Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee today officially launched his bid to be the 2008 Republican nominee for president (or, as some would say, his candidacy to be someone's vice president). Thanks to some diligent reading and good questions from Meet the Press host Tim Russert on Sunday, we have a pretty good idea of how the former Baptist preacher understands the role of his faith in his public duties. Huckabee joins a set of genuine conservative Republican candidates who match or exceed President Bush's rhetoric in the gay marriage-abortion debate that so excites conservative Christians. In other words, Huckabee will be competing with Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney for the endorsements of James Dobson and Co.
At this point, it's fair to say that Huckabee is seen in a distant third place to Romney and Brownback in terms of national support from conservative Christians. Romney has the resume, organization/fundraising prowess and the great hair, while Brownback has experience in Washington and his story is embraced by the Michael Gerson types because of his advocacy for the less fortunate in the world. So what does it say about the conservative Christian movement to see a Mormon and a Catholic drawing far more support than the Baptist Preacher? Just asking.
Huckabee the Baptist preacher is going to have to answer questions that have been asked of Romney the Mormon and our country's first Catholic president, John F. Kennedy -- and Brownback the Catholic is likely to face some questions too. Russert got us off to a good start Sunday morning:
MR. RUSSERT: I want to ask you a couple things that you said earlier in your political career. "Huckabee ... explained why he left pastoring for politics. 'I didn't get into politics because I thought government had a better answer. 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.'" And then this: "I hope we answer the alarm clock and take this nation back for Christ." Would you, as president, consider America a Christian nation and try to lead it as -- into a situation as being a more Christian nation?
GOV. HUCKABEE: I think it's dangerous to say that we are a nation that ought to be pushed into a Christian faith by its leaders. However, I make no apology for my faith. My faith explains me. It means that I believe that we're all frail, it means that we're all fragile, that all of us have faults, none of us are perfect, that all of us need redemption. We are a nation of faith. It doesn't necessarily have to be mine. But we are a nation that believes that faith is an important part of describing who we are, and our generosity, and our sense of optimism and hope. That does describe me.
MR. RUSSERT: But when you say ...
GOV. HUCKABEE: I'm appalled, Tim, when someone says, "Tell me about your faith," and they say, "Oh, my faith doesn't influence my public policy." Because when someone says that, it's as if they're saying, "My faith isn't significant, it's not authentic, it's not so consequential that it affects me." Well, truthfully my faith does affect me. But it doesn't make me think I'm better than someone, it makes me know that I'm not as good as I really need to be.
MR. RUSSERT: But when you say "take this nation back for Christ," what does that say to Jews, Muslims, agnostics, atheists? What ...
GOV. HUCKABEE: Well, I think I -- I'd probably phrase it a little differently today. But I don't want to make people think that I'm going to replace the Capitol dome with a steeple or change the legislative sessions for prayer meetings. What it does mean is that people of faith do need to exercise their sense of responsibility toward education, toward health, toward the environment. All of those issues, for me, are driven by my sense that this is a wonderful world that God's made, we're responsible for taking care of it. We're responsible for being responsible managers and stewards of it. I think that's what faith ought to do in our lives if we're in public service.
Note how immediately after this set of questions and answers, the interview led directly into questions on gays and abortion. But more on that another time.
Writing on the Huckabee announcement, which was actually made on Meet the Press, The Washington Post's Lois Romano highlights the section on Huckabee's faith:
He also publicly supported creationism, a philosophy advocated by fervent Christians, arguing that students should be exposed to the study of the doctrine as well as evolution.
When moderator Tim Russert pressed Huckabee on whether he would lead the United States to be a more Christian nation, he replied: "We are a nation of faith. It doesn't necessarily have to be mine."
"I make no apology for my faith," he said. "My faith explains me."
Huckabee's candidacy has several compelling stories lines. The most prominent is his similarities with President Clinton (both born in the same small town of Hope, Ark., both governor of Arkansas) and his ability to lose a lot of weight in a short time. But the deeper, more significant story is going to be this faith thing and how it explains him.