Think about it, that is the question that has plagued this entire Republican campaign. Absent Mike Huckabee, or even if Mike Huckabee had played this thing by the normal rules, we would be in a very different place right now. Increasingly, those that supported him are making noises of embarrassment, or at least confusion and disappointment.
In the past week we have seen stories about the Baptist minister’s wife in Las Vegas and Huck huddling with James Dobson, creating a great deal of cognitive dissonance even from this occasional Vegas-visiting church-goer. But with his SNL appearance over the weekend, Huck moves into sheer ridiculousness.
Through the course of all of this my opinion of Mike Huckabee has moved from a religiously-motivated, but severely misguided candidate, to a closet hard-line fundamentalist whose real motivation was to “stop the Mormon,” to someone with whom I disagreed but was seeking to move the party in the way he felt appropriate. It is probably some of all of the above.
But one thing, given the tacit admission of the ridiculousness of his situation on SNL, is that Mike Huckabee does not care about much of anything other than Mike Huckabee. Hotline reports on his comments after the experience:
As tradition dictates, Huckabee returned at the end of the show, to be thanked by guest host Tina Fey. After the show ended, he told NBC/NJ that the experience was “a blast.”
“It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever got to do,” he said.
Obviously, Mike is having fun attracting attention to himself. There seems to be little else at play here. Huckabee has never clearly annunciated a strategy, a desire, or a motivation - in fact those things seem to be constantly shifting in a direction dictated by what will attract him the most attention. He is rapidly becoming the political equivalent of Brittany Spears - and as the political press is paying less and less attention (it ought to be even less than it is) the paparazzi seems more than willing to pick up the slack, and I am not at all sure Huckabee can tell the difference. or he does not care about it.
The man has claimed divine intervention on his behalf, something he even did humorously in the SNL appearance, and he has mocked other religions. But when it suited the public mood in the locale he was working he dropped all religious mention and played the class card, or some other tactic - whatever got him attention.
Now the world is full of people who want attention, that does not make Mike Huckabee unique or special. There have even been presidential candidates in it such selfish motivations, but never has a candidate pushed it this far, and on these basis’. Not only has Mike Huckabee soiled the political environment, something that happens in every election cycle, but he has soiled the religious environment as well, and that is problematic.
The problems with how Huckabee has used religion to benefit himself are multitude, but I want to examine just a few.
Ghettoization of religion in the political sphere.
Both myself and John Mark Reynolds have discussed this idea at some length. Identity politics, which is pretty much what Huck has played all along, although the identity has shifted from time-to-time, means the identity group must isolate itself into a ghetto of some sort and only what is in the ghetto matters. Huck’s primary identity has been that of Evangelical - that is certainly the one he has played to most, and definitely the one the press has assigned him - and as such they are currently residing in a political ghetto, there effectiveness minimized.
Playing Evangelicals for Dupes
In “ghettoizing” Evangelical voters, Huckabee has played us for dupes. He cannot hope to accomplish anything politically, but he continues to collect and represent Evangelical votes, apparently so he can have “a blast” on Saturday Night Live.
When the primary charge against the average evangelical voter is that they are “poor, uneducated and easily led.” What is going to come out of being played this way? Doesn’t Huck’s playing us this way reinforce precisely that characterization?
This guy no longer simply looks extraordinarily foolish, he now looks extraordinarily opportunistic, and what does that say about those that supported him? “Smart” is not the first answer that comes to my mind.
What is most troubling about all this is that in the best sense seeking office is called “public service” - that means one seeks our votes not to gain personal advantage, but to serve us. Huck seems to be operating in precisely the opposite mode. He appears to be seeking our votes to meet his need for media attention. Which brings me to my final concern
True religion is an end, not a means
Regardless of how you want to characterize Huckabee’s religious plays in the election , what is undeniably true is that he has used his faith and the faith of those that voted for him to achieve his personal ends. That strikes me as antithetical to the true aims of religion. As I understand it, we are to subject ourselves to our faith and allow that to make us into better people. As far as I can tell, that assertion is true for creedal or Mormon Christians. If we treat our faith as something we control and use, then we tacitly admit that religion is purely something that man has created to order society.
Now, the initial claim that started this blog, that Evangelicals would not vote for a Mormon is presumptive of the fact that Evangelicals hold their religious faith to be TRUTH, a higher truth, a truth apart from themselves, coming from the supernatural. So once again, we see that Huckabee has played those of us who take our faith seriously as dupes, since he apparently takes his faith in a very different fashion.
But more, he demonstrates that his ends are not necessarily the same as those of us that take our faith in a more traditional fashion. I do not know the theological basis’ that Mike Huckabee has to justify his behavior throughout this campaign, but as a pastor, I presume he has one. What I can say, is that based on his behavior, I would conclude that there is a theological canyon between myself and Huckabee that is as large as the one between Mitt Romney and myself.
So how, precisely, have Evangelical won in this deal? I don’t think we have - that’s the problem.