I was searching religious presidential speeches from the 2008 campaign for an essay in my Religious Studies class when I came across something interesting. I felt that what you are about to read was important because the Jesus juice drinking Mike Huckabee will be running again in 2012.
What could be called “The Huckabee Moment” occurred Sunday, December 2, 2007, when ABC's George Stephanopoulos asked the former Arkansas governor, suddenly and ominously the front-runner in Iowa's GOP contest, whether Mitt Romney is a Christian. Mike Huckabee knew precisely what was being asked of him, and he also knew, because he is a preacher, what the right answer should be. But Huckabee merely smiled, and then 4th-and-2 punted. This, with sarcastic apologies to George W. Bush, is the soft demagoguery of low expectations.
For most Americans (I hope), the expectations of Huckabee have been pretty low I’d say. He is more famous for losing 100 pounds than for any towering political accomplishment. However, he is an ordained Baptist minister, and Romney is a Mormon—a member of a church that most conservative Christians consider heretical. Huckabee presented himself as the anti-Mormon. He is in fact anti-everything except fundamental Christianity and anti-stupid.
Pardon me for saying so, but that is the chief difference between the two. On about all the social issues you can name—abortion, stem cells, gun control, etc., etc.—Huckabee and Romney were in sync. So, obviously, their religious differences were not about morality. They were about belief—religious belief—the issue that arguably wasn’t supposed to matter anymore. Huckabee, however, clearly thought and still thinks it ought to.
Stephanopoulos provided the perfect opportunity for Huckabee to make some ringing statement in support of religious tolerance. He might have made some reference to the ugly anti-Catholic campaigns run against Al Smith in 1928 and John F. Kennedy in 1960, and how they had both been spearheaded by prominent members of the Protestant clergy; Methodist Bishop Adna Leonard in Smith’s case, and the renowned Norman Vincent Peale in Kennedy’s (it should be of note that Peale later went on to receive a Presidential Medal of Freedom from Ronald Reagan). But what did the Huckster do?—he preached. He said Romney had to answer for himself the question of whether he's a Christian. And as for the TV commercial Huckabee ran in Iowa that opened by proclaiming him a “Christian leader,”--well, in my opinion, one should be a leader first and then a Christian if one decides to be a Christian at all. But as he well knew, it is not his surprisingly moderate record as governor of Arkansas that so attracts Iowa's conservative Christian voters, it's his obdurate and narrow-minded fundamental religious beliefs.
The following Thursday Romney scheduled a speech to be held at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas (Texas A&M), of all places, to confront the religious issue. JFK did the same in 1960, but Kennedy had it much easier. Kennedy simply shot down the canard about Vatican control—unfortunately, for Romney, he had to deal with reality: Mormonism is a significant departure from conventional Christianity. The Book of Mormon, like the Bible to Catholics, is scripture to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—nothing but downright heresy to some conservative Christians. This was, and is still, not a gap that can be easily closed.
It is absurd that Romney felt compelled to deliver a speech defending his beliefs and that Huckabee did not have to explain how, in this day and age, he does not believe in evolution. But I suppose it is appropriate that Romney's speech be delivered at the Bush library. Was it not the 41st president's underachieving son who put such emphasis on religious belief? And who has shown us all, with his appalling record, that faith is the perfect substitute for thought? A mind honed on the critical thought of sound individuals might have kept us out of Iraq, and is slowly relieving us of that position as of late.
The Republican presidential field has some feeble minds and some dangerous ones as well, but I argue that none has done as much damage as Huckabee. Religion does not belong in the political arena. It does not lend itself to compromise. It is about belief, not reason, and is ordinarily immutable. Romney is a shifty fellow, but he will always be a Mormon, and because of that he will never be president. However, if he were to someday hold that seat, he would still light the national Christmas tree, pardon the Thanksgiving turkey, and host the Easter egg roll on the White House lawn.
Inevitably, Romney's speeches will probably be compared to JFK's. But when it comes to being beholden to a religious doctrine, I feel as though it was Huckabee, and not Romney, who has some explaining to do. What's more—wasn’t it Huckabee who was and is capitalizing on religious intolerance? He said then and says now that he is a Christian leader, but the evidence proves otherwise. To me, he is nothing more than a shameless follower who has used that cool cat Jesus to crawl his way up the political totem pole.
As an Agnostic I am in no way promoting Mormonism--it's right up there with Scientology as far as ridiculousness goes. I guess my question is, though, what makes assholes like Huckabee think he's better than assholes like Romney?