One of the more interesting developments in the political race this week was the increasing discussion about the tone of the attacks on Mike Huckabee.
While the candidates have managed to put out some substantial criticisms of Huckabee, the tone of many of the conservative intellectuals has been, well, over the top. It culminated in this screed by Lisa Schiffren, which Ross Douthat aptly characterized as “Go Back to Dogpatch, You Stupid Hillbilly!” Ironically, Schiffren’s post validated Joe Carter’s point that National Review become dominated by what he terms “Manhattan conservatives.” Rod Dreher chimed in with a broader analysis of the problem, and Erick at Redstate offered this defense of Huckabee:
I don’t want to defend Mike Huckabee. He’s not my candidate. I don’t yet see any major reasons to trust him on fiscal issues (though he did say he wants to kill the corporate income tax). But it’s a sad day in the conservative movement when the conservative intelligentsia has sustained harsher words for a socially conservative Governor than a serial adulterer who has said this year that the government should provide assistance to poor women wanting abortions.
There is lots to disagree with Huckabee on. But the tenor of the attacks against him has been off-putting to this young social conservative. It has made me wonder whether the palpable loathing of Huckabee by many conservatives stems less from his populist rhetoric and alleged “naivety” on foreign policy and more from a distaste of any candidate being overt in his religious dedication. Being a Christian in politics is fine, as long as you are the “right sort of Christian.”
As John from Verum Serum put it, “This is the enlightenment approach to faith, i.e. religion is fine so long as it doesn’t actually matter. And that’s especially the case when it comes to politics. I don’t care if you believe in God just keep it to yourself. And please, please don’t talk about it in an election.”
Of course, if you happen to mention a specific God that you might worship, like Jesus Christ, the politicos with their post-modern practices (no different in this respect from the identity politics of evangelicals) will deconstruct your motives to pandering to those evangelicals, rather than acknowledging the facts that you simply believe in Him and aren’t afraid to say “Merry Christmas.”
The ferocity of the attacks on Huckabee has risked alienating young voters like myself. Hugh recently wrote that evangelicals are not easily led, or subject to dog whistles,” And in this, he is exactly right. But the story of this campaign is that evangelicals will not follow the dog whistles of the mainstream GOP, which has rejected “compassionate conservatism” wholesale. Our position in the GOP is less secure than it was four years ago, as evidenced by Giuliani’s position as frontrunner for the bulk of this campaign.
If anything, Huckabee’s rise is indicative of evangelicals’ refusal to let the mainstream GOP take them for granted any longer. The pundits said that Huckabee wasn’t a player–evangelicals put him into the top tier. The pundits explained that Huckabee wasn’t electable. Evangelicals have made him electable.
While evangelicals shouldn’t vote for someone out of spite for his critics, the distaste for Huckabee from the Republican intelligentsia raise serious questions about our alliance with the GOP. At the same time, the GOP needs Huckabee’s supporters, many of whom have the time and energy to do the little things that win elections, which makes it’s vitriol against the Second Man from Hope all the more disappointing and perplexing.
Update: John from Article Six asks the pertinent question: “Where are they going to go? This is so reminiscent of the late ’60’s and early ’70’s to me. Everybody wanted to drop out, and suddenly found they were nowhere. Politics is the science of the possible, not the ideal.”
The point of my post is that the alliance with the GOP is increasingly fragile. The GOP is losing ground among younger voters, and it’s voting block is growing smaller, which means it needs all the votes it can get. To repeatedly demean evangelicals by asserting that they only support Huckabee because of religion (while ignoring evidence that suggests evangelicals in Iowa have a very favorable view of Mitt Romney) alienates the very people that the GOP seems to need to win elections.
John’s question also presumes the sort of “dog whistle” mentality that the GOP has toward evangelicals. The implication that there is nowhere else evangelicals can go prevents any serious self-reflection on the part of Republicans–self-reflection that the GOP needs a lot right now. The expectation that evangelicals will enthusiastically support the party on the strength of Democrat-hatred alone is additional confirmation of the low view of evangelicals that many pundits seem to have.
If the Democrats fielded a candidate who had a respectable pro-life record and had a moderately reasonable foreign policy, my hunch is that many evangelicals–especially the younger evangelicals–would vote for him.
That said, I haven’t answered John’s question because I don’t have a good answer to it. But the fact that it has come to the point where we are talking about it seems to be problematic in itself.