Thursday, December 27, 2007
For the reasons Rick mentioned a few days ago, I have a bit of a soft spot for Mike Huckabee: he appears to combine a willingness to regulate abortion out of compassion for unborn life with some compassionate attitudes on other issues from immigration to criminal punishment. But I'm not seriously tempted to vote for him either, in significant part for a reason similar to Peggy Noonan's criticism: Huckabee's version of "compassionate conservatism" seems totally episodic and haphazard, far short of a governing philosophy. Jonathan Chait has these comments on Huckabee's book From Hope to Higher Ground:
The reason Huckabee can so easily break from conservative ideology is that he sees everything in personal terms. He chastises conservatives: "For a kid with asthma, who is sitting on the steps of a hospital--let them have an economic policy that doesn't care about that kid." Even though his book is purportedly a public-policy blueprint, it is written in the style of a self-help book. Political manifestos are typically built around a series of policy positions. Huckabee's is built around personal advice. Every chapter ends with recommendations for what the reader can do to make America a better place, most of which have nothing to do with politics. ("Keep receipts for tax-deductible items"; "Attend ethnic festivals"; "Make a to-do list every day.") As grist for a Sunday sermon, this is perfectly nice. As the basis for a presidential campaign, it's appalling.
Second, with respect to Rick's concerns about who Huckabee is keeping company with: I appreciate and would second many of those concerns, but some of the people Rick references are the kind who have been mainstays of the Republican coalition. It's true, as the Robert Novak column says, that Dr. Steven Hotze is associated with the Christian Reconstruction movement, whose views on applying Biblical laws, including the penal laws of ancient Israel, to America would indeed be, as Rick puts it, "deeply creepy and troubling to most Americans." But Rick includes the Rev. Scarborough's Vision America in the same boat with the Reconstructionists, even though Vision America appears to me to be a pretty standard evangelical-Right activist group. It has endorsements from Dr. James Dobson, the late Rev. D. James Kennedy, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, as well as (it appears) the involvement of longtime conservative activist Paul Weyrich and the American Family Association's Donald Wildmon. I know little about Vision America, but I assume that it differs from the Reconstructionists in that it is not willing to pursue to the logical extreme the idea of literally applying Biblical law and sanctions to modern America (e.g. death or other harsh penalties for adultery, sodomy, etc.). I gather that Vision America just calls more fuzzily for a return to "Biblical" or "Judeo-Christian" or "Christian nation" values on abortion, homosexuality, marriage, etc. -- which is a standard Religious-Right position and one to which Republicans have been appealing for many years. Similarly, the 1986 "Manifesto for the Christian Church," which Rick cited as an example of troubling views, included among its signers only a few Reconstructionists and a large group of quite mainstream evangelical leaders, including a top official of the National Association of Evangelicals and the theologian (now a member of Evangelicals and Catholics Together) J.I. Packer. (Follow the link in Rick's post for the signers' list.)
So I'd guess there are some substantial differences between these groups. But if the distinctions between them are hard to see -- in other words, if there's such proximity between conservative evangelical stalwarts and views that most Americans would find "deeply creepy and troubling" -- then that dramatizes the Republicans' electoral dilemma concerning the evangelical Right. Rick (or others), I wonder if you would end up drawing the line in between these groups -- or would you still find Vision America deeply troubling even though it's different from the Reconstructionists? And if the Republicans should so firmly disavow a group like Vision America, do you think that Neuhaus- and Murray-like arguments and coalitions can make up for the loss of conservative evangelical energy that such a disavowal would cause?