Is Mike Huckabee too Christian to be president? Is Mitt Romney Christian enough? We’ll find out soon.
The former governor of Arkansas is on the cover of Newsweek, and though the headline, “Holy Huckabee: The Unlikely Rise of a Preacher Politician,” might suggest a mainstream media hatchet job — in which yet another Southern Baptist gets the full Elmer Gantry-Pat Robertson treatment — the article itself comes as a pleasant surprise.
Perhaps Newsweek, too, was surprised to discover that Huckabee’s political views are well within the mainstream of American politics. Elected four times statewide in Arkansas, by the same voters who had earlier elected and re-elected Bill Clinton, Huckabee was governor of the Razorback State for nearly 11 years.
During that time Huckabee proved his centrist effectiveness — including a willingness to spend money for better education, better health care and better roads. One might ask: Do Americans, stuck in traffic, waiting in long lines at airports, think that spending on infrastructure is a bad idea?
On social issues, of course, Huckabee is more clearly on the right, but most Americans, too, are anti-gay marriage and anti-abortion.
Still, the issue with Huckabee is faith: whether he believes what he believes too strongly. Recently, the agenda-setting Drudge Report bannered a headline, “Take This Nation Back For Christ,” referring to a June 8, 1998, article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in which Huckabee told the Southern Baptist Convention, “The reason we have so much government is because we have so much broken humanity.” He continued: “The reason we have so much broken humanity is because sin reigns in the hearts and lives of human beings instead of the Savior.” Is that too much of a soul-baring for the public square?
Interestingly, Huckabee gave that particular speech in Salt Lake City, home of the Mormon faith. And by coincidence, just last week Romney — a Mormon whose ancestors lived in Utah — delivered a major speech in Texas in which he sought to situate his own faith in the larger context of American political history. Romney quoted the second president, John Adams, as saying, “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. … Our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people.”
In response, Romney was slapped around by the liberal likes of Salon.com for being too partial to religion. But as blogger Jay Cost put it recently in Realclearpolitics.com, the real issue for most Republican voters is not Romney’s Mormon religion, but rather Romney’s mutating positions on key policies.
Huckabee, meanwhile, has walked the walk, through persuasion and personal example: Here’s how Newsweek described his role as a new pastor in Pine Bluff, Ark., a quarter century ago: “The Immanuel Baptist Church was an all-white congregation when Huckabee took over the pulpit. One day he announced that a young black man, who heard his sermon on the radio, had asked to worship with them. Huckabee welcomed him to their pews. Some church elders were furious and refused to let the man sit with them. Huckabee threatened to quit unless his guest was greeted warmly. A few members quit in protest, but the rest of the congregation went along.”
In decades past, figures as different as Martin Luther King Jr. and Jimmy Carter were widely admired for letting their faith influence their policy positions. Is Huckabee to be held to a different standard?
Indeed, in times when crime and out-of-wedlock births are again on the upsurge, when football players are murdered in their homes, when Christmas shoppers are gunned down in Heartland shopping malls, more Americans might well be thinking: John Adams was right when he said that passions need to be bridled “by morality and religion.”
As a culture, as a people, we need to do something different. And everybody knows it.
James P. Pinkerton is a columnist for Newsday, where this first appeared.