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Dec 19 2007

The Republican hysteria over Huckabee

As the interminable political primary season drags on, I have to say that the Republican race has proved to be far more interesting than the Democratic one. We have the drama of Mitt Romney trying to fend off unease over the issue of his Mormon religion and worrying about how his switching of positions to pander to the Christianists in the party will play out, serial philanderer Rudy Giuliani having to deal with one sex and money and corruption scandal after another, Ron Paul irritating the rest of them and the media with his constitution-based attacks on war mongering producing a remarkable response for someone considered a nobody, the once great hope Fred Thompson sleepwalking through the primaries, media darling John McCain looking more and more like a has-been, and those lovable scamps Tom Tancredo and Duncan Hunter (can anyone tell them apart?) falling over themselves in seeing who can hate immigrants the most. As if that was not enough fun, for the last debate they brought in surprise contestant Alan Keyes (yes, Alan Keyes!), an egomaniac of such giant proportions compared to whom even the insufferable Giuliani comes across as modest and self-effacing.

But the latest development is the sudden vaulting into the top tier-ranks of Mike Huckabee. In many ways, he was always a natural to lead the pack because he had, on the surface, few of the negatives associated with the others and all the positives. He was a southerner, a former governor, a Baptist preacher, and has long held the kinds of views that the religious right wants its leaders to have on issues like abortion and gays. He may not have been as hard line as they might have wished on issues like not raising taxes or hating immigrants, or as enthusiastic about supporting the Bush wars and torture that the crazies in his party would like. But these drawbacks were merely matters of degree and one would have thought that given the strong negatives of the other choices that Republican primary voters had, he would have been the one they liked most. So the surprise for me is not his rise in the polls but why it took so long.

But what is really interesting is the reaction to his rise from the power brokers of the Republican Party. They have responded with alarm and brought out the long knives, trying to cut Huckabee down. Former Bush speechwriter David Frum piles on, essentially calling him a moron and even obliquely suggesting Huckabee of being a kindred spirit of Scientologists.

So why all this angst about this southern Bible thumper, who seems to be very similar in background and views to George W. Bush, the president the Washington insiders love, even if he will go down as the worst president in US history and whose current approval ratings are in the sewer?

Kevin Drum at the blog has the best explanation that I have seen so far for this Huckabee hate fest among leading conservatives:

There are a variety of ostensible reasons for this: lack of foreign policy bona fides, too compassionate for their taste, too willing to consider spending money, etc. But I think the real reason is simpler: as with blogosphere conservatives, mainstream conservatives are mostly urban sophisticates with a libertarian bent, not rural evangelicals with a social conservative bent. They’re happy to talk up NASCAR and pickup trucks in public, but in real life they mostly couldn’t care less about either. Ditto for opposing abortion and the odd bit of gay bashing via proxy. But when it comes to Ten Commandments monuments and end times eschatology, they shiver inside just like any mainstream liberal. The only difference is that usually they keep their shivering to themselves because they want to keep everyone in the big tent happy.

But then along comes Huckabee, and guess what? He’s the real deal. Not a guy like George Bush or Ronald Reagan, who talks a soothing game to the snake handlers but then turns around and spends his actual political capital on tax cuts, foreign wars, and deregulating big corporations. Huckabee, it turns out, isn’t just giving lip service to evangelicals, he actually believes all that stuff. Among other things, he believes in creationism (really believes), once proposed that AIDS patients should be quarantined, appears to share the traditional evangelical view that Mormonism is a cult, and says (in public!) that homosexuality is sinful. And that’s without seeing the text of any of his old sermons, which he (probably wisely) refuses to let the press lay eyes on.

John Cole, a conservative who has watched with dismay the Republican Party pandering to the religious extremists, also lists some of the nasty things that are being said about Huckabee and enjoys a moment of schadenfreude:

I simply can not tell you how much I am enjoying this. The GOP has been pandering to these stupid bastards for years, and every time I pointed it out I was called “anti-Christian” or something or other. Those of us who saw what the party was becoming were told to shut up, that it was good politics.

Enjoy your new GOP, folks. And here is something else to think about – are the evangelicals going to support Romney or Giuliani if you do manage to trash Huckabee enough to secure the nomination for them? Will the eye for an eye crowd learn to forgive and forget? Have fun!

Next: Meet the Villagers: The real political divide in America

POST SCRIPT: Torture

One of the most depressing phenomena of recent times is how so many people who should know better are willing to defend the use of torture, using legalistic quibbling to justify barbaric practices that would have been unhesitatingly condemned if the identities of the torturers and the tortured were switched.

Tom Tomorrow as usual says it most concisely.

6 comments

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  1. 1
    Rian

    Even the mighty Ron Paul (the most explosive fundraiser in the Republican Party) has gotten in on the ‘bash Huckabee’ act, but this one was really amazing. Check out the reaction of the anchor afterwards:

    It is not in the interests of the various other candidates to let Huckabee gain momentum, but Paul’s indignation was really refreshing.

  2. 2
    Anonymous

    The Mike Huckabee Christmas ad is quite interesting. Surely you must have seen it? Any thoughts? Is it even worth debating whether there is a visible cross in the background?

  3. 3
    Mano

    I don’t think there is any doubt that the viewer was supposed to see a cross, while the candidate, if there is a fuss, can deny any such intent.

    This is classic “dog-whistle” politics, sending out coded signals that are picked up by the target audience.

  4. 4
    Mano

    Right on cue, Huckabee says the “cross” was just a bookshelf!

    Even professional Catholic rabble-rouser Bill Donohue says that Huckabee has gone too far in invoking religion, joining in the general alarm at someone taking their religious crusade too seriously.

  5. 5
    Gullyborg

    The problem isn’t that Huckabee is religious. GWB is a very religious born again Christian. The problem is that Huckabee is using his religion as a shield, to prevent serious criticism of his more liberal views on big issues. Huckabee is the weakest GOP candidate on immigration, taxes, spending, crime, national defense, and foreign policy. On all these issues, he sounds an awful lot like Bill Clinton. But then he holds up his Bible and says “but I don’t like gays or abortions!” and we’re supposed to just ignore all the rest? And then he suggests, when dodging a question about his lack of foreign policy experience, that the fact that he is the only candidate with a theology degree (a degree it turned out he didn’t even have!) makes him someone more qualified than his opponents? What the heck?

    All the other GOP candidates are Christian. Granted, some seem a little more devout than others. But still, all agree that Jesus is Lord. We have no problems with that. We have problems with a poor candidate putting his religion ahead of all else.

  6. 6
    Mano

    Gullyborg,

    What you are saying is my point exactly. The religious dislike of gays and abortions was pandered to because they brought in votes to support other policies of war and tax cuts for the rich.

    But the religious people are now saying they really care about gays and abortions more than the other stuff, that they really want to put their religious views above all else. Thus Huckabee’s their man, and that is what is giving the party hierarchy fits

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