Huckabee the Christian leader

huckabee 01It's tempting to view Mike Huckabee as a right-wing culture warrior. He's a Republican. He's a social conservative. He's an ordained Southern Baptist minister.

I'm from the Bay Area in California and commentators in that corner of the world have called the former Arkansas governor a "godmonger" and other felicitious appelations. Although most reporters portray him as a good guy and a witty straight shooter, some reporters view him as a media-sophisticated version of Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell.

Here is how Liz Clarke of The Washington Post ended her recent profile of Huckabee:

Years later, after he'd lost the Senate race but become governor of Arkansas, Huckabee would explain in starker terms his motivation for "getting inside the dragon's belly."

"I didn't get into politics because I thought government had a better answer," he told a group of pastors on the eve of the 1998 Southern Baptist Convention. "I got into politics because I knew government didn't have the real answers, that the real answers lie in accepting Jesus Christ into our lives." He concluded that speech with words he says he'd phrase differently today: "I hope we answer the alarm clock and take this nation back for Christ."

Clarke did massive reporting for her profile. She must be the first national reporter to have written that an 18-year-old Huckabee attended and was transformed by his time at Expo ’72, the first worldwide gathering of evangelical youth, who met at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

Yet Clarke's suggestion that candidate Huckabee seeks to evangelize the United States is troubling. It reflects the binary mindset in which reporters often think of our two major political parties: Republicans represent the Christian Right, while Democrats represent normal Americans.

Huckabee views himself as a Christian first and a Republican second. As he has said, "my faith really defines me" and "I drink a different kind of Jesus juice" from Christian Right leaders. His Christian-first attitude is often portrayed, inaccurately, as quixotic. In fact, Huckabee's politics have a long tradition.

In the interior of the country, some Democrats continue to view and describe themselves as Christians first and foremost. Witness John Arthur Eaves Jr., the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Mississippi; Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska; and Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan.

Historically, many Democratic politicians saw themselves as Christians above all. Possibly the most famous example is William Jennings Bryan, the three-time Democratic presidential nominee. Others include the late Gov. Robert Casey of Pennsylvania (check out this tmatt interview with him) and former Boston mayor Ray Flynn (ditto).

To be sure, reporters are right to question whether Huckabee's policies reflect Christian values. I would like to know how his support for replacing our progressive taxation system with a consumption tax would help the least among us.

But reporters should remember that Huckabee is not a Christian Right candidate. He's just a culturally conservative Christian in the context of the modern Republican Party. In many ways, Huckabee is a pre-Roe Southern Democrat. Think about it.

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