Normally I criticize the media for its single-minded obsession and focus on politics. A journalist friend on the political beat recently suggested that most media has become a trade press for the political class and I think there’s a lot of truth in that. But even I get very excited about political conventions. Since I was a child — and yes, I was a weird child — I absolutely loved listening to political speeches at conventions. I can still quote certain lines from speeches Ronald Reagan and Jesse Jackson delivered at conventions in the 1980s.
There were many interesting speeches last night, as I’m sure there will be at next week’s Democratic Convention. The ones receiving the most attention are of course Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan’s, former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice’s and New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez’s. They each had snippets of religion in them, but not so much that they would be a focus of the media coverage.
But there was another speech that focused on religion and I find the media coverage of it to be interesting in two ways. Let’s just look at how the Associated Press treated it:
Former pastor and one-time presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee says he wants to clear the air about whether “guys like me — an evangelical — would only support a fellow evangelical.”
“Of the four people on the two tickets, the only self-professed evangelical is Barack Obama,” Huckabee told the GOP convention. “And he supports changing the definition of marriage; believes that human life is disposable and expendable at any time in the womb, even beyond the womb; and tells people of faith that they must bow their knees to the god of government and violate their faith and conscience in order to comply with what he calls health care.”
Referring to the Republican nominee’s Mormon faith, former Arkansas Gov. Huckabee said: “I care far less as to where Mitt Romney takes his family to church than I do about where he takes this country.”
Yes, that was womb, not “wound,” Chris Hayes. My first point is that I find it mildly interesting how little play this speech has gotten. It wasn’t even one of the top three speeches of the night, either in quality or performance. Still, I can’t help but think it was important. The media have done a fairly good job of highlighting and emphasizing the oddity of evangelicals getting behind a Mormon candidate. I’m neither an evangelical nor someone who understands Mike Huckabee’s appeal, but I know enough evangelicals to know that this kind of direct explanation of why they could and should support Romney is key to many. It may not be worth the immediate morning-after coverage we’re seeing of the other speeches, but I do hope the media aren’t too blind to its importance.
The second thing, though, and it might be related, is that I would love an explanation of this “self-professed evangelical” line. When I’ve heard President Obama speak about his Christian faith, which I’ve had the opportunity to hear in person and in public interviews, I’m not sure if I recall him calling himself an evangelical.
Am I being too literal? Was Huckabee just using the term “evangelical” very loosely, trying to make the point that Obama has given testimony about his faith in Christ? Do any of us even know what the term “evangelical” means really? I’d say it’s a shame that media “fact-checks” are not anything even close to a checking of facts these days, but there’s no need for even legitimate fact checks if journalists are doing good work. All the stories I read on this simply quoted what Huckabee said. And that’s fine and fair. Some more partisan sites thought that Huckabee’s line about “self-professed” was a subtle dog-whistle questioning his faith. I actually don’t think that’s true, but I have about as much insight into the mind of Huckabee as the partisan sites do. I think it might be worth just asking him what he meant by “self-professed.”
This is probably a much less important point than the first one — that this speech was significant to a certain subset of religious voters — but it’s been bothering me anyway!
Please do let us know if you see any good media coverage of this speech or some of its lines.