Suppose American politics were a colas war, with conservatives representing Coca Cola and liberals Pepsi. A reporter tells you that a top presidential candidate drinks neither brand. That would be a real insight, right? Well, yes, except that the reporter never mentions what brand the candidate does drink. Wouldn't you want to know the name of the brand?
Los Angeles Times reporter Richard Fausset's profile of Mike Huckabee is a perfect example of this scenario.
Fausset's thesis is that Huckabee drinks a "different kind of Jesus juice" from most Republican politicians. While the former Arkansas governor takes a traditional stand on cultural issues, he is populist or liberal on many social and economic ones:
He is the Southern preacher who favors droll wit over brimstone sermonizing, a rock 'n' roll bass player who believes in creationism, with an Oprah-ready story about a 110-pound weight loss that probably saved his life.
Here in Arkansas, where Huckabee ruled as governor for 10½ years, voters grew accustomed to a different brand of Republican -- a governor with an idiosyncratic agenda that was sometimes difficult to categorize, but always driven, Huckabee insists, by his Southern Baptist faith. That faith influenced major policy decisions that could be deemed moderate, if not liberal, including a significant environmental initiative and a vastly expanded healthcare plan for low-income children.
Though Huckabee took strong stands against abortion and same-sex marriage, his record on taxes -- a key pillar of Republican orthodoxy -- was distinctly heterodox. He supported tax hikes on cigarettes, gasoline, groceries, sales and income. A video circulating on YouTube -- and played, in part, on the CNN-YouTube Republican debate Wednesday -- shows Huckabee addressing the Arkansas Legislature in 2003 and suggesting that he would be open to raising a broad range of taxes.
Fausset's evidence is revealing and evenhanded. On the one hand, Huckabee expanded government health insurance to working-class children who didn't qualify for Medicaid, reducing the share of uninsured kids in the state from 22 percent to 9 percent -- the largest drop in the nation. On the other hand, Huckabee played a role in pardoning a convicted rapist, who killed a woman after being released from prison; and was cited five times by the Arkansas Ethics Commission for violating ethics rules, though none was a major infraction.
The only real omission in Fausset's story is the origins of Huckabee's worldview. Did Huckabee manufacture it himself after years in office? Or is there a deeper, moral and philosophical grounding for it?
Here is my guess, and it's no more than a guess, as to what "Jesus juice" Huckabee is drinking. It's Catholic social thought.
For one thing, Huckabee sees a role for government in helping the working classes and the poor, the middle classes and the vulnerable. Such a stance has defined many Catholic politicians -- former Boston Mayor Ray Flynn, former Pennsylvania governor Robert Casey, and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy. For another thing, Huckabee has invoked the name of the late John Cardinal O'Connor of New York for his opposition to homosexual marriage.
Is it possible that this former Baptist minister embraces the social teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, or has, at the very least, been influenced by it? Talk about another good story.