Man Bites Dog or Dog Bites Man?
The Republican elite has been exploiting social conservatives -- particularly the Religious Right -- for over three decades now, most egregiously so since Ronald Reagan, the original flim-flam man, invited them into the Republican Party with open arms by "standing firm" on abortion but doing nothing at all to deliver. The party's ruling class tapped the cultural anger of social conservatives each election cycle, using political preachers to whip them up into a frenzy over abortion, then "gay marriage", in get-out-the-vote campaigns that reliably elected Republican politicans who delivered nothing at all except symbolic gestures and an astounding array of sex scandals, straight and gay.
The political strategists of the Grand Old Perversion, from Lee Atwater to Karl Rove, ignored the warning signs -- the Pat Buchanan "Culture Wars" speech in 1992, directed at George Herbert Walker Bush, for example -- for decades, believing, apparently, that the scam could go on forever.
Gays and lesbians, who have had to fight the social conservatives in the trenches over anti-marriage amendments, ENDA, hate crimes legislation, DADT and the array of social conservative efforts to return us to the 1950's closet, knew better. We had seen the cultural anger unleashed, and we could feel its depth, power and viciousness. We knew that the cultural anger of social conservatives was largely misplaced -- the idiocy of "protecting marriage" by banning marriage, when the real problem is that straight people aren't getting married and don't stay married, is as obvious as a goat's ass to anyone who isn't so mad that they can't see straight, for example -- but we knew it was real and would, sooner or later, consume the Republican Party.
A few of the more astute Republican politicians knew it, too.
"On religious issues there can be little or no compromise. There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God's name on one's behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both. I'm frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in A, B, C, and D. Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of conservatism." - Barry Goldwater
Goldwater knew the power of social conservatives, too. Before his death, Goldwater, a constitutional conservative who paved the way for Ronald Reagan, endured his Golgotha, swept out of the way and dismissed as senile and demented by the Republican elite. But he saw the danger with clear eyes, and he warned his party in clear tones:
"Being a conservative in America traditionally has meant that one holds a deep, abiding respect for the Constitution. We conservatives believe sincerely in the integrity of the Constitution. We treasure the freedoms that document protects ...."
"By maintaining the separation of church and state, the United States has avoided the intolerance which has so divided the rest of the world with religious wars .... Can any of us refute the wisdom of Madison and the other framers? Can anyone look at the carnage in Iran, the bloodshed in Northem Ireland, or the bombs bursting in Lebanon and yet question the dangers of injecting religious issues into the affairs of state?"
"The religious factions will go on imposing their will on others, unless the decent people connected to them recognize that religion has no place in public policy. They must learn to make their views known without trying to make their views the only alternatives..."
"The great decisions of government cannot be dictated by the concerns of religious factions. This was true in the days of Madison, and it is just as true today. We have succeeded for 205 years in keeping the affairs of state separate from the uncompromising idealism of religious groups and we mustn't stop now. To retreat from that separation would violate the principles of conservatism and the values upon which the framers built this democratic republic."
All for naught. The Republican elite thought that the scam was too good to end, and would never end.
In the last month, they've learned better. The Republican elite, incarnated in Mitt Romney, who tried to cynically exploit social conservatives by governing as a "business Republican" but shifted gears to "talk the talk" of social conservatives for his presidential run, and seems to have gambled that social conservatives would remain too dumb to know when talk is just talk. Mike Huckabee's rise in the polls gives lie to that dangerous assumption, and the Republican Party had better pay heed. Whether Mike Huckabee eventually flames out in the nomination process or not, social conservative voters, who have catapulted him into front runner status, have served notice on Republicans: "Heel!"
Huckabee was supposed to play the clown, and he isn't playing. The man -- a Bible-believing, evolution-hating, gay-baiting Southern Baptist preacher -- is serious about winning the presidency and turning our country into the Christian States of America. And it looks like he is going to win Iowa, and could, just could, ride the torrent of cultural anger into the White House.
Mike Huckabee's sudden and unexpected rise in the polls has induced near panic among the Republican elite, the SUV, Sharper Image and Mexican gardener crowd who thought the scam could go on forever, just as they thought that Iraqis would welcome us with open arms and the historic hatreds between Sunni, Shi'a and Kurd would dissolve overnight in an era of good feeling once American boots landed on the ground.
Not so, and the neocon counterattack on Huckabee is in full voice.
Rich Lowry of the National Review, a Tucker Carlson clone who gives new meaning to the word "twit" -- bouncy, cute, so metro -- is beside himself, fearing "Huckacide":
"After many false prophecies, Dean circa 2008 has finally arrived. He is former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Not because he will inevitably blow himself up in Iowa. But because, like Dean, his nomination would represent an act of suicide by his party.
Like Dean, Huckabee is an under-vetted former governor who is manifestly unprepared to be president of the United States. Like Dean, he is rising toward the top of polls in a crowded field based on his appeal to a particular niche of his party. As with Dean, his vulnerabilities in a general election are so screamingly obvious that it’s hard to believe that primary voters, once they focus seriously on their choice, will nominate him.
The GOP’s social conservatism inarguably has been an enormous benefit to the party throughout the past 30 years, winning over conservative Democrats and lower-income voters who otherwise might not find the Republican limited-government message appealing. That said, nominating a Southern Baptist pastor running on his religiosity would be rather overdoing it. Social conservatism has to be part of the Republican message, but it can't be the message in its entirety.
Someone needs to tell Huckabee. ...
Huckabee has declared that he doesn’t believe in evolution. Even if there are many people in America who agree with him, his position would play into the image of Republicans as the anti-science party. This would tend to push away independents and upper-income Republicans. In short, Huckabee would take a strength of the GOP and, through overplaying it, make it a weakness.
He’d do the same on taxes. In general, the public tends to support Democratic proposals for bigger government, which Republicans counter by saying that the proposals will require higher taxes. Huckabee will be equipped poorly to make this traditional Republican comeback, given his tax-raising history in Arkansas. Huckabee tries to compensate with a sales-tax scheme that allows him to say he supports eliminating the IRS, but is so wildly implausible that it would be a liability in a general election.
Then, there’s national security, the Republican trump card during the Cold War and after 9/11. Huckabee not only has zero national-security credentials, he basically has no foreign-policy advisers either, as a New York Times Magazine piece this Sunday makes clear. In a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in September, Huckabee struck notes seemingly borrowed from Barack Obama, hitting the Bush administration for its “bunker mentality” and strongly supporting direct talks with Iran. A foreign-policy debate with a Democratic nominee would be a competition over who can promise to be nicer to foreign countries.
None of this is a winning formula. Huckabee has been running his campaign out of his back pocket, and has done it extremely well. There’s a reason, though, that serious candidates surround themselves with policy experts. It’s necessary to running a campaign based on more than sound bites. Wherever you scratch Huckabee on policy, he seems an inch deep. Do Republicans really want to enter what is already a tough political year with a candidate apparently allergic to preparation, and who has shown no predilection for organizing or fundraising, when he can do cable TV appearances instead?
Democrats have to be looking at Huckabee the way Republicans once regarded Dean — as a shiny Christmas present that is too good to be true."
Following up on the Christmas present theme, Douglas MacKinnon, of the long-upper-lip school of Republican commentary who authored the screed "America's Last Days", intones "Huckabee -- The Ultimate Liberal Plant":
"If you are the eventual Democratic nominee for President in 2008, who would you like to run against? Answer: A Republican you can beat.
Chris Matthews, of MSNBC, recently asked, “Why is the liberal media giving Huckabee a free ride?” Could the answer be as obvious as the liberal media thinks that they have war-gamed this election better than conservatives? Did they look at the Republican field and try to ascertain who would be the weakest “non-fringe” candidate? That most of the mainstream media is going to be in the bag for the Democratic nominee, is beyond question. As that is certainly the case, a method to their literal madness would be in order. ...
Some conservatives and Evangelicals have said that they are supporting Huckabee because he’s a “law and order” candidate or a “good” Christian. Really? It’s difficult to be a “law and order” candidate when the grieving mother of an innocent young woman who was brutally raped and murdered, comes out against you. A mother whose daughter was killed by a man safely locked-up in prison for a previous rape until then Governor Huckabee sent the rapist a personal note of encouragement and endorsed his parole. ...
Maybe Huckabee thinks he’s “invincible” because he has literally inferred that God wants him to win. “It’s the same power,” he said of his sudden rise in the polls, “That helped a little boy with two fish and five loaves of bread feed a crowd of 5,000 people.” Okay. ... There have been reports that Huckabee recently told a Pastor that God speaks to him. ...
If Huckabee is using God as a “gimmick,” this is not the first time. Should any voter care to see it, one only has to type “Huckabee – God – 2004 Republican Governors Association” into the search engine of their choice and see Huckabee – long before Rudy – take an “unexpected” phone call at the podium. His call was from “God,” and in the world of Mike Huckabee, “God” was reduced to a partisan hack."
Hugh Hewitt, on the other hand, who tolerated the Religious Right's deceptive and vicious attacks on gays and lesbians for years, suddenly became a convert to the idea of religious tolerance. In "Mike Huckabee's Low Blow", Hewitt, commenting on the "Jesus and Satan" question, says:
"Then comes the below the belt hit on Mormons, so profoundly off-putting to Republicans who believe in the big tent as well as to evangelicals and Catholics who know the gulf between their theology and that of the LDS Church but who would no more verbally assault their Mormons friends, neighbors and business colleagues than they would any other American different from them on matters of faith. It just itsn't done. "Republican voters will not tolerate attacks on faith," pollster Frank Luntz declared on my program yesterday. I think he is right, and I hope he is right. Such attacks on different religious beliefs have been part of American history, but aren't part of the American future. The common creed of moral convictions that Romney referred to his his College Station speech on faith now includes as one of its tenets that you do not mock or insult another person's religion."
It goes on and on. Take a look over at www.townhall.com, which is something of a compendium of right-wing flak.
The Republican Party is, finally, getting its just desserts.
Republicans have been running on a platform based exploiting cultural anger among social conservatives for years, coupled with an aggrieved, frightened hatred for the "liberal elite" who supposedly want to impose "secularism" as a substitute for Jesus Christ. All the while, the Republican Party has, as Thomas Frank pointed out in "What's the Matter with Kansas? : How Conservatives Won the Heart of America" and Joe Bageany documents from the ground up in "Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War", raping working and middle class social conservatives economically.
Now Mike Huckabee, a graduate of the Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson school of politics, a successful politcian who can infight with the best of them, and rises to front runner status on a "Christian Populist" platform that taps into both the cultural anger and hatred of the liberal elite. And the Republican elite, which is even more the enemy of the social conservatives that Mike Huckabee is arousing, are wetting their pants.
I cannot help but wonder what will happen when social conservatives, who have faithfully voted Republican for decades and received not so much as table scraps from the Republican elite, realizes that they've been used and discarded again and again.
If that happens, "man bites dog" might turn table, and become "dog bites man".
Whatever happens to Mike Huckabee this year, you can count on this: Unlike the "Culture Wars" speech by Pat Buchanan in 1992, Mike Huckabee's run for the nomination is going to change the Republican Party, for better or worse. Why? Because unlike Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell and James Dobson, Mike Huckabee is does not primarily seem interested in using cultural anger to feather his nest while gaining the tokens of "access" to the White House. Mike Huckabee is interested in political power, in reinventing this country as "Christian America", and he means to make it happen.