Fundagelical Watch

Friday, January 18, 2008

Huckabee Equates Gay Marriage with Beastiality but Endorses Flag Pole Anal Sex

Yesterday in South Carolina presidential candidate Mike Huckabee joined fellow fundagelicals former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and Focus on the Family's James Dobson in expressing his concern that gay marriage will inevitably lead to sex with animals. Many journalists covering the current campaign (and Huckabee himself) keep saying that Huckabee is a new kind of evangelical, interested in a wider variety of issues. Maybe he is. Santorum was concerned only with dogs, and Dobson seemed to care especially about donkeys. Huckabee, however, seems determined to protect all of the animals.

Moreover, Huckabee expanded the definition of acceptable sex by endorsing sticking a flag pole up one's butt. I guess the fundagelical movement really is becoming more inclusive.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Huckabee Reveals His Dominionist Agenda

It there were any doubts before, Mike Huckabee has now dispelled them. He is a Dominionist through and through. Last night in Warren, Michigan, he made it as clear as he possibly could. He advocates amending the United States Constitution to conform to his version of biblical standards. Now, they may not be my version of biblical standards, and they may not be your version of biblical standards, but, by all that is Holy, Mike Huckabee wants to reshape the Constitution to fit his interpretation of the Bible. He wants to subsume the Constitution and the government of our country under the repressive version of fundagelical Christianity.

Behind the affable, witty, charming facade is a Christian Fascist. You can say fascist is too strong a word, it's incendiary, and we shouldn't invoke images of Hitler and Mussolini in American political discourse. Well, fascism won't come to America with storm troopers in brown or black shirts. It will come in the form of fundagelicals attacking the foundations of constitutional government while waving the Bible in one hand and the American flag in the other. Check out Umberto Ecco's criteria for fascism and see if you don't see the parallels.

Three things scare me about what Huckabee said last night:

1. He said it on the eve of a Republican primary election in the state hit hardest by the economic dislocations of the last two decades.

2. He's as likable and charismatic a guy as you'll ever meet or see on television.

3. He's saying what millions of people are already thinking and want to hear someone with a chance at real political power to say out loud.

The polls are predicting that Huckabee will finish a distant third in Michigan, around 15%. Let's see if the fundagelicals surprise us again with their electoral power as they did in Iowa. Next up are two states where Huckabee should do well. The polls, which can be wrong, of course, as they were in New Hampshire (though not about Huckabee), right now show that the Dominionst former governor from Arkansas is well-positioned in both South Carolina and Florida.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Long Tradition of Freedom of Conscience in New Hampshire

On the day that New Hampshire holds its presidential primary, and the fundagelical candidate is struggling to finish a distant third, while for the first time leading the national Gallup poll, it might be appropriate to honor New Hampshire's historic tradition of religious freedom. When the New Hampshire convention became the ninth to ratify our Constitution, they passed a resolution recommending the following amendment: "Congress shall make no laws touching (my emphasis) Religion or to infringe on the rights of Conscience." (Leonard Levy, Origins of the Bill of Rights, Yale University Press, 1999, p.82).

If the First Amendment had begun that way instead of "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," the Christian Right would today have no wiggle room to distort the original intent (allegedly so dear to right-wingers) into sophistry like: "The First Amendment only prohibits an official state church," or "The First Amendment protects religion from the state but not the state from religion."

Monday, January 07, 2008

New Hamshpire a Different Venue for Huckabee

Mike Huckabee is experiencing a very different milieu in New Hampshire than the one in which he was able to carve out a decisive victory in Iowa last week. Not only are there fewer fundagelicals in New Hampshire, but they tend to be of a different sort than those who worship (and oragnize and vote) out of the megachuches of the mid-west, west and south. Their congregations are smaller, and, while certainly more conservative than mainline churches, most are unconnected to the national Christian Right organizations like Focus on the Family.

A recent Pew Research Center/AP poll shows that evangelicals are 38% of Iowa Republican voters, 53% of South Carolina's and only only 18% of New Hampshire's republican electorate. So, right now you hear Huckabee talking about 2nd amendment rights, low taxes and small government--issues dear to the hearts of New Hampshire Republicans.

A strong third place finish would be impressive for Huckabee. I would say anything over 15% would look good as he heads to South Carolina, but I wouldn't expect more than that. New England is just not fertile ground for fundagelicalism.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Huckabee First in Iowa in 2008, Robertson SECOND in 1988

I probably missed it a time or two, but I've been watching the three cable news channels a lot the last two days. I have yet to hear a talking head on any network get it right. Pat Robertson finished SECOND in the 1988 Iowa Republican caucuses, not first. He finished with 25% behind Dole (37%) and ahead of Bush I (19%). There are certainly newsworthy parallels to draw between Robertson and Huckabee, but for heaven's sake, people, you're supposed to be professionals. Look it up and get it right.

Qoute of the Day

"In my experience, religious zeal and politics don't mix. Look at Belfast, Beirut and Bosnia if you want proof."

From Warren Rudman, Combat: Twelve Years in the U.S. Senate (1996). Rudman was a very conservative Republican senator from New Hampshire until his 1992 retirement after two terms.

Friday, January 04, 2008

The Prospect of Politics as Religion

Last night, in all the excitement of Iowa caucus results, I said that the possibility of a Huckabee-Obama match-up in the fall would be like an amusement park thrill ride. Today I'm not so sure. In fact, the prospect has forced me back into stewing over an issue I have spent 20 years never resolving.

What is the proper relationship between religion and politics?

Now, I am still skeptical that Huckabee can win the Republican nomination. The Republican establishment fears and detests his encroachment on their hegemony, and he's got to survive Super Tuesday on February 5 when 20 states hold their Republican primaries, including California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey and New York. A tall order for someone who right now has little money and almost no organization other than church-related volunteers.

But what if it happens? Huckabee's nominated and so is Obama. Huckabee really is a preacher, and Obama often sounds like one. In fact, Obama has made a point of lecturing Democrats that they need to bring religious faith into their politics, and he has no qualms about talking about his own beliefs. See, for example his keynote address to a Sojourners conference in June, 2006. A Southern Baptist preacher battling it out with a scripture-quoting United Church of Christ liberal may be the kind of thing you want plenty of popcorn and Milk Duds for, but it also raises some of my worst fears and deepest conflicts.

Allow me to indulge in an little personal history here. Nearly 20 years ago, at a very desperate time in my life, I was seeking spiritual guidance and joined the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. What attracted me initially to Lutheranism was Luther's theology of grace, but I also quickly came to cherish his Two Kingdoms doctrine, namely, that the proper role of the church was to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments, and every other sphere of human life was secular and the province of the state.

Eighteen years ago I began teaching history and politics at a Missouri Synod college and remained on the faculty there until 2005 when I retired, let's say, by mutual agreement. I conscientiously taught Luther's Two Kingdoms in my History of Political Theory class, although I felt it necessary to point out that Luther himself violated his own doctrine on a number of occasions, most famously with his 1525 pamphlet calling for the extermination of the rebellious German peasants, and when he not very judiciously advised Philip of Hesse to go ahead and commit bigamy for political reasons.

My problem with all of this was that almost all my colleagues and students took their right-wing politics seriously, so seriously, in fact, that over the sixteen years I was there they increasingly included the most extreme brand of Christian Right ideology into their doctrine and more and more de-emphasized Luther's Two Kingdoms. By the end, being a political liberal was a deal-breaker almost as serious (maybe as serious) as denying the Trinity. The theologians on the faculty quit teaching the Two Kingdoms in doctrine classes. I will never forget the last time I taught History of Political Theory in 2004, and when we got to Luther, a very smart class just didn't seem to get it. They were all juniors and seniors who had already taken the required Lutheran doctrine courses, but when I asked them how many had even heard of the Two Kingdoms doctrine before my assigned reading, only one guy raised his hand--and he wasn't a Lutheran. It took me a few months, but I realized that I didn't belong there any more.

To be honest, strictly separating politics and religion as a matter of doctrine provided me with a convenient cover for a lot of years. To this day, I can't fully separate out my core belief from convenience. Nevertheless, I still today get very nervous when the two are combined, whether on the right or the left.

Let me acknowledge something from the start. Mixing religion and politics on an individual level is inevitable. We all form our political opinions and vote according to our values, and often those values are religious. We wouldn't want to prevent that even if we could. I've voted my religious convictions many times, although there may have been perfectly good secular reasons as well.

That is, however, very different from conducting, in the public arena, political debates and making policy decisions based on religious convictions. It's very dangerous territory, and here are a few reasons why.

1. "God/Jesus/Allah says" is usually a conversation stopper, not a conversation starter. To quote a bumper sticker popular in fundagelical church parking lots, "God said it. That settles it."

2. Strange things happen when policy debates turn into theological debates. Do we really want discussions of U.S. policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict revolving around which politician has the correct interpretation of the Bible? I have a sneaking suspicion that this has already gone on in the current Bush administration's mostly hands-off approach.

3. If policy debates become theological debates, then there's a very real way that the theocrats have already won. That's what they want--for all policy considerations to hinge on right religion. It they can make all issues about theological correctness, then they're always fighting on their home turf.

4. At least for now, there are a lot more right-wing evangelicals than liberal evangelicals. There are some hints that is beginning to change, and Obama may be able to tap into the evangelical vote, but I'll wager that at best only one-third of evangelicals will ever vote liberal in the next generation.

5. Our public discourse is already nasty enough, in some large part because of fundagelical input, but it can get a lot nastier if we play the fundagelical game and make our political debates about what God wants. For a hint of what could befall our polity, take a look at what happened in the little community of Dover, Pennsylvania during the controversy over teaching intelligent design in biology classes. It's described well in Edward Hume's book Monkey Girl.

6. Do we really want to choose our political leaders based on who seems to be more with Jesus? I hope not. I don't think that someone who thinks he/she knows the current state of God's mind should be running anything, let alone the country. We've had seven years of that.

There are, after all, perfectly effective and legitimate secular frameworks within which to make wise political choices. I personally prefer the late John Rawls' approach in his A Theory of Justice (1971) in which he develops the concept of justice as fairness (and further develops it in his 1993 Political Liberalism).

Engaged in a debate with a fundagelical right-winger, I'd much rather say "that's not fair, and here's why" than say "that's not what Jesus was about" or "I think you're misinterpreting what Jesus meant." Here's the problem. Much of my passion for Rawls' entirely secular political philosophy is derived from what Jesus said.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

It's Obama!

MSNBC and CNN just projected Obama the winner in Iowa. It's far too early to project who will face whom in November, but just imagine a black United Church of Christ urban liberal versus a Southern Baptist preacher from rural Arkansas. That's a thrill ride no amusement park could possibly create.

MSNBC Declares Huckabee the Winner

MSNBC has now joined CNN in projecting Huckabee the winner in Iowa, and both are reporting that 60% of those Republicans who showed up to caucus were evangelicals. At this time, it looks like the Arkansas preacher will win by a wider margin that any poll predicted. New Hampshire will be very different, but nationwide this, I think, demonstrates the organizational power of the fundagelical churches.

My big question now is how long will Great Pooh Bah James Dobson remain on the fence.

Not Paranoid

OK, I'm not paranoid. Five minutes ago CNN projected that Huckabee will win the Iowa caucuses. Them Iowa pastors and their faithful followers came through.

Was Huckabee Confused about Appearing on Leno?

Yesterday Mike Huckabee flew from Iowa to Los Angeles to appear on Jay Leno's first new show since the writers' strike began. Before getting on the plane he told reporters that he supported the writers' strike but that since Leno had settled with the union, he wouldn't have to cross a picket line. In fact, of course, most of the country knows it was Letterman, not Leno, who has reached an agreement. When informed of that by a reporter, Huckabee told him he was wrong, then said "Oh" and promptly changed the subject.

There are two ways to read this. It was either yet another gaffe revealing that neither Huckabee nor political genius Ed Rollins know what is going on in the world, or, perhaps, it was a deliberate strategic move to attract Republican support, because neither country clubbers nor fundagelicals are big union fans.

My problem with the whole incident is that either Huckabee and his campaign manager didn't know what they were doing, or Huckabee was lying when he said he thought he wouldn't have to cross a picket line.

I did, however, see the show last night, and Huckabee was his usual charming and witty self. His performance certainly could boost his popularity in Iowa and beyond. That makes me inclined to adopt the second explanation. But who knows?

How Paranoid Am I, Really?

One of the things I'll learn tonight is where I am on the paranoid scale with my Huckabee obsession. I readily admit that after sixteen years as somewhat of a rebellious outsider within the fundagelical community, I tend to score fairly high. If Huckabee even just squeaks out a win, then he's still viable and at least some of my paranoia is justified. If Romney beats him decisively, then I'll have to re-evaluate.

By the way, I received a very perceptive comment in response to yesterday's Huckabee rant. The gentleman's point was that there is a way Huckabee is better than most of the rest of the Republican field because he is not beholden to the other two wings of the Republican Party, the corporatists and the neocons. There's a reason he has little money and, therefore, almost no professional organization. His only chance is fundagelical zeal.

In fact, the Republican establishment is foaming at the mouth over Huckabee's rise to prominence. Witness what George Will, Robert Novak and The Club for Growth have said about him. They're scared that the fundagelicals might be getting tired of being the reliable Republican foot soldiers on election day and then getting little of what they want while the corporate types and neocons prosper. That was Chris Hedges' point in the piece I recommended yesterday.

If you haven't read Hedges' American Fascists (Free Press, 2006), it's well worth your time. What frightens Hedges (and me) is that the classic formula for fascism is corporatism, a militaristic foreign policy, combined with a mass movement organized around deep discontents amidst a time of economic crisis.

What the reader's comment got me to wondering was, if Huckabee is successful, will he turn out to be a genuine populist or will he form the fatal alliances with the corporate interests and the military-industrial complex in order to win and govern. By fatal, like Hedges, I mean fatal to American democracy.

Of course, by 8 p.m. tonight, this may all be academic, i.e., irrelevant.

Finally, a Decision in Iowa

At 6:30 p.m. central time tonight, Iowa voters will begin caucusing. It's incredibly close on both sides. I saw Tim Russert on "NBC Nightly News" last evening say that he had talked off-the-record yesterday with the top people behind the scenes in all the major campaigns and asked them who was going to win. Every single response was "We don't have a clue." They, of course, know what their own internal polls say and know what we know from the published polls, which, put together, leave us saying as well, "We don't have a clue."

Historically the most accurate Iowa polling has come from the Des Moines Register. Their latest numbers show Huckabee leading Romney 32% to 26% and Obama leading Clinton 32% to 25% with Edwards at 24% (margin of error +/- 3.5%).

The MSNBC/McClatchy poll shows the races much closer. They have Romney at 27% and Huckabee at 23% among Republican caucusers and among Democrats Edwards at 24%, Clinton at 23% and Obama at 22% (5%+/- margin of error).

Yesterday's Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll also provides no basis for a prediction. Huckabee leads Romney 28% to 26%, and Clinton and Obama are tied at 28% with Edwards close behind at 26% (3.3% +/- margin of error).

Fortunately, living on the west coast, I won't have to stay up as late as most of the political junkies around the country to learn the results.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

I'm Not the Only One Who's Scared

By the way, Chris Hedges is scared, too. I recommend you read why.

What to Think about Huckabee?

I don't know what to think about Mike Huckabee and his meteoric rise in the polls over the last several weeks. Thirty-six hours before we'll probably know the Iowa caucus results, I don't know whether to be frightened, amused or perplexed. I've been following the MSNBC wall-to-wall coverage of Iowa today, and they seem to have chosen to be perplexed.

There are some good reasons to be frightened if Huckabee wins tomorrow night and picks up steam. It probably won't give him much of a boost in New Hampshire next Tuesday, but then there's South Carolina, Florida and, well, the rest of the south. It's still difficult for me to believe that he can survive states like New York, California and New Jersey, but who knows. There are fundagelicals everywhere, and a lot of them seem to have found their very white knight in Huckabee.

You have to admit that he comes across with a lot of appeal. Even I caught myself being moved by his red sweater-white cross Christmas commercial. That was a fine piece of work. Even Bill Clinton said of him recently that he's the only Republican candidate who can give a speech and tell a joke. High praise indeed from the master himself. Well, maybe not, given the rest of the field.

Here are a few things that scare me about Huckabee. I caught him on "Meet the Press" Sunday, and Russert confronted him about saying in 1998 that "we" (meaning the fundagelicals) need to take America back for Christ. That's code for dominionism (the political expression of Reconstructionist Theology), i.e., we ought to get to rule over the rest of you, primarily by Old Testament law. Huckabee answered by saying that it was no big deal because, after all, he was talking to a group of Southern Baptists. That gave me small comfort, like excusing David Duke because, after all, he was addressing a Klan rally. In 1998, at the Southern Baptist convention, Huckabee was also one of 131 signatories to the proclamation that wives should submit to their husbands. As I recall, that was one of the big reasons Jimmy Carter resigned from the SBC.

Then there are the folks who have endorsed Huckabee, which include Jerry Falwell, Jr., in a move that might cause some tax exempt problems at Liberty University. But Falwell the Younger doesn't scare me half as much as the other endorsements. They constitute the fringe of the fringe:

Don Wildmon of the American Family Association

Rick Scarborough of Vision America

Tim and Beverly LaHaye

Kenneth Copeland (now under Senate investigation for some financial improprieties, an investigation led by Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley)

Michael Farris, the founding father of the Christian home school movement

Janet Folger, a radio show host who has a book out claiming America will soon criminalize Christianity

let's not forget Chuck Norris

By the way, when Huckabee spoke at Liberty University, someone asked him to explain his recent success, and he seemed to imply that God wanted him to be president. I remember another southern governor saying that about six years ago after being elected, and we all know how that turned out. Either W wasn't hearing clearly that day or God has a very sadistic sense of humor. I do think God has a great sense of humor, but certainly not a sadistic one.

Huckabee also has a lot of Iowa pastors who have met with each other and endorsed him, making clear, of course, that they speak only for themselves and not for their churches. But we should know (and I certainly do after sixteen years in a fundagelical church and church-related university) what that means back at the congregatation level. The word is passed, maybe legally, but certainly unmistakably--TURN OUT ON JANUARY 3 AND CAUCUS FOR HUCKABEE!

Then there are his gaffes, most of which would be funny if you don't consider the possibility he might actually get elected president. They're mostly in the area of foreign policy. He claimed after the Bhutto assassination that, next to Mexicans, Pakistanis are the largest group sneaking into the country across the southern border. (Not true, of course.) Thirty hours after the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran was released, saying that the Iranians had given up a nuclear weapons program in 2003, a reporter asked Huckabee about it and he said he hadn't heard of it. He seriously needs someone on his staff to make him read at least one newspaper every morning.

Huckabee then tried to compensate for his lack of foreign policy experience by saying that John Bolton was one of his advisers. When reached for comment, Bolton said he and Huckabee had exchanged a few e-mails but he wasn't working for any of the candidates.

To prevent further embarrasments, Huckabee has now hired a real pro to run his campaign--Ed Rollins. The last time Ed Rollins successfully managed a major campaign was when he helped George Nethercutt unseat Speaker of the House Tom Foley (D, Wash.) in 1994 and before that Christie Todd Whitman in New Jersey in 1993. Lately he mostly has shown up on Lou Dobbs' show, pontificates as if he knows the inside poop, collects his two grand (the going rate my sources tell me), and then goes home. That may not have been the best of hiring decisions.

As I say, some of this would be really hilarious, if it weren't also scary. We'll begin to see which it is tomorrow night.

Come to think of it, David Shuster was among several reporters on Chris Matthews' New Year's Eve "Hardball." At the end of the show Matthews pressed everyone to predict who would win it all. Shuster is one of the very best political reporters in the business. He's covered Huckabee since he was Lieutenant Governor of Arkansas. Most of Matthews' guests hedged the question. Shuster took it on. He said that in all his years of reporting on politics he's never seen a better politician than Mike Huckabee. He risked a prediction. Hillary will win the Democratic nomination and Huckabee will win the Republican nomination. Huckabee will win in November.

I'm scared.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Hello Again

I'm back after a hiatus of several weeks of medical treatments and some recuperation during the holidays. I won't burden you with all the gory details, but they involved my heart, prostate and bladder all simultaneously and all interrelated. Basically it took them a long time to stop bleeding that was depriving my heart of so much oxygen that I came within a hair's breadth of another heart attack like the one I barely survived earlier this fall. I'm fine now, or as fine as you can be after two heart attacks (I'm still trailing Cheney by two), the diagnosis that the prostate cancer had come back was a false alarm, and they finally stopped the bladder bleeding that resulted from radiation treatment four years ago.

I'm now ready to re-enter the fray, and what a week to do so. A Southern Baptist preacher and a black United Church of Christ guy may win the Iowa caucuses Thursday night, and a Mormon in poised to win New Hampshire next Tuesday.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am an worshiping member of the United Church of Christ. That means that the fundagelicals of the world think that neither Obama, nor I, nor Romney, for that matter, is a Christian, but that's OK. They're entitled to their bigotry. They're just not entitled to use our government to enforce it.