Huckabee’s position on the government and the economy has brought some blistering criticism on him from numerous quarters, not least of whom is Larry Kudlow (you can see an interview between Huckabee and Kudlow here and here.).

However, John Mark Reynolds–who has been eminently fair and honest in both his criticisms and praises of Huckabee–defends Huckabee on this issue:

For the first time, Huckabee put his total values package on display.

If you think libertarian=conservative, then you cannot see how he can square all his beliefs. If, like a Burke conservative, you recognize that we not going to repeal the New Deal immediately, then Huckabee makes sense.

He wants a small government, as small as he can reasonably and decently actually get. He wants one which acts, since the people want it to act, for the middle class, poor, and for traditional values.

Huckabee changed my mind tonight about “who he is.” Because he is religious (and anti-evolution) many think he is like the Boy Orator from the Platte, William Jennings Bryan.

Bryan, however, was never the successful executive that Huckabee has been.

In policies and rhetoric, Huckabee is most like the Bull Moose version of Theodore Roosevelt in his domestic policy ideas.

Roosevelt wanted a government big enough to counter-balance big business. He was a “trust buster” and conservationist. While not hating the rich, he did not trust them. He sounded a lot like the modern Huckabee.

Perhaps Huckabee should stop trying to channel Reagan (who was much more pro-business and radically free market) and start talking up T.R.*

Reynolds’ analysis calls to mind G.K. Chesterton’s passage in Orthodoxy on how Christians should understand wealth:

Only the Christian Church can offer any rational objection to a complete confidence in the rich. For she has maintained from the beginning that the danger was not in man’s environment, but in man. Further, she has maintained that if we come to talk of a dangerous environment, the most dangerous environment of all is the commodious environment. I know that the most modern manufacture has been really occupied in trying to produce an abnormally large needle. I know that the most recent biologists have been chiefly anxious to discover a very small camel. But if we diminish the camel to his smallest, or open the eye of the needle to its largest — if, in short, we assume the words of Christ to have meant the very least that they could mean, His words must at the very least mean this — that rich men are not very likely to be morally trustworthy. Christianity even when watered down is hot enough to boil all modern society to rags. The mere minimum of the Church would be a deadly ultimatum to the world. For the whole modern world is absolutely based on the assumption, not that the rich are necessary (which is tenable), but that the rich are trustworthy, which (for a Christian) is not tenable. You will hear everlastingly, in all discussions about newspapers, companies, aristocracies, or party politics, this argument that the rich man cannot be bribed. The fact is, of course, that the rich man is bribed; he has been bribed already. That is why he is a rich man. The whole case for Christianity is that a man who is dependent upon the luxuries of this life is a corrupt man, spiritually corrupt, politically corrupt, financially corrupt. There is one thing that Christ and all the Christian saints have said with a sort of savage monotony. They have said simply that to be rich is to be in peculiar danger of moral wreck. It is not demonstrably un-Christian to kill the rich as violators of definable justice. It is not demonstrably un-Christian to crown the rich as convenient rulers of society. It is not certainly un-Christian to rebel against the rich or to submit to the rich. But it is quite certainly un-Christian to trust the rich, to regard the rich as more morally safe than the poor.

Such a distrust of the rich led Chesterton to argue for distributism, which attempts to place the means of production in as many hands as possible, though not through state control. Huckabee’s position is not distributivism, but it’s (healthy) suspicion of wealth and unrestrained Catholicism is reminiscent of Chesterton. Given his use of Chesterton in his Iowa victory speech, it’s possible that the portly apologist is lurking behind Huckabee’s domestic policies.

*Reynolds’ extends his comparison to TR only to Huckabee’s domestic policy, claiming that Huckabee’s foreign policy is “just a mess” and isn’t close to TR. However, Huckabee’s foreign policy supports a stronger military, overwhelming force when needed, and military action against Iran as a last option. While Huckabee also accused the current administration of having an “arrogant bunker mentality,” I fail to see how those statements entail that Huckabee isn’t “carrying a big stick.” If anything, I read his foreign policy as being more TR-esque than any so far, in that Huckabee also wants to “speak softly,” an exhortation which the current administration has clearly ignored in the war on terror.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

14 Comments

  1. I love Chesterton, and often read him to restore my sanity. He is right that the rich are difficult to trust. But that does not mean that a Christian cannot be rich, just that it requires a special gifting and grace, which He undoubtably gives to some. One might argue that He has given it to the entire American church.
    If Huckabee is really a TR, we have much to worry about. TR encouraged the Spanish American War and the creation of the Great White Fleet wherein tens of thousands of Philipino innocents were slaughtered. His foreign policy was utterly devoid of Christian Ethics. It was expansionist and based on a sense of moral superiority.
    If Huck supports more military than we already have, he has lost my vote.
    Nathanael Snow
    ndsnow@gmail.com

    Reply

  2. Chesterton’s cautions about the untrustworthiness of the rich also tell us why Christians must not ultimately “trust” political party establishments, no matter how much we might agree with their stated objectives.

    McCain has been saying for years that politics is awash in money, in rich people, corporations and interest groups bribing their way to favorable legislation. The system is probably too riddled with cancer to ever be healed, but if it has at its head someone who does not trust the motives of the rich, that will at least be an improvement.

    Reply

  3. Well done, Matt. I have had these exact thoughts for several days, and I had the same Chesterton quote in mind. This is something that the Republican party has ignored for far too long.

    Reply

  4. I thought Huck was clearly at his best in last night’s debate on Fox. When he talked about this issue last night, it was the most coherent (and winsome) I’ve seen him. Sometimes he does come off like a Democrat – demonizing the rich to score class warfare points. But last night he was providing criticism without advocating some sort of big government “soak the rich” scenario (which I think is his honest view, if people will look at him fairly). I especially liked his making the case for the fair tax based on the overwhelming inequity of the current tax system – everyone knows its overwhelmingly exploited by anyone who is rich enough to take advantage of its loopholes.

    Reply

  5. Matthew Lee Anderson January 7, 2008 at 10:32 pm

    Nathanael,

    Thanks for the comment! I agree that Chesterton’s quote doesn’t imply that it’s sinful to be rich. After all, I just took a job as a financial advisor! : )

    That said, I’m not entirely sure the comparison to TR is accurate in every way. That said, you seem to have conflated “stronger military” with TR’s expansionist foreign policy, which Huck wouldn’t do at all. Huck wants a strong military not for imperialist reasons, but for national security reasons. And that means, I think, moving it toward pre-Clinton levels.

    Charlie,

    You’re point about McCain is well made. McCain-Feingold was a (disastrous and wrongheaded) attempt to solve the problem you (and Chesterton!) have identified, was it not?

    McCain has come out better than ever in this election cycle. Like Joe Carter, I have grown in respect for him. He may be wrong on some things, but he is very consistent.

    Speckperson,

    Thanks! Glad to hear I’m not alone! : )

    Brant,

    I missed the debate, so I can’t address it (unfortunately). I don’t think his “honest view” is to soak the rich, though. Rather, I think it’s to work to maintain sanity within corporate America. What in particular makes you think he’s out to soak wealthy folk?

    Reply

  6. Matthew: I agree that McCain-Feingold is bad legislation. In my view, money is a surrogate for speech, so PACs and campaign contributions need to be limited by law only with the goal of leveling the playing field, so that little guys like me who contribute $20 can have something like the same influence as wealthy donors.

    McCain is my Arizona senator, and I’ve been very frustrated with him over the years. But he’s grown on me, quirks and all.

    Reply

  7. C’mon, Charlie. Everyone knows

    Reply

  8. … that WordPress doesn’t like links?

    Reply

  9. Thanks for finishing that sentence, Jim. I was worried you’d had a stroke while sitting at your computer.

    Reply

  10. This whole thing is a bit frustrating to me. First of all, as exit polls seem to show, it was the independents (moderates) that made the difference for Huck in Iowa and McCain in NH. Just the implications of the fact that people who are not coming at life from the same standpoint as orthodox christians are drawn by the same guy as it appears most of you are.

    I understand you have your hearts set on something, and to me, that means there probably won’t be any possibility of change. I am perplexed at this point about who I should vote for (a frustrating fact since I am about out of time as a resident of SC) but frankly, Huck scares me.

    a) his assertion that “we should punish children for the sins of their parents” (re: tuition funding for children of illegal immigrants) is flat-out unbiblical (cf. Exodus 34:7, Achan, Corah, etc. etc.)
    b) Chesterton (and apparently huck, as you assert they are coming from the same place possibly for the same reason; either way, your use of his quote must stand up to scrutiny if you intend to use it as a defense of huck’s position) makes a quantum leap in declaring that Jesus’ teaching shows that a rich man cannot be trusted in regard to morals/ethics/integrity. All that is taught here is that a rich man is often so enamored by things that he is unwilling to give up his life for Christ and to follow Him. This says nothing of how he got his money, neither does it imply that he exploited the poor or was corrupt in gaining the money. Chesterton lamely asserts that the rich man must have done that because that’s the only way (or through bribery) to get lots of money–clearly an example of presuppositions tainting biblical interpretation.
    c) we can try to fix the $ “problem” in politics all we want, but that doesn’t get to the key, foundational issue. A line with Neil Postman, in Amusing Ourselves to Death, the key problem is that Americans are unable to carry on or follow reasonable discussions/dialog anymore because of our entertainment saturated culture and mindset. Do you know a single person today, let alone enough people to influence the masses through voting, who could track and evaluate the day-long Lincoln-Douglas debates, 8-hour discourses and all? The reason money plays a big factor today is because of our market and what it takes to get heard. if I am going to air my message on TV through advertising, I’m going to have to pay as much as Budweiser to get a slot or advertise at 3 a/m when nobody is watching. Changing the money and our ability to contribute wont make your $20 have more impact. All it will do is make fewer people hear the important messages. And if you still think the problem is money and not an entertainment oriented, sound bite culture, just take a look at Obama. His speeches are beautiful. They even kind of inspire me. But when I take a step back, I realize that I am being taken by a masterful use of cadence and repetition–not ideas. In his populist speeches, what is he using? Not ideas and issues. He’s using a bandwagon, almost exclusively propagandized approach with a lifeless message of “peace” and “change.”

    I don’t think I really have a chance at changing your minds. Your hearts are set. But because I grew up with one of mere-o’s contributing bloggers since I was born, and therefore by extension care about you, I figured it should at least say something. And one more thing, other than the fact that FDR didn’t turn his tail and run in the face of violence (which most dems would do today), I don’t see what about him we should emulate. A command economy cannot succeed (look at the foreign countries throughout the world) and the degree to which he tried it, he failed.

    And one more thing: saying that “everyone knows it (the current tax code)is overwhelmingly exploited by anyone who is rich enough to take advantage of its loopholes” is

    a) a bandwagon attempt at creating a consensus (“everyone knows)
    b) ignorant. If this “fact” were true, explain the following stats (per a 2004 article published by National Center for Policy Analysis):

    The top 25 percent of income earners pay nearly 83 percent of the income tax burden
    The top 10 percent pay 65 percent
    The top 1 percent of income earners pay almost 35 percent of all income taxes
    The top 400 richest Americans paid 1.58 of total income taxes in 2000

    Just some things to chew on. This is not supposed to be a personal attack; I’m just frustrated with all that’s being given in support of Huck. I still may vote for him since I don’t know that a clear choice has emerged or ever will. I guess I’ll just be praying until I have to go vote.

    Reply

  11. BTW, excuse my misreading of your comments about TR and my mistaken “response” by referring to FDR. My bad.

    Reply

  12. Also, that the NEA endorsed Huckabee should send up red flags…hopefully…

    Reply

  13. Matthew Lee Anderson January 13, 2008 at 6:45 pm

    Soccerwannabe,

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment. While I’ve endorsed Huckabee formally, I’m pretty open to being convinced otherwise. I’ve been pretty clear in private conversations with people that I’m dissatisfied about a number of things with him–however, I tend to think he’s our best chance to win the White House (especially “if Obama wins the Dems side).

    That said, I’ll address some of your points:

    “a) his assertion that “we should punish children for the sins of their parents” (re: tuition funding for children of illegal immigrants) is flat-out unbiblical (cf. Exodus 34:7, Achan, Corah, etc. etc.)”

    Did you mean to say, “not punish children?” I’m not so quick to say that the position is unBiblical. It really does depend upon how we understand the those passages in the Old Testament, and the theory of Church/State relations in Scripture (Old and New Testaments). I tend to think that Scripture sanctions a split between Church and State, which means that pointing to the OT for legislation in America needs to be done carefully (i.e. viewing it less as prescriptive, and more as descriptive of something like the “natural law”).

    “b) Chesterton (and apparently huck, as you assert they are coming from the same place possibly for the same reason; either way, your use of his quote must stand up to scrutiny if you intend to use it as a defense of huck’s position) makes a quantum leap in declaring that Jesus’ teaching shows that a rich man cannot be trusted in regard to morals/ethics/integrity. All that is taught here is that a rich man is often so enamored by things that he is unwilling to give up his life for Christ and to follow Him. This says nothing of how he got his money, neither does it imply that he exploited the poor or was corrupt in gaining the money. Chesterton lamely asserts that the rich man must have done that because that’s the only way (or through bribery) to get lots of money–clearly an example of presuppositions tainting biblical interpretation.”

    Chesterton’s point is, I think, largely rhetorical–he’s reacting to the presumption that we should trust the rich man more than the poor man. I think (as does Chesterton and Huckabee) that’s false. However, I wouldn’t agree with the premise that we ought to then trust the poor more than the rich (nor would, I think, Chesterton). Rather, Chesterton spoke highly of democracy because it depends upon the theory of original sin–no one is inherently trustworthy, so we spread out the power among the people. I think that’s why he was suspicious of pure capitalism as well–because it puts the economic power in the hands of the few, rather than splitting it among a number of people. That’s a reasonable suspicion to have, I think.

    Hence, when Chesterton says: “The whole case for Christianity is that a man who is dependent upon the luxuries of this life is a corrupt man, spiritually corrupt, politically corrupt, financially corrupt. There is one thing that Christ and all the Christian saints have said with a sort of savage monotony. They have said simply that to be rich is to be in peculiar danger of moral wreck,” I think he means that being wealthy is a particular danger, and even the most grave danger, to a man’s soul. However, my hunch is that he would think it possible that a man could be wealthy and yet not be “dependent upon the luxuries of this life.”

    Of course, we do live in an economic system that depends upon increasing dependence upon the luxuries of this life (this is the genius of modern marketing–whatever are luxuries at first eventually become necessities). To that extent, I would say the modern economic system is in danger of imploding in on itself.

    “c) we can try to fix the $ “problem” in politics all we want, but that doesn’t get to the key, foundational issue. A line with Neil Postman, in Amusing Ourselves to Death, the key problem is that Americans are unable to carry on or follow reasonable discussions/dialog anymore because of our entertainment saturated culture and mindset. Do you know a single person today, let alone enough people to influence the masses through voting, who could track and evaluate the day-long Lincoln-Douglas debates, 8-hour discourses and all? The reason money plays a big factor today is because of our market and what it takes to get heard. if I am going to air my message on TV through advertising, I’m going to have to pay as much as Budweiser to get a slot or advertise at 3 a/m when nobody is watching. Changing the money and our ability to contribute wont make your $20 have more impact. All it will do is make fewer people hear the important messages. And if you still think the problem is money and not an entertainment oriented, sound bite culture, just take a look at Obama. His speeches are beautiful. They even kind of inspire me. But when I take a step back, I realize that I am being taken by a masterful use of cadence and repetition–not ideas. In his populist speeches, what is he using? Not ideas and issues. He’s using a bandwagon, almost exclusively propagandized approach with a lifeless message of “peace” and “change.””

    You’re warming my heart here, especially with the Postman quote. If anything, this primary season has underscored the accuracy of your comments more for me more than anything else I’ve ever seen. Perhaps you disagree with my political reasoning, but it’s precisely the situation that you outlined that makes me think Huckabee is our only chance for the White House. It’s a sound-bite era–I hate that, you obviously hate that. I’d love it to change, but it’s not going to. This was why Bill Clinton was such a political genius–he understood the political environment and knew how to use the media to his advantage. This is why Huckabee has managed to make a campaign out of nothing, and why I think he can win.

    Again, you can disagree with my pragmatism, but politics is the art of the possible, and in this political environment I don’t see someone like Mitt Romney or Fred Thompson (for all their many virtues) breaking through and playing within this system very well.

    Regarding taxes, I’ve been told that some 90% of Americans actually overpay in taxes. So if the wealthy are paying a lot, it’s because they’re ignorant of things they could be doing otherwise. Additionally, I actually agree with you on the taxes issue. I’m not for higher taxes on wealthy people at all (the comment you were responding to was by another commenter).

    Just some personal background, on January 2nd of this year I started as a financial advisor. So I’m definitely not anti-money or anti-wealth. : )

    Thanks again for the detailed comment. When I read it, it reminded me why I blog–to hear from thoughtful people like you!

    Reply

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.