Hamilton, Madison, and Jay

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Location: Mesa, Arizona, United States

Who are we? We're a married couple who has a passion for politics and current events. That's what this site is about. If you read us, you know what we stand for.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Governor Huckabee -- On The Religious Left?

David Sanders has a must-read piece in today's Wall Street Journal on Mike Huckabee. He is not kind in his assessment that we have seen people like him before. They come wrapped in religious overtones, and promise nothing except a larger government:

As Iowa Republicans prepared to caucus yesterday, polls showed Mike Huckabee, the Southern Baptist minister-turned-politician, leading in some polls and placing a close second to Mitt Romney in others. The core of Mr. Huckabee's support, of course, comes from evangelical voters. Couching his policy positions in the language of faith and morality, Mr. Huckabee portrays himself as the dream candidate of the religious right. In October, he boasted to a gathering of conservative Christian activists: "I don't come to you, I come from you." The "language of Zion," he said, was "his mother tongue and not a recently acquired second language." Echoing the Gospels, he told the Des Moines Register editorial board that the essence of what made him tick was: "Do unto others as you would have done unto you." He admitted that his faith shapes his policy, but "if [voters] understand in what way, I think that they will say 'good, that's the kind of policy we would like.' "

But one wonders whether his newfound supporters would really say that if they took a close look at his policies. With increasing frequency, Mr. Huckabee invokes his faith when advocating greater government involvement in just about every aspect of American life. In doing so, Mr. Huckabee has actually answered the prayers of the religious left.

Since John Kerry's defeat in 2004 at the hands of at least a few "values voters," the Democratic Party has been trying to take back God, even launching a Faith in Action initiative at the Democratic National Committee. Meanwhile, a small but organized group of liberal religious leaders and faith-based political activists has been trying to convey the message that, as one recent book had it, "Jesus rode a donkey." They argue that increasing the government's role in the fight against global warming, poverty and economic inequality is a biblical imperative. They usually de-emphasize the importance of abortion and gay marriage in their agendas, lest they offend the secularist wing of the party.

Democrats have made some inroads with evangelical voters. A recent Pew poll showed that the percentage of Americans who see the party as friendly to religion has increased to 30% from 26% since 2006. But no one has articulated the message of the religious left more effectively than Mr. Huckabee.

In August, he told a group of Washington reporters that the application of his faith to politics must include concerns for the environment, poverty and hunger. "It can't just be about abortions and same-sex marriage," he said. "We can't ignore that there are kids every day in this country that literally don't have enough food and adequate drinking water in America."

As governor, he championed the ARKids First, which extended free health insurance not only to children of the working poor but to some lower middle-class families. He pleased teachers unions with his consistent opposition to school choice and voucher programs. He satisfied labor by signing into law a minimum-wage hike of 21%. "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me"--Mr. Huckabee's oft-cited scriptural justification for growing government--proved costly for Arkansans, who saw government spending double and their taxes rise about a half-billion dollars during his tenure.

It's unlikely that Mr. Huckabee, as president, would be able to shepherd a federal marriage amendment through the House, the Senate and the state legislatures, but signing into law a cap-and-trade system ostensibly aimed at limiting global warming (something he has called a "moral issue") would be much easier. If he wanted to push protectionist "fair trade" policies and a greater federal government role in health care, a Democratic Congress would be more than willing to let him live out his faith on the taxpayers' dime.

Looking at the past 30 years of American politics, many on the religious right reasonably assume that candidates who speak openly about their faith are conservatives, but that hasn't always been the case. Jimmy Carter is the most prominent recent example of left-leaning piety. The author Gary Scott Smith, in "Faith and the Presidency," reminds us that President Franklin D. Roosevelt even offered scriptural justification for the New Deal.

Speaking to the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America, in 1933, FDR explained that the "object of all our striving . . . should be to help citizens realize the abundant life Christ said he came to bring." According to Mr. Smith, "Roosevelt wanted to ensure that 'all elements of the community' had an equitable share of the nation's resources. The federal government's social planning, he contended, was 'wholly in accord with the social teachings of Christianity.' " It is not hard to imagine Mr. Huckabee--standing at a podium in the Rose Garden to announce a raft of government programs--talking in exactly this way.

Like it or not, Mr. Stephens has a very good point. We saw this in FDR. We saw this in Jimmy Carter. We even saw shades of it, albeit muted, from Bill Clinton. As much as the Constitution is written in stone, so goes the same for the Bible. I do not wish to get into a discussion about religion, but while Jesus did come riding in on the Democrat mascot, He was not coming to change the government. He came to change the way we think. Out with the Old Testament, and in with the New. The lessons he taught were of love and sacrifice. They were not about getting the government (at the time a Roman commanded government) to change.

It was not the Romans who demanded Christ's crucifixion. It was the pharisees he irked. The "man from Hope" routine is wearing thin on many Americans. People like to hear that candidates are strong in their faith. It sends a message, in general, that these are good and moral people. But that is not always true, and we must remember that these people are politicians. They will bend the truth, they will say what we want to hear, and they will pander all in the effort to get our coveted votes.

What Americans do not like, and we believe it will show in the coming weeks, are candidates that wear their faith on their sleeve. Governor Huckabee has done plenty of that and has played the identity politics game quite well. He was able to fool Iowa caucus-goers. (Exit polls show that his highest demographic captured were female, born-again Christian Republicans living in non-urban rural areas with a population below 10,000. Too bad for Governor Huckabee that the nation does not have significantly more of those areas. When the early primary states are done (Iowa, Wyoming, New Hampshire, et al) Governor Huckabee is in for a rude awakening.



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