Wednesday, January 02, 2008

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.


Blogger Samuel Wilson said...

The worrisome thing about Huckabee is that in some ways he may be the best the Republicans have to offer, in that he has a perhaps halfway reasonable foreign policy according to his Foreign Affairs piece, and seems genuinely concerned that the GOP has gone over completely to the corporations, and even had reassuring words for atheists and secularists on Meet the Press, and yet . . . if you can judge a man by his supporters, then maybe there's something to the concept of giult by association after all.

8:17 PM  

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