James Dobson, name that tune!

HuckabeeAxe2I'm not sure whether to call it a meme, but there's certainly a monotony to reports about the Religious Right's indecision on which Republican candidate to support. The same few names keep popping up, primarily James Dobson and Richard Land, and I think the entire country must know by now that both men would refuse to vote for Rudy Giuliani. When thinking about Dobson's threat of supporting a third-party candidate, should Giuliani be nominated, I'm reminded of these words by Hanna Rosin in a discussion on Slate with blogger David Kuo:

That whole cycle that evangelicals have followed for much of this century (Retreat. No! Storm the gates! Retreat. No! Storm the gates!) is just dysfunctional. It produces someone like James Dobson, who just about every six months barrels into Washington vowing to save it and then one month later leaves bitterly disappointed. He's done it for 30 years, and it doesn't work. It produces the worst of the home-school mentality, which teaches that you can go straight from your kitchen table to the White House and rescue America.

I'm not sure that Dobson's barrelling into Washington occurs quite so frequently or that it began 30 years ago, but 2007 certainly doesn't mark the first time Dobson has threatened to break from the Republican Party over abortion and other social issues.

Although Michael Luo of The New York Times and Michael D. Shear and Perry Bacon Jr. of The Washington Post stay with the broad theme of a dissatisfied Religious Right, some details in their stories suggest that evangelicals, like so many other voters, know that politics is the art of the possible.

Here's Luo:

David and Merrily Crowe of Tennessee, who run an evangelical group called Restore America, said they arrived at the convention hall this morning skeptical but curious about Mr. Giuliani. They came away moved by what they described as his "honesty" and "transparency."

"My wife leaned over to me afterward and said, 'I'm going to vote for him,'" Mr. Crowe said. "And I probably will, too."

And here's a passage from the Post:

"Personally, I always thought that Sam Brownback held the closest, totally consistent views," said John Jakubczyk, a lawyer and past president of Arizona Right to Life.

He said the expectations game destroyed Brownback's candidacy. "Everyone says, 'Oh, we love Sam, but he can't win.' And that became a self-fulfilling prophecy," Jakubczyk said.

... Jakubczyk was more optimistic than some at the gathering. "A meeting like this helps to energize and remind us that we've got to get back on track," he said. "Unfortunately, the last couple of years, after 2006, there were a lot of people who got depressed, got despondent, got upset, got worried."

"Let's not be depressed," he concluded. "Let's just get to work."

Republicans who favor Mike Huckabee will take heart in a David Brooks column from yesterday. Huckabee, Brooks wrote,

is the most normal person running for president (a trait that might come in handy in a race against Hillary Clinton). He is funny and engaging -- almost impossible not to like. He has no history of flip-flopping in order to be electable. He doesn't seem to be visibly calculating every gesture. Far from being narcissistic, he is, if anything, too neighborly to seem presidential.

It's a mystery why so few of Giuliani's detractors have mentioned Huckabee as an acceptable alternative. It may be the same problem that John Jakubczyk described as hindering Brownback.

Still, it's clear that Huckabee enjoys the respect of many pundits, both because of his direct language and his playful sense of humor. D.T. Max had some fun analyzing Huckabee's prospects for The New Republic, mining Huckabee's book Quit Digging Your Grave with a Knife and Fork for some guiding principles ("Stop Allowing Food to Be a Reward," "Stop Whining").

The most fascinating portion of Max's essay is about the importance of Bill Clinton, then the governor of Arkansas, in launching Huckabee's interest in politics:

Huckabee might have spent his whole life ministering were it not for Joycelyn Elders. A few years before she proposed teaching masturbation and was forced to resign from her post as U.S. surgeon general, Elders was the equally outspoken director of the Arkansas department of health under Governor Bill Clinton. In 1991, she testified about a proposed parental-notification law before the legislature. Arkansas preachers, she said, have to "stop moralizing from the pulpit."

No sooner were the words out than Governor Clinton began damage control. He called Huckabee, by now the head of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, and asked if he would meet with Elders. Huckabee was known as a moderate who could talk to people, someone who had helped hold off the more extreme wing of the convention during the intense intra-Baptist battles of the early ’90s. Clinton hoped Huckabee and Elders could find common ground.

Soon after, Huckabee and Elders met in her office on the top floor of the health department building in Little Rock. "He'd been a preacher, so he knew how to meet and handle people," she remembers. "It was an honest, frank discussion." Though the visit was scheduled for 15 minutes, they wound up talking for over an hour. "I was impressed," Elders recalls. "He really wanted to listen to my opinion."

Huckabee was impressed, too, though in a different way. He and his cohorts had been upset with Clinton's social policies, such as a health-department program to distribute condoms in high schools, but had thus far kept their complaints to themselves. After meeting Elders, he went home and, he remembers, told his wife that "here's a lady who genuinely believes what she's saying and is deep in her convictions. But, if people like her are creating the public policies that will determine how our kids are going to be educated, and the atmosphere, then maybe we need to get out of the stands and get on the field and get our jerseys dirty."

Huckabee recently attracted a cover and set of articles -- including a flat-out endorsement -- from New Man magazine (published by Strang Communications, which also publishes Charisma).

An endorsement by New Man does not oblige support from Dobson or Land or anyone else. But in a time when Bob Jones III's endorsement of Mitt Romney is depicted as a crucial factor for conservative Christians who vote, it may be something Dobson and Land will want to discuss.

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