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Monday, November 26, 2007

Mike Huckabee - The Republican Howard Dean?

Rolling Stone has a lengthy piece on Mike Huckabee, his faith and his economic populism. Written by Matt Taibbi who clearly has little use for conservative Christianity (or religion period), this article offers a nice glimpse into Huck's populism and how he mixes his religion and politics. If you're offending by a few choice words - don't follow the link. It is from Rolling Stone magazine after all. Some snippets below:
Mike Huckabee, the latest it girl of the Republican presidential race, tells a hell of a story. Let your guard down anywhere near the former Arkansas governor and he'll pod you, Body Snatchers-style -- you'll wake up drooling, your brain gone, riding a back seat on the bandwagon that suddenly has him charging toward the lead in the GOP race....

Ever since Huckabee turned in a dominating performance at a summit of Christian voters in Washington a few weeks ago, he has been riding a surge among likely Iowa voters (he's now second to Mitt Romney, and gaining). The media, like me, have been charmed by their initial impression: "It's hard not to like Mike Huckabee," gushed Newsweek. Even The Nation said he has "real charm."

But all the attention on his salesmanship skills obscures the real significance of his rise within the Republican Party. Mike Huckabee represents something that is either tremendously encouraging or deeply disturbing, depending on your point of view: a marriage of Christian fundamentalism with economic populism. Rather than employing the patented Bush-Rove tactic of using abortion and gay rights to hoodwink low-income Christians into supporting patrician, pro-corporate policies, Huckabee is a bigger-government Republican who emphasizes prison reform and poverty relief. In the world of GOP politics, he represents something entirely new -- a cross between John Edwards and Jerry Falwell, an ordained Southern Baptist preacher who actually seems to give a {hoot} about the working poor....

What the press doesn't understand is that Huckabee has changed the equation of party-specific orthodoxies. A generation of GOP candidates have used the poor as a whipping-post stage prop, complaining about lazy, homeless fiends living in cars, {lowering} the property values of Decent Folk. Huck turns that rhetoric around by saying, "We shouldn't allow a child to live under a bridge or in the back seat of a car." It's a brilliant innovation for a candidate like Huckabee, who recognizes that the only thing he has to lose by talking about poverty and high CEO salaries is the support of the big-money wing of his party -- something he doesn't have anyway.

Choosing that strategy also allows Huckabee to do what no evangelical since Jimmy Carter has, which is talk about his faith in terms of sympathy for the underprivileged. "You can't just say 'respect life' exclusively in the gestation period," he says. Huckabee also edges openly into class politics, criticizing his own party for harping on the supposed success of the overall economy. "The reality is, there are many families that really are working as hard or harder than they've ever worked in their lives, and they're not seeing that pay off," he says.

This God stuff isn't just talk with Huck. One of his first acts as governor was to block Medicaid from funding an abortion for a mentally retarded teenager who had been raped by her stepfather -- an act in direct violation of federal law, which requires states to pay for abortions in cases of rape. "The state didn't fund a single such abortion while Huckabee was governor," says Dr. William Harrison of the Fayetteville Women's Clinic. "Zero."

As president, Huck would support a constitutional amendment banning abortion and would give science a back seat to religion. "Science changes with every generation and with new discoveries, and God doesn't," he says. "So I'll stick with God if the two are in conflict." Huckabee's well-documented disdain for science was reflected in the performance of the Arkansas school system when he was governor; one independent survey gave the state an F for its science standards in schools, a grade that among other things reflected Huckabee's hostility toward the teaching of evolution.

Huckabee at most times is gentle and self-deprecating in his public address, but when he talks about religion, he gets weirdly combative and obnoxious, often drifting into outright offensiveness. At one appearance, Huckabee -- who's been known to make fart jokes in front of the state legislature -- said he would oppose gay marriage "until Moses comes down with two stone tablets from Brokeback Mountain saying he's changed the rules." And he recently scored a rare offend trifecta, simultaneously pissing off immigrants, Jews and the pro-choice crowd when he ludicrously claimed that a "holocaust" of abortions had artificially created a demand for Mexican labor....

When Huckabee talks like this, he sounds like what he is -- the Howard Dean of the Republican Party, an insurgent candidate who shot toward the top by appealing to a disaffected base. But Dean, who ended up stumbling out of Iowa learned the hard way that populist campaigns have a way of imploding under the glare of the modern campaign process. Which means: Charm only goes so far if you're full-bore nuts. Huckabee may be able to get away with saying he's not a primate, but he'd better not scream it.



Anonymous Lee said...

The biggest difference is that Howard Dean did not have the growing sympathy of a large group of ideologically similar voters who have slowly, but systematically, realized that the party they have been slavishly loyal to because it is "against abortion" has failed to deliver on its promises. Dean's potential constituency consisted of extreme Northeastern Liberals, most of whom live in the backwoods of Vermont. Huckabee's potential constituency consists of millions of voters in most of those red states in the Midwest and Deep South.

If it does nothing else, Huckabee's candidacy will sift the infiltrators and phonies out of the religious right, and expose the sell-outs like Pat Robertson, who apparently hate economic populism more than the "evil" of abortion and gay marriage. There will also be some anxiety from religious right leaders over the choice between a Mormon and a Baptist minister, which among conservative evangelicals is a choice between a professing believer and a cultist.

Should be a good show.

2:52 PM

Blogger Michael Westmoreland-White said...

I like Huckabee on the poor and immigration, but he is just as much a military hawk as the others. But when he defends the NRA position on gun control (absolutely zero), he does so by saying that we need guns to protect ourselves from our own government!!! And his views on church and state are horrendous!

9:53 AM


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