Sunday, May 10, 2015

Predicting Character: The Hubris of Huckabee

Just to mention, the inevitable jumping-in of Mike Huckabee into the GOP primaries happened.  Inevitable in that he'd been making the rounds at the key states, making noises about starting up funding efforts, making wildly inaccurate accusations about the godless heathens dancing to Beyonce.

He's been mentioned on this blog several times before.  And on several occasions I've made the observation that among the social conservative wingnuts running for the highest office - the likes of Santorum, Cruz, Palin, others - Huckabee is the one that can be the most credible threat to win the nomination.

He made a serious run in 2008 that got him in third behind McCain and Romney, and Huckabee did a serious job weakening Romney's standing among the Far Right religious voters.

That he didn't run against Mitt in 2012 was a slight surprise: against the faux purity of plastic ideology that Romney offered, Huckabee was a genuine Bible-thumping wingnut that the GOP wingnut crowd could back.  The thing is, Huckabee may buy into religious dogma but he's not completely blinded by political ideology: he could see the political landscape in 2012 still favored Obama, and likely didn't want to ruin his reputation on a doomed effort.  Still, he was the one who polled well enough against Obama to have been a real chance for the Republicans to take the White House then.

Why I need to re-address my views on Huckabee now, since I've already got my appraisals from 2008 and 2012 to verify how he'll do for 2016, is that this time I'm also looking at previewing / predicting the Character traits that Huckabee likely brings with him.  Using Professor Barber's system of uncovering the candidate's world-view, I hope to establish just how much of an Active-Negative Huckabee could be sitting in the Oval Office.

Pulling back up the brief preview I wrote earlier this year from his appearance at the Iowa Suck-Up Extravaganza:

Mike Huckabee - Governor, Arkansas
Positives: Populist political figure from a strongly conservative political region (Southeast).  Can govern.  Knows how to campaign in a Congenial style.  Remained a well-known figure on the national stage - by being on Fox Not-News as a pundit - after his failed primary campaigning in 2008.  He polled well as a possible candidate in 2012 (and showed enough awareness to tell it wasn't going to be a good election cycle for Republicans and stayed out of it).  Has legitimate religious conservative cred (ordained Baptist minister).  Can not only pander to the Tea Party base, he can do so without looking like it.
Negatives: Not exactly trusted by the anti-tax crowds still dominant in the backrooms of the GOP leadership (which is ridiculous as GOP dogma is too firmly obsessed with tax-cutting for anyone to violate that rule).  Has been away from elected office long enough for people to forget any good stuff he'd done as governor.  His time as a fear-monger on Fox Not-News will turn away moderate voters.  His early campaigning comments - going after "family values" issues and insulting Beyonce (?!) - are not exactly endearing him to any younger voters.  And that's not even going into legitimate scandals - granting clemencies to violent offenders who promptly killed (again), a son who killed a stray dog under obscure circumstances - that can become millstones in a national campaign.  Worst of all, Huckabee's advocacy of his religious beliefs - his failure to even respect the No Religious Test requirement IN THE CONSTITUTION ITSELF - threatens the sanctity of Separation of Church and State.
Chances: While he won't get the deep-pocket backers the way Jeb Bush (or even Mitt if Romney decides to make one more try) will, Huckabee has a high chance to use his charm and campaign skills to make a serious go at the nomination.
Character Chart: I stated earlier how the Republican Party is dominated by Active-Negatives and has an Active-Negative platform, yet needs a Passive-Positive candidate to appeal to regular voters.  Huckabee can present himself as a Passive-Positive better than any other candidate... but he's so Active-Negative with his strict religious convictions that he'll likely lean that way.

There are different ways a President can be an Active-Negative, but the one trait that type shares is the "I Must" mindset of a hidebound ideology.  As in, "I must do this thing because it is the only way to do it and I am the only one who knows how."  This is the Uncompromising trait that Barber wrote about in his studies on Presidential Character.  Lyndon Johnson, Nixon, Wilson, Hoover, Andrew Jackson... each of them with different world-view backgrounds yet focused on the same unbending agendas.  Where LBJ's Uncompromising habit came from his need to succeed as the best, where Nixon's came from his need to prove himself in crisis, where Hoover's came from the unbending logic of an engineer, they all ended up in the same place: inflexibility regarding policy solutions that ended in disasters.

Of the previous Active-Negatives, Huckabee shares most with Woodrow Wilson, the Idealist among Presidents.  Wilson's idealism was a self-assured righteousness, not of faith but of politics.  It was that idealism that drove much of his progressive agenda but also led to pushing too hard for a peace platform in the wake of World War I that ended up isolating the United States in the worst possible way (not to mention various civil liberties violations like the Palmer Raids).

Huckabee's idealism is tied directly to his Christian faith.  Unlike most of the other Republican candidates, Huckabee is not a hardened fiscal conservative (although he'll sign any tax cut bill a GOP Congress will send to his desk) that the Establishment types would prefer.  He seems to genuinely come from the wing of the GOP that takes churching and proselytizing serious.  From the Washington Monthly article by Steven Waldman:

...I met Huckabee in the 2000s when I was running a multifaith religion website called Beliefnet. Huckabee was making the rounds promoting his efforts to encourage healthy eating. He was charming, reasonable, smart, and funny—conservative, to be sure, but empathetic and appealing. During his underfinanced campaign in 2008, he proved himself to be a far better candidate than John McCain. In a party that’s forever searching for the next Ronald Reagan, he’s the closest to the Gipper in temperament than anyone else out there...
...He could have energized religious conservatives while seeming hopeful to the rest of the population...

I know that Waldman's comparing Huckabee to Reagan should be a sign that Huckabee could well be a Passive-Positive - indeed, the one character type that could appeal to a broad range of voters at a time when all we have running are Active-Negatives - but then Waldman notes how Huckabee went and sold his soul:

Then he got a Fox News TV show. He evolved into an uninteresting, standard-issue religious-right pundit. He repeatedly said that Obama grew up in Kenya. He defended Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin. He champions David Barton, who argues that the Founding Fathers did not believe in separation of church and state. He even mocks Michelle Obama’s healthy-eating efforts, even though being the Biggest Loser (in terms of pounds, not votes) was his claim to fame once upon a time...

It's not so much that Huckabee went and re-branded himself as a Huckster.  It's that Huckabee saw an opportunity to make money and still stand on his reputation as a Moral-Majority Republican.  It's kind of a horrifying thought: that he not only got to sell snake-oil as a fear-mongerer, he somehow got to keep his self-image of a true believer whenever he looked himself in a mirror: the worst of both worlds.

Thing is, Huckabee didn't sell much of himself to Fox Not-News.  He had always been that fervent a "religious-right pundit".  Defending Barton - fake historian - over the issue of Separation of Church And State wasn't a new thing: Huckabee spoke against the precedents of Separation of Church and State years ago.  To the flashback machine of my blog:

...Please note sir, that your definition of what God is and what God wants, as a Baptist, is going to be different from even your fellow Christians, be they Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Calvinist, Reform, etc.
Please note Mr. Huckabee that your desire to rewrite the Constitution to reflect *your* point-of-view on God's Will, and it's only *your* will by the by, is going to scare the crap out of every other person who doesn't preach and pray to God the same way you do.  (add-on: and that includes fellow Christians)
Sir, you may be preaching thinking that you want to convert this nation from its seemingly godless ways, but rest assured we Americans are more driven by our faith and our acceptance of God moreso than any other Western nation. There is no need to make the Secular Law of the Land to mirror the Law of Faith. If you do, if you persist, you're going to find more people bickering and arguing over the Law of Faith the same as they bicker and argue over the Secular Law...

Huckabee hasn't changed since 2008.  The only thing's that changed is that Huckabee is more rigid in his denouncements of the "liberal" godlessness threatening Christians.  His claim that gay marriage will "criminalize Christianity" is just one big proof of how his fear-mongering has moved from being a smiley happy preacher to a dark doom-and-gloom judge of us all.

If we go into a more detailed biography - there are several in print, but one from the New Yorker in 2010 may help best - we can see the Uncompromising religious idealism of the man:

When Mike Huckabee was born, in 1955, the mores and values of Christianity seemed indistinguishable from the mores and values of the country. Growing up, Huckabee assumed that everyone was Christian, and in Hope, Arkansas—which is also Bill Clinton’s home town, though the two politicians did not become acquainted until adulthood—he was not far off. His family was not deeply religious, but his mother, Mae, took Huckabee and his sister to Sunday school every week, where the preacher would “literally scare the hell” out of him. “I grew up in a culture where everybody went to church but nobody took it that seriously,” Huckabee told me one afternoon a few months ago, drinking tea on the sunporch of his house in North Little Rock...
...When Huckabee was fifteen, he encountered an alternative. A young couple in his neighborhood offered Bible study at their home on Wednesday nights, and these meetings changed the way he saw his place in the universe. “For them, Christianity was not a cultural expression—it was a personal relationship with God,” he said. “It wasn’t about behavior.” He was attracted to the intimacy and depth of this vision, and to the couple’s emphasis on love rather than fear. "Evangelical essentially means people who have a belief in the authority and veracity of the Bible,” Huckabee said, “but who also believe that the Bible is about good news..."
...In some ways, Huckabee seems like a promising candidate for 2012: a squeaky-clean family man and bona-fide Christian who loves to talk. His communication is folksy but fluid; he never seems flummoxed, like George W. Bush, or befuddled, like John McCain, or unprepared, like Sarah Palin. “If we’re running a race against their most articulate guy,” Steve Schmidt, John McCain’s former campaign manager, told me, referring to President Obama, “we should put our most articulate guy. Huckabee’s that guy...”

This was in 2010.  Other than the change in messaging from hope and love to "war on faith" fear-mongering, there remains the constant of Huckabee's religious convictions.  It may not be a "fundamentalist" form of faith, but it's still an "evangelical" absolutism that few other Republicans can even fake.

It's that religious absolutism that made Huckabee free a lot of state prisoners who found out quick that professing conversion to faith as a quick ticket to paroles.  It's that same religious absolutism that will make him reject the growing public consensus that gay marriage is not a threat to heteros.  It's that religious absolutism that has convinced him that there should be Religious Tests and religious-based laws governing the nation, despite the Constitution and the proof of history that such laws were dangerous.  

Huckabee may have as a personality the Congeniality skills that makes him likable, and approachable among the lower-class citizenry that the other Republican candidates can't abide.  But he's an Idealist who won't bend on matters of personal faith that will dictate his public actions that will affect the rest of us.  That puts him in the Active-Negative category as much as the con artists making up the tax-cut pro-business Establishment candidates facing him in the primaries.

He's simply not a sane alternative to the likes of Cruz or Walker or Jeb or Rubio or any of the others.  In some ways he's worse: he's driven by a belief in God that isn't humble or accepting, it's demanding and inflexible.  It borders on hubris, a form of excessive pride that puts a man above others, making himself a god.  Huckabee may think of himself as God's messenger, but he's not: he's his own.  Hence the hubris, hence the pride.

And the Bible is pretty strict about what pride brings about.  Proverbs 16:18.

1 comment:

dinthebeast said...

So listening to Beyonce will make you a hell-bound heathen, but playing bass with Ted Nugent on Cat Scratch Fever is good christian behavior? Please.
He did roll out some classic Republican-ism yesterday when he said that he didn't have to answer for everything he's ever done. Has he ever seen a presidential campaign?

-Doug in Oakland