COMMENTARY: Huckabee and Catholics
The last Republican primary debate before Iowa is over. The emergence of former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee to front runner status is the story of the hour. Catholics are starting to look seriously at this new former Governor from Hope named Huckabee. Many like what they see.
Republican presidential hopefuls former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, left, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., center, and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, right, are seen before the Des Moines Register Republican Presidential Debate in Johnston, Iowa, Wednesday, Dec.12, 2007.
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The untold story is the apparent fear that such a turn of events is producing in his opponents, both Democrat and Republican.
The Democratic Party has put out its talking points, apparently intended to stem the growing Huckabee surge. These points found their way into every possible media outlet this past week. Using a sort of “reverse psychology” play, the Democrats seem to want to bait the Republicans to “bring him on”, implying that he will lose handily in a general election.
Apparently, the Republican establishment was well disposed to take the bait. They seem almost apoplectic that another former Governor from Arkansas, with a likeable manner and populist feel, is catching fire. But this time around he is in their primary race. They thought it was a forgone conclusion that their candidate, the one who supports an unencumbered abortion “right” (opposing the real right, the one to life) and advocates that homosexual paramours be given equivalency with married couples, was going to win on an “I’m tougher than you are” platform.
“Why”, they seem to have thought, “He had even won over some of the one time leaders of the so called ‘religious right’.” And, it does appear that some of these former leaders had become so discouraged they would have done anything to keep another Clinton out of the White House.
It appears that the establishment was wrong. Along comes another former Governor from Hope, Arkansas, with a message that cannot be pigeonholed, an appealing manner and style, and an ability to draw from diverse constituencies, to upset the playbook of both major parties.
His name is Mike Huckabee.
Now, the real strategy of opposition has begun. One of the efforts, a standard opposition research approach, is to plumb the candidate’s past and attempt to paint the future with a brush dipped in out of context quotes. I understand this approach. I have been involved in political campaigns and know that every campaign has an opposition research strategy. We can expect a careful reading of the formerly active Baptist ministers’ sermons for weeks to come.
Of course, many Americans can quickly discern what is happening. They know that this candidate was a Baptist preacher. They also know we are not electing him to be the Nations pastor but the Nations President. They have listened to him in the debates and they are beginning to pay attention to his public policy positions.
This approach has little staying power.
No, the real opposition strategy is the one that is only now winding up in the playbook. The effort consists in intentionally evoking fear in the electorate by insinuating that Governor Huckabee is an ‘intolerant fundamentalist’ kind of Christian who will seek to force his narrow faith upon the rest of the Nation. You see this strategy lurking behind so many of the stories and the statements coming from the establishment of both major parties.
The long and the short of this approach will be to paint Mike Huckabee as the candidate of “the Evangelicals”, a term which has sadly become a code word for “the fundamentalists.” It falls just short of accusing the former governor of being a closet Theocrat, a kind of “extremist” of the Christian variety.
Not only is the approach anti-Christian and bigoted, it also fails to see the growing ability that this candidate seems to have to reach into many diverse constituencies. His recent crowds have shown his increasing appeal. They have also shown some unexpected demographics, such as an uncanny capacity to speak to youth. Demographic analysis shows Mike Huckabee cutting across many of the categories.
The unexpected shocker that very few of the pundits and prognosticators expect is Mike Huckabees growing support among Catholics.
Catholics, at least those who heed the continuing direction from their Church leaders, are obligated to inform their conscience by the social teaching of their Church and vote accordingly. Among the ways that this teaching can be grouped is one that I have used for years. This approach is what I have called the “four pillars of participation”, life, family, freedom and solidarity.
The Social teaching maintains that there are some unchangeable truths, such as the dignity of every human person, and the right to life, from conception to natural death; the primacy of authentic marriage and the family founded upon it; and our obligation in solidarity to one another, and, most especially, to the poor and needy in our midst. The compass that is to guide us all as we seek to be both faithful citizens and faithful Catholic Christians is our commitment to the Common Good.
On many of these issues, this new Governor from Hope, Arkansas, running for President, seems to be quite consistent with this teaching. Oh, there are some other concerns which must be considered. However, there is also a hierarchy of values by which every candidate must be evaluated.
Ironically, some of the very issues where the candidate is being attacked are the areas where he is appealing to many Catholics.
For example, though most voters are concerned with illegal immigration, most Catholics are also concerned that our Nation recognizes the dignity of every human person. That includes illegal immigrants. Some Catholics, like me, worry that the rhetoric surrounding this hot button concern may lose the real issue and fail to recognize our obligations in solidarity.
So, when one of Huckabees opponents turned to the Governor in the “You Tube” debate, to scold his past support of equal treatment for the children of immigrants in access to public schools while he was Governor of Arkansas, the calm response of the candidate, saying “We are a better country than that” scored well.
In addition, an increasing number of Catholics (myself included), following the lead of their Church, oppose the use of Capital punishment in the West. Not because it is “intrinsically evil” (unlike abortion which is intrinsically evil), since it is presumably not the taking of innocent human life. Rather, because it is no longer justified to protect society and the common good and bloodless alternatives are readily available which allow mercy to trump justice. So, the Governors support of capital punishment is tempered for us when he shares with honesty his caution about its use as a Chief Executive.
The candidate also espouses a sincere concern for the poor. He has been criticized because he does not line up with the kind of “Cato Institute” approach to an unencumbered market economy. Once again, what some may consider a negative, for Catholics, shows that the candidate has a concern for the primacy of persons, the family and the common good over capital. In our tradition, though the market economy provides a superior opportunity for an exercise of human freedom, the market is made for man and not man for the market.
So, in what is now a hotly contested Republican Presidential primary, pundits and prognosticators should pay attention to a group of voters that has remained relatively unnoticed.
It appears that this new candidate from Hope, Arkansas does not just speak to evangelicals. His message - and his manner- are beginning to draw the interest of another very large group of Americans.
Catholics are starting to look seriously at this new former Governor from Hope. Many like what they see.
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