Huckabee is not a Christian Right candidate. He’s just a culturally conservative Christian in the context of the modern Republican Party. In many ways, Huckabee is a pre-Roe Southern Democrat. Think about it.

Print Friendly

  • Jerry

    Some of my friends on the left decided to not support Obama based on David Brooks saying nice things about him in the column I reference below (totally dumb in my opinion). But I think we should all consider what he had to say when considering any candidate. I’ve learned the hard way that what a candidate says before the election and what happens after inauguration can have very little relationship with each other.

    In looking for someone to support for President, I think Brooks really said it all in his recent column when he wrote:

    The presidency is a bacterium. It finds the open wounds in the people who hold it. It infects them, and the resulting scandals infect the presidency and the country. The person with the fewest wounds usually does best in the White House, and is best for the country.

    Perhaps more to the point of this blog, an earlier comment is apropos:

    Some Americans (Republican or Democrat) believe that the country’s future can only be shaped through a remorseless civil war between the children of light and the children of darkness…these warriors believe that what’s needed is more partisanship, more toughness and eventual conquest for their side.

    Mark’s comments to me imply that Huckabee’s Christianity looks more like the mainstream a few decades ago. But his words “take this nation back for Christ” reads like like a “civil warrior” in the sense that Brooks used it rather than one who is a uniter who would seek common ground in the way he sees Obama. I wonder what he really means by “taking the country back for Christ”.

  • Mark Byron

    I would like to know how his support for replacing our progressive taxation system with a consumption tax would help the least among us.

    OK, here’s my shot.

    (1) It would end the FICA payroll tax, which hits workers from dollar one with no deductions or exemptions. That gives workers a 7% pay raise right there, 14% if they can talk their bosses into passing on the savings on not having to pay the employer’s share of FICA taxes.
    (2) It would rebate to everyone an amount equal to the sales taxes on a household-poverty-level amount of spending.
    (3) It would lower interest rates. Without income taxes, interest rates would drop by 20-30%.

    True, you don’t have the Earned Income Tax Credit in this framework, but the lack of payroll tax should offset the lion share of the EITC, getting a $20,000 wage-earner a potential $2800 pay raise.

    Also those savings are ongoing, as the rebates get paid on a monthly basis, rather than a yearly basis that leads to predatory instant-rebate loans from the tax prep places.

  • JLFuller

    This religion in politics debate has legs. We may see it next time too. It is important only because it is important to an influential element of the early Republican nominating process. If the first voting state was Maine, for example, we would have an entirely different dynamic. It affects Republicans more not because Democrats are less spiritually inclined, although that may be part of it, but because the Iowan Republican voters are Evangelicals. At least in large enough number to affect the outcome and influence South Carolina and Florida voters as well by making the “Don’t we all hate Mormons together” issue important. For Republicans this is a tortuous predicament. An openly wear-your-religion-on-your-sleeve candidate like Mike Huckabee is not an attractive candidate in too many parts of the country. His appeal is just too limited especially after Bush.
    On the other hand, an accomplished Ãœber over achiever like Mitt Romney is seen by the party elite, those who know about such things, as having the best chance to whip the country back into shape and maybe save us from the blunders of recent Republican over indulgence, if they can get him elected. But because of the strong Iowan influence and the very tough completion Romney has in the next few primaries, Romney may not get the nomination. So, how to counter the genuinely tough competition presented by Rudy and John given the “Romney and his Church are out to steal your souls and send your kids to hell” campaign run by Huckabee? In the end, the looser may be the conservative agenda and the imposition of the things Evangelical Iowans thought they were voting against. This is a conundrum worthy of Devine intervention.

  • FrGregACCA

    Interesting thing here in South Carolina: Huck’s running a “non-commerical” commercial in which he empathizes with everyone being burned out on campaign ads “this time of year”, focuses on “what’s important: the birth of Christ and being with family and friends” and wishes everyone a “Merry Christmas”. Of course, most of the other campaign ads have been Romney’s.

  • Stephen A.

    Huckabee’s running the ‘Christmas greeting’ ad here in New Hampshire, too (and in Iowa.) Interestingly, Rudy is running one featuring that secular Christmas figure, Santa Claus.

    Read what you will into THAT one. LOL

  • Samuel J Howard

    Because of the rebate provision, it seems that Huckabee’s “Fair Tax” plan actually is progressive taxation, if at a much lower rate than the current income tax. (But as the poster above notes, FICA and other current flat taxes flatten the current curve, and FICA is actually regressive, since it’s capped.)

  • Jill C.

    If I may make a tiny correction to Mark’s article (and I believe Liz Clarke got it right in the original to which he refers.) It was Explo ’72 (not Expo ’72 which was a different kind of fair). Explo for explosion! I know because my husband has told me all about it. He was there. (One of several things he and Huckabee have in common!) And a lot of what took place at that event happened not just at the Cotton Bowl but in a field and parking lot area that is now under a freeway (Woodall Rogers) connecting I-35 East (near downtown Dallas) and I-75 (AKA I-45 or Central Expressway). It must’ve been an amazing gathering especially for young Jesus Freaks and seekers. Attended by people from over 70 countries and sponsored in part by Campus Crusade for Christ, there were 180,000 people at the Jesus Music Festival held at the end of the week. The program alone had a wide variety of speakers, preachers, artists and bands: Johnny Cash, Randy Matthews, Love Song, Willa dorsey, Connie Smith, Larry Norman, Andrae Crouch and the Disciples, the Rev. Billy Graham, Kris Kristoffersen . . .

  • Daniel F. Vojir

    All of the above comments are valid and well put. However, my problem with Huckabee is: how can I reconcile myself with voting for a person who believes that Adam and Eve cavorted with Dinosaurs? Or that the earth is really only 6000 years old? Or that women should be submissive to their husbands? Or that people with AIDS should have been quarantined? Or that…oh well, you know what I mean. Huckabee has some serious ideology issues to address. He would come to the Presdency with waaay too much ideological baggage.

  • Palladio

    The Republicans, contrary to one suggestion, are having no trouble distinguishing between Mormon Mit and Evangelical Huckabee, and the cut being made at the former’s expense is all the more significant because Huckabee is rising without the vastly funded micromanagement of the former gov. of Massachusetts. No agonizing at all among Republicans that I can tell, though a bit of hectic motion–the hatchet job by Jonah Goldberg in National Review is one of the most sadly fact free free association pieces to come from those pages.

    The national press has about as much authority in reporting on the importance of the election as does GE or Sony.

    As for what Huckabee believes, visit his website. Listen to him now.

    What he does not have to answer to is the ‘theology’ of his belief, or have his wife go into for him. Or live down presiding over the first state to legalize same sex marriage.

    What resonates with Americans, Republican or no, is Huckabee’s faults, his ups and his downs, his finding religion–and a Christian religion at that.

    God bless and Merry Christmas.

  • Wonders for Oyarsa


    You can strike the 6,000 year old thing at least off your list. Huckabee never said that, and has clarified his stance on evolution. He says he doesn’t know how God did it, but wants to be emphatic that God did, and insofar as “evolution” implies to people that the whole thing was just random accident, he disagrees. That’s why he raised his hand in answer to that question.

  • tmatt

    OYARSA (nice CSL reference, btw):

    I can’t find the actual Huckabee op-ed column on his beliefs about materialism and evolution. Was that in the NYTs? Can anyone find that URL?

    By the way, is requiring belief in a random, meaningless process of creation a kind of religious test?

  • Jerry

    wants to be emphatic that God did

    I’d also like to have a definitive statement by him clarifying that. As a card-carrying member of the “God is who. Evolution is how.” contingent, I’m looking for a President Huckabee to fully fund science-based education and scientific research so I want him to answer the question: “How would your beliefs influence your support for ALL science including evolutionary biology”.

  • Jerry

    Fast followup to my last post. One a technical blog, slashdot, I found a link to which lists which candidates have ANY sort of policy statement on a set of mostly science/technology issues. Huckabee has none on science/education as far as the editors could find. They did invite the campaigns to update their list. But to see what they did and did not include is interesting in and of itself because it indicates what they see as important. Or at least important in terms of the campaign.

  • JLFuller

    The Slate piece by Neil Young at goes to the heart of the Huckabee effort to take Romney out at the knees. There is more here than a mere nomination.

    As a follower of this joust, I have noticed a touch of ambivalence in some SBC quarters about the affair though. The SBC’s Richard Land’s enforcement of Romney over Huckabee was a disconcerting body blow to, dare I say it, the majority of Southern Baptists. Other Evangelical leaders have also taken up the torch for Mitt, again to Huck’s anguish. Although the tough give-no-quarter talk hasn’t changed, the internal debates amongst the SBC elders must be interesting.

    If you haven’t read the Slate piece I mentioned above I highly recommend it for some very enlightening background on this Baptist-Mormon thing.

  • Palladio

    Surely part of the Baptist thing is the MLK thing, MLK being a SB minister, which Mit was so eager to latch onto that he claimed Sunday on Meet the Press that “he saw his” father march with him. The problem is that now, apparently, there is no evidence King marched where and when Mit said he did. His ‘recollection’ seems to be mixed up with an egregious error in a book by David Broder, who wrote a chapter on Mit’s dad as gov. of MI, an error pointed out by the Grosse Pointe Historical Society. Desperate ambition plays tricks with memory. I pray this story, which I followed from a link from the Washington Post, is false, because I continue to believe Romney is a decent man.

    Another part is that what the SBC thinks or says matters little to what the polls are saying. It’s a little off I would guess to think something so loosely organized as the SBC could dictate much, if anything, to its members. A possible point of contrast with the LDS?

    And yet another part is the bashing Huckabee gets for have strong opinions and firm Christian beliefs. Now visions of floating crosses dance in the minds of the shallow liberal media. Now they don’t.

  • Palladio

    P. S. I am way behind the times: CBS is already running with the question of the accuracy of Romney’s claim. Even the appearance of impropriety will help Romney in no way at all.

  • Palladio

    Oh, Mit, we hardly knew ye!

    You should all read the disingenuous and stomach cramping interpretation of his own words at

    Please, tell me there is a sane person in this country who can take Mit at his word about this!

    The poor guy.

    America’s loss will be business’s gain.

  • Palladio

    According to the (gulp) Blogger News Network, “Only yesterday Romney’s claim of not supporting Planned Parenthood abortion mills was abruptly smashed by a photograph surfacing of him at one of their fundraisers in 1994. ”

    Presides over the first state to legalize same-sex marriage.

    If there is such a photo, is Mit a flip-flopper or a pro-death supporter? A venial liar?

    Claims eye-witness testimony of his dad and MLK. Not his mom kissing Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny with a basket: his dad with MLK. Claims this occurred while he was in high school. Not in grammar school. High school.

    Denies it within a few short days.

    Denial incredible from every point of view–the more the media dig into that one the worse it will appear, because it is very, very bad.

    To raise religion as an issue, cover himself in the cloak of Christianity, and be so nakedly revealed as neither credibly Christian nor especially moral in so short a time. Religion is getting Mit.

    Does Mit really want to be President? Somebody stop him before he ruins his chance to return to business.

  • JLFuller

    Is Huck paying you by the hour or the word?

  • JLFuller

    Robert Novaks story in the Washington Post,
    provides a different perspective on the internal debate with in the Southern Baptists. I silently told myself, “See what you find out if look hard enough.” All the time I thought Huck was their darling. But it appears he is their darling de jour at best. I have not tried to hide my opposition to the SBC’s extreme views on Mormonism. But it appears Huck may have been gracious when compared to those in the group who consider him too liberal. I may have to consider taking back some of the nasty things I have been thinking about him. Hhhmmmmmmmm….. nah. It is not a theology thing, it is a character thing. Honorable people do not do the things Huck is doing to Romney. I don’t care that Bill and Hill are doing it. Huck should know better. Political issues are one thing, but cranking up the overcharged I hate Mormons machine goes too far. Stick to Romney’s legitimate weak spots Huck. You look better.

  • Palladio

    JLFuller: honestly, I think Huck is paying Mitt, good with money, vast sums to shoot himself in the foot at least once a week.

    Of course, the picture is worse than that: Mitt, mishandled by his handlers or no, lies an egregious lie (apparently also in speeches earlier this month) and his explanation is possibly worse than, anyway more incredible than, the lie itself.

    All I did was google and find, JLFuller, in the space of several minutes. But I am impressed by Huck. Maybe I’ll become a Huck Ranger. Not that he needs me with Mitt doing so much of his work for him.

    Meanwhile, if the story continues to build, Romney’s weak spot may be, yikes, his character, whereas I thought he was just a really poor governor. Did you read the part of the lie in which he–like a spoiled frat boy before the dean–mentions his brother remembers historic event?

    You should perhaps get over Mitt, because he does not look like he is handling himself too well under the pressure.

    You should also perhaps worry less and put your conspiracy theory to bed: not only am I not part of any Huckabee machine, though the suggestion is beginning to flatter me, as you know, there is no Huckabee machine: his rise is grass roots, surprising, and made on a shoestring budget.

    Mitt is the millionaire with the tubs of cash and the political machine, apparently also including his own church, whose members bristle and post at the least question posed about the guy.

    Clinton endured until the end of his Presidency before disgracing himself over the meaning of the word ‘is.’ Romney has not so much as won a primary, and already he needs a lesson on the meaning of the word ‘saw.’ Totally disgusting.

  • JLFuller

    Maybe I should clarify something here. I am not a Romney supporter – just yet anyway – at least on political grounds. I am a Mormon who takes Romney’s side when unnecessary and erroneous comments are made about our mutual belief. I tend to be more of McCain guy for the most part. But I can also live with Rudy too. I am not and never will be a Huck a supporter. I will vote Dem or third party before I vote for him.

  • JLFuller

    I would vote for Ron Paul…. Let me take that back. No Ron Paul.

  • Stephen A.

    how can I reconcile myself with voting for a person who believes that Adam and Eve cavorted with Dinosaurs? Or that the earth is really only 6000 years old? Or that women should be submissive to their husbands? Or that people with AIDS should have been quarantined?

    I think the entire “Huckabee is a Theocrat” story has been overblown – by Romney people and the media, among others.

    As noted above, Huckabee clarified that he simply believes God was in charge of the process of creation, though I don’t know if that was a political, practical and calculated move away from Creationism or not. I would literally be shocked if he was a believer in a 6,000 year old Earth.

    I’ve heard the “submissive” issue explained in this way: Women should defer to their husbands, so long as their husbands are being Godly and moral. So there is a check-and-balance issue going on with this belief (which is biblical, so long as it’s not taken to extremes.) Clearly it’s not a license to enslave wives.

    The AIDS comment, I believe, was made at a time when many people still didn’t know if it was able to permutate into an airborne disease, or be spread by other means. Now, he says he definitely does not believe it and has changed his view on it. I believe him.

    Their are ex-Klansmen in the Democratic Party, even in the Senate, so I will easily give people the benefit of the doubt that they can change their views, however mistaken they were in the past.

    (Disclosure: I like Huckabee, and also could vote for Romney. I’m not a fan of moral/social/economic anarchy so I won’t be voting for Paul.)

  • JLFuller

    I just watch Chris Matthews dissect Romney’s PR guy. It was embarrassing. In the end, Chris made Romney out to be a liar. I disagree with that. The truth is even more damning. It is AMATEUR hour at the Romney camp. Getting caught with your pants down like that is unforgivable, especially for the likes of Mitt get-it-right-the-first-time Romney.

    Who preps this guy? Do they not know enough to check all the facts in the story BEFORE he sticks his foot in it? He has his speeches down in bullet points. It isn’t like he is winging it. If you are goinfg to point your proud achievements and make big thing out of them DO YOUR HOMEWORK!!! Do you people think this is just another casual conversation? Are you aware the whole world is watching and taking notes? Do you not think Romney’s opponants are disecting and parsing everything he says?

    In the end Romney is the only person who can truly be held accountable and should be. In the end it Romney’s reputation that suffers. But you people were hired to keep this very human man from doing just what he hired you to keep him from doing. If you worked for me I can the whole damned bunch of you and go back to the business world.

  • JLFuller

    “But you people were hired to keep this very human man from doing just what he hired you to keep him from doing.”
    I messed up the editing again. It should read “But you people were hired to keep this very human man from doing just what he has been doing.”

  • JLFuller

    For those of you who are tempted to inject that Romney is the only guy in charge and that I should not blame the help, let me correct that a bit. As one who occasionally had to keep his boss from stepping on HIS thingy, you just have to insist. Sometimes you have to get in the boss’s way to keep him from making a mess of things. Somebody has to remember the message or the job or something else is bigger than the boss’s need to please or accommodate or look good for the moment. It seems Romney didn’t hire anyone for that job.

  • Palladio

    The Romney fabrications–I should not say lies, because I suspect that, having used it since at least 1978 (telling the Boston Herald that he and his father marched with King in Detroit), Mitt may have come to believe them, although that it got pared down to just his dad in Grosse Pointe, then to a ‘figurative sense,’ is far from encouraging.

    I pray for him. Of course, JL Fuller, he is a human being, and I would guess ambition took hold of a good and decent man to be much less than his best. Agreed, too, that Mitt’s team is coming off bad. I had imagined they manufactured the story, but since it is an old one, they at least should have helped the poor guy out.

    Stephen A., I agree the Huckabee is a theocrat thing is overblown. If I thought it were true, and I think it is false, I would not vote for him. I am still extremely positively impressed by him. But it is also a damaging non-story which panders to left paranoia and propaganda, here and abroad.

    If Rudy would only abandon his pro-abortion stance, I would vote for him. What I love about Huckabee is that he so openly support a woman’s right to have a baby, and the unborn baby’s right to live. He is without apology or excuse pro-life. That candor–whether one agrees with his position or not–is not only unique to him but utterly great and the sign of a leader.

    God bless and Merry Christmas.

  • Pingback: » links for 2007-12-25