The Audacity of Jon Huntsman’s Pluralism

The Audacity of Jon Huntsman’s Pluralism January 7, 2012

There are a lot of reasons, and a lot of commentary, for why Jon Huntsman isn’t a front-runner in the Republican presidential nominee race; he’s seen as too liberal, or he’s too nice, he’s a Mormon not named Romney, or maybe it was that bizarre first campaign ad. What hasn’t been alleged, until now, is that he isn’t sufficiently Christian, and might be a Chinese “Manchurian candidate.” However, thanks to a racist attack ad that’s so extreme it almost plays as a parody, those allegations are now removed from conspiratorial toxic message boards and white supremacist conventions and given their fifteen minutes in the 2012 presidential race.


The ad begins asking of Huntsman, “The Manchurian Candidate,” “What’s he hiding?” It features “traditional” Chinese music and clips of Huntsman doing things in China: speaking Mandarin, taking interviews from Chinese press, walking around in China– you get the idea. It then asks a series of questions during the montage like, “American values, or Chinese?” and “Weak on China? Wonder why?” It also takes a detour to slam him for being Mormon (“A man of faith?”) before the coup de grace, a doctored photo of Huntsman in what appears to be Maoist military garb. Essentially, it makes “Willie Horton” look like Will.I.Am’s “Yes We Can” ad.

The ad was placed by an independent group calling itself “New Hampshire Liberty 4 Paul,” and was quickly disavowed by the Ron Paul campaign, who said it should be taken down (Paul supporters have also traveled down the rabbit hole of trying to prove the ad was a “false flag” designed by Huntsman to discredit their candidate). Naturally, the ad was condemned by a variety of critics, including the Hindu American Foundation, who took exception to the implication that Huntsman raising his adopted Indian daughter Asha within a Hindu context was something that should be attacked.

The Huntsmans with daughter Asha Bharati

”This deplorable ad is blatantly racist and religiously intolerant, and crosses all lines of acceptable political discourse,” said Suhag Shukla, Esq., HAF’s Managing Director and Legal Counsel. “Instead of vilifying Governor Hunstman, he should be applauded for being open minded enough to raise his adopted daughter as a Hindu.”

This ugly ad, however, does highlight qualities about Jon Huntsman that I think are admirable, and speak to the best qualities of our nation. The willingness to put duty above party affiliation by accepting the position of Chinese ambassador from President Obama, the willingness to learn a second language in order to better communicate our values, and understand another culture’s values, the recognition that diplomacy can be a strength, and a commitment to religious pluralism that includes raising an adopted daughter “to learn about and appreciate her native culture and the faiths associated with it.” I may not agree with Jon Huntsman on a number of issues, but if he were elected president I wouldn’t constantly worry that he would try to imprint his beliefs on the many religious minorities that call this country home, something that can’t be said for several other candidates.

Indeed, from all accounts Huntsman’s personal religious life is a mirror of America’s unique mix of faiths and philosophies, far from the political will of the Republican Party’s Christian conservative base, who see any non-adherence to a certain religio-political rigorousness as a heresy that must be punished at the ballot box. Just read this excerpt from a National Review article on Huntsman’s religious outlook.

Last year, Huntsman told Fortune that he receives “satisfaction from many different types of religions and philosophies” and doesn’t consider himself to be “overly religious.” (ANew York Times article last week noted that Huntsman’s comments to Fortune made a splash in his home state; “many Utahans can recite from memory” Huntsman’s quote, according to the Times.) In March, the Washington Post reported that “Huntsman’s relatives and friends describe him frequently as an independent thinker, unbeholden to any church or party doctrine,” and that “many Republicans faithful to the church in Utah dismissed Huntsman as a ‘Jack Mormon,’ a derogatory term referring to a non-practicing Mormon.”

As the Pew Forum has pointed out, “the religious beliefs and practices of Americans do not fit neatly into conventional categories.” 35% of Americans attend more the one place of worship, and sizable minorities mix Western and Eastern forms of religion into their daily lives. Huntsman and his “satisfaction from many different types of religion” is mainstream, yet every election cycle the Christian character, and only the Christian character, of each candidate is scrutinized. Any hint that a candidate might enjoy, or even tolerate, the practices the other faiths instantly make him suspect, and a target for attack. If you need an example, just look at what happened when Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, who is an ardent Christian, attended a traditional Hindu blessing.

If Jon Huntsman’s campaign has little chance of succeeding, and there’s every indication that’s the case, then perhaps he could be that prophetic voice for American pluralism within the Republican Party. That conservative politics shouldn’t be hijacked by an all-or-nothing strain of Christian belief, that melding religious orthodoxy to political stances can become toxic if left unchecked. Perhaps Huntsman could be the voice of all those Americans who attend multiple churches, or have children who are Wiccan, or Buddhist, or atheists, or those who like to do Yoga and enjoy reading their horoscopes. You know, normal Americans, the “mushy middle” that actually gives some credence to our country being a “melting pot” of ideas and cultures. Maybe Huntsman can embrace the audacity of his pluralistic life and bring us something new.

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19 responses to “The Audacity of Jon Huntsman’s Pluralism”

  1. I thought this was the party that pushed for adoption, now they’re trying to use that against him. May the fleas from a thousand camels infest their nickers

  2. Huntsman’s lack of Dominionist fervor is one of the main reasons why he isn’t doing well in the Republican primaries.

  3. If Huntsman was the Republican nominee, I’d be carefully weighing positions and records before the presidential election. As the field looks now, Obama would have to be caught on camera munching on a fresh human corpse for me to vote Republican.

  4. How dare anyone criticize and attack him for embracing his daughter’s culture and religion? It’s part of accepting her for who she is and he’s doing the right thing for her and humanity. They even took a jab at him for adopting! This ad is disgusting.

  5. This guy is the only one from the current crop of republican nomanies i would even consider voting for . Huntsman is a man of good character , and no particular religious ties or allegiences , unlike our friends on the religious right i consider this a good thing. That ad against him is a disgrace and those who did it should be ashamed of themselves. The things they don’t like about him, i consider his best qualities. Kilm

  6. “[…P]erhaps he could be that prophetic voice for American pluralism within the Republican Party.”

    Problem is, who’s listening? Who in the Republican Party has a closeted thirst for pluralism waiting for a prophetic leader to voice it? Perhaps some economic conservatives are irked by the religious conservatives they find themselves in bed with, likely some libertarians are, but that’s not the same as admiring pluralism to the point of being inspired to change one’s behavior on its behalf.

  7. Many small-town mainstream Republicans are dissatisfied with the religious right’s position. More conservatives are pro-constitution than you might think… meaning, wanting to preserve the first amendment, believing that marriages shouldn’t be legislated by government, not caring much about a person’s race or religion or gender or sexual orientation, as long as the individual is a law-abiding taxpayer.

    According to some polls (and I’ve gotta find ’em online, since I only see ’em on paper) there are many Muslims, Hindus, and people of Asian descent who are Republicans. Most Cubans are, too; they remember what Mr. Reagan did for them in the 80s.

    Unfortunately the extremes are what make the news. We’re overjoyed by the Gary Johnsons and Jon Huntsmans and Mitt Romneys. While Mr. Huntsman mightn’t win this year, there are plenty of presidential races in our future.

  8. Either there are too few of your “small-town mainstream conservatives” to affect the Republican Party’s positions on these issues, or they don’t care to exert their influence to do so. Neither possibility gives me any hope that the party will suddenly undergo an attack of sanity.

  9. Alice, if Huntsman were to find himself at the head of a cohort of Republicans such as you describe, believe me, the media would sit up and take notice. It would be a “man bites dog” story and I, for one, would love to read it.

    It would go against the grain of the current show. I’ve never seen Republicans as entertaining as the crop of candidates in this primary season. Break out the custard pies. Huntsman is not a custard-pie candidate (nor is Romney) and if he made this kind of progress it would be newsy because it was *not* part of the same sideshow. The press likes that.

  10. Oddly, those many “small-town mainstream Republicans” (as opposed, one assumes, to big-city mainstream Republicans) haven’t been voting for Huntsman or Johnson in the primaries.

  11. I have been rooting for him all along (that is, as a gop candidate I could live with, were he to win).
    As a Utahn, I would not call him a jack-Mormon, but, I would call him open-minded & SANE. As someone who attended school with some of his children, I believe he is a good father — that goes a long way in my book. As a Pagan, I would not be concerned with him trying to impose a theocracy & that is worth its weight in gold.
    Despite the fact that I am 100 times more liberal than Huntsman, I am saddened that he has been so neglected in this race b/c I feel he is well equipped to represent *the people* not just some people.

  12. The conversation in my (mostly) Republican family goes around in this circle every election cycle “Boy I really like that (dark horse candidate, Huntsman or whoever), but he hasn’t got a snowball’s chance. I’d hate to throw away my vote like that…”

    It’s depressing really. The effect of being not the front runner is hard to gauge.

    I don’t know if there’s enough people out there like my family to actually CAUSE an upset, even if they could somehow be convinced to “throw their votes away”, but I know there are some.

  13. As opposed to small town OR big city far-right dominionist Republicans, who seem to get all the publicity in the press. This might be why small-town people who haven’t cable TV have never heard of either moderate candidate.

  14. Whether due to lack of numbers or lack of money, the moderate Republicans are clearly an absolutely insignificant force at the national level. The party keeps pointing to extremist loon candidates, like a compass to true north. The one top-rung candidate who has serious credentials, serious money and a modicum of sanity, Romney, is being consistently passed over by whatever nut of the week takes a harder dominionist line. Rick Santorum is the new face of the movement.

  15. This is why I’d love to see Santorum get the nomination. He can’t possibly beat Obama…but his landslide defeat might actually significantly weaken the Christian Right in the GOP. (i.e., “Look what happens when we listen to those a-holes!”)

  16. Exactly. Right now, the Christian Taliban is pretty much calling the shots…as is evidenced by the rise of Santorum and the other candidates in the past, like Bachmann, Cain, Perry, etc. They don’t like Romney, cause he ain’t Dominionist enough…so they’ll vote for ANYONE who says “Jeebus” a few times per speech…(until the skeletons begin to drop from his/her closet…)

  17. If Obama prevails it will be in part because he’s gotten Republican voters to see the Tea Party in that light.