I’m a little mystified by the reaction of my fellow progressives in response to the sudden surge of former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and his views on such issues as abortion, gay marriage, and other social concerns. He is, after all, a former Southern Baptist pastor and the denomination has a long history of being opposed to reproductive choice, gay rights, equality for women, and just about anything else that shows a hint of secularism. By and large the Baptists are fundamentalists, believing in the inerrancy of the bible and a literal interpretation of words therein. They take a dim view of science or anything that challenges their beliefs, and believe so strongly in their cause that they take pride in their evangelism and are truly at a loss to understand why anyone, anywhere, would be offended by their attempts to convert non-believers. After all, they say, they are offering salvation and eternal life. What could possibly be wrong with that? A popular bumper sticker among them sums it up: “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.”
For Mr. Huckabee to take other positions would go against everything he has been taught and has taught as and evangelical pastor. His foray into politics is just another aspect of that evangelism, and using the offices of government to remake America as a Christian nation is part of that.
Now the polls are showing that Mr. Huckabee is gaining ground on his fellow GOP candidates such as Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani, probably because the religious conservatives who are the primary election base of the party, are deciding that Mr. Romney’s Mormon faith and Mr. Giuliani’s liberal views on abortion and gay rights (not to mention his three marriages and tax payer-funded adultery) are making them hesitant to back either one of them. This higher visibility has naturally led the press and blogosphere — not to mention his opponents — to scrutinize Mr. Huckabee’s past record and statements as both a governor and a pastor and dug up such interesting items as his signing on to the notion that wives should graciously submit to their husbands, that the methods of AIDS transmission is “unclear,” and engaging in a theological discussion about the beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It’s interesting that the GOP polls are so fluid; one week it’s Romney up and Giuliani down, then they switch places. Then John McCain shows some strength in one poll or in one state, then he’s down again. Even Fred Thompson had his fifteen minutes of fame, but he blew it by actually entering the race. Ron Paul is wildly popular among what appears to be a strong contingent of commenters on blogs, but they don’t translate into poll numbers. All of this tells you that while the Democrats have pretty much solidified their races, the Republicans can’t make up their minds… or they really don’t like their choices and are grasping at straws.
As with my stand on Gov. Romney, I will defend Mr. Huckabee’s right to believe whatever he chooses and to run for office, and the Republicans’ right to nominate him for president. I would, however, remind them of another Mike that ran for president not that long ago. He came out of the back of the pack, had very little name recognition (and a funny-sounding one at that, too), very little foreign policy experience since all he’d been was a governor, but he won the primaries by appealling to a small but vocal element of his party’s base. That was Michael Dukakis, the Democratic nominee in 1988, and he lost.