Two stories in Wednesday's Washington Post were placed in interesting ways. On the front page there is a straight political poll-based story bringing the world the news that former Arkansas governor and Baptist preacher Mike Huckabee exists and could just possibly win in Iowa. On the front of the Style section is a piece telling us, in a rather pushy way, that Republicans in Iowa are still searching for a savior. Out here in the heartland, the big news isn't the results of some poll or an Eastern newspaper's opinion on what type of savior people in Iowa should be searching for. Instead, it's that the pop-culture hero Chuck Norris has endorsed the preacher man (YouTube). Up until now, it's been easy to get the feeling that reporters in Washington could not care less about Huckabee and in the heartland, people could not care less about politics, at least compared to the people back in Washington.
While reporters in the Midwest may care less about the current emotional and psychological state of the religious right, Washington Post reporter Lois Romano seems to care and seemed to have burned some quality shoe leather getting out into the cornfields of Iowa to give us the scoop on how evangelicals are feeling these days:
Political experts have been perplexed that the evangelical community hasn't rallied sooner and in greater force for Huckabee. "My sense is that the rank and file on the religious right are waiting for cues from identifiable leaders like James Dobson or Tony Perkins," says Cary Covington, associate professor of political science at the University of Iowa.
But beyond the horse race, beyond the fact that Iowa is a late-deciding state, the mood among many evangelicals here reflects what is happening nationally, as Christian conservatives grapple with apathy and evaluate whether they should count on the government to legislate morality. Down the highway in Sioux City, home to nearly 300 Christian churches, Jeff Moes, a soft-spoken, 44-year-old senior pastor, is one of those who has nudged his congregation into a "new vision" of the process. "I am hearing 'what difference does it make?' " he says. "They are less and less trusting of government."
Moes says he [tells] his 1,000 congregants that the church is the institution with responsibility to effect change in the community. "We can't rely on one man or the government any longer," he says.
Personally, Moes says he, too, has moved to Huckabee's corner. John McCain, he says, strikes him as "very negative, very angry," and Romney's Mormon religion "bothers more people than they care to admit."
And thrice-married Rudy Giuliani, whose children don't seem to be supporting his candidacy, is a non-starter for Moes and many others, he reports, because "he can't get his own house in order."
"The Bible says that if a man can't lead his own family, how can he manage the house of God?" he says. "And I think it's the same with the country. If he can't get his kids to love and respect him, how can he command the respect of a nation?"
Moes says he simply doesn't get why religious leaders aren't doing more for Huckabee. "The saddest thing for me right now is that no one in the evangelical community is leading -- they are all following," says Moes. "Huckabee is head and shoulders above the rest of the field. . . . If someone like James Dobson came out for Huckabee, it would make all the difference in the world. . . . He's one of us."
Stop the presses! Who cares when someone like James Dobson will decide to get out there and endorse when Huckabee may have received one of the most important endorsements of them all? While Midwestern reporters have ignored the evangelical psychoanalysis story, they haven't missed the Chuck Norris endorsement story:
That e-mail and the new television ad parody an Internet phenomenon of "facts" about Norris, who is fabled to have superhuman powers.
"When Chuck Norris does a push-up, he isn't lifting himself up. He's pushing the earth down," Huckabee says in the tongue-in-cheek TV ad, which he unveiled this week on Fox News Sunday.
Would it be fair to compare the Norris endorsement with Obama's endorsement by Oprah?
Reporters can have as much fun with the endorsement and subsequent commercials, but a Chuck Norris endorsement is somewhat significant. Norris is more than just an actor. He has promoted Bible study and prayers in public schools and expressed belief in creationism. In some ways he is Hollywood's version of James Dobson. But the big question is whether Iowans will even care.