Excellent article from First Things.
Huckabee and Social Conservatives
By Ryan T. Anderson
Thursday, August 7, 2008, 7:42 AM
Reports last month told of a meeting of some ninety prominent evangelical leaders deciding to support John McCain for president. While noting disagreements between themselves and McCain, the group concluded that McCain shared their most important views, on life and marriage. Matthew Staver, the dean of Liberty University Law School and the organizer of the meeting, said that McCain “would advance those values in a much more significant way than Sen. Barack Obama who, in our view, would decimate those values.”
The group also reached a consensus that they would send a letter to McCain asking him to pick Mike Huckabee as his running mate. Staver explained that “It’s not a demand; it’s a request.”
McCain would do well to reject this request, and the evangelicals would do well to rethink their political strategies.
Consider the primary season. The losing campaigns of Rudy Giuliani and Mike Huckabee offer important political lessons for anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear. Just months ago, pundits were writing the obituary for social conservatism. Frank Rich claimed that the “political clout ritualistically ascribed” to social conservatives “is a sham.” “These self-promoting values hacks,” he continued, “don’t speak for the American mainstream. They don’t speak for the Republican Party. They no longer speak for many evangelical ministers and their flocks. The emperors of morality have in fact had no clothes for some time. Should Rudy Giuliani end up doing a victory dance at the Republican convention, it will be on their graves.”
Of course, Rudy Giuliani won’t be dancing at the national convention. He didn’t win a single primary. To judge from his vote totals and delegate count alone, he was not even a top-tier candidate. Giuliani gambled that he could win without the social conservatives and lost big time. Score one for the “values hacks.”
The unexpected relative success of the Huckabee campaign—sustained by a shoestring budget, a makeshift staff, and a policy platform that seemed to be thrown together overnight—showed just how big an impact the so-called values voters can have. Actually, it understated that impact, since many values voters went with other candidates (like Romney). So one lesson learned from the Giuliani and Huckabee campaigns was the continued political relevance of social conservatives.
Yet that shouldn’t be the only lesson we take away, for Rich was right about one thing: The leaders of the social conservative movement do not speak for mainstream America. And they never will, so long as they follow the Huckabee model.
But they could. The American mainstream is, especially when compared to other industrialized nations, remarkably conservative on social issues. Lifestyle liberalism has always been a liability for the left in America, as witnessed by the fact that the more socially conservative candidate has won five of the past seven presidential elections. Social conservatives can speak for the mainstream but only if they move beyond the Huckabee approach.
To start with, he ran his campaign solely on religious identity politics. If Giuliani never effectively reached out to socially conservative Christians, Huckabee never effectively reached beyond them. He continually told evangelical Christian audiences to support him because he was one of them. Everyone else got the message, too. Huckabee ran his campaign in a way that would appeal only to conservative evangelicals and would offend—even scare—people outside his religious community.
One incident, in particular, illustrates how Huckabee narrowed the appeal of social conservatism. While stumping to a largely Evangelical audience in Michigan, Huckabee said: “I believe it’s a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God. And that’s what we need to do—to amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards rather than try to change God’s standards so it lines up with some contemporary view of how we treat each other and how we treat the family.”
Reaction to this was quick and fierce, even from generally sympathetic sources like National Review Online’s “The Corner.” Lisa Schiffren quickly pointed out: “Mike Huckabee is going to force those of us who have wanted more religion in the town square to reexamine the merits of strict separation of church and state. He is the best advertisement ever for the ACLU, even if you share his ultimate views on the definition of marriage, or the desirability of abortion on demand.” Andy McCarthy added that he usually contrasts America to Islamist nations: “Part of my usual response . . . focuses on the Taliban, their imposition of sharia (i.e., God’s law), and the marked contrast to our system’s bedrock guarantee of freedom of conscience. . . . Where has Huck been for the last seven years? Does he not get that our enemies—the people who want to end our way of life—believe they are simply imposing God’s standards?”
On Hannity and Colmes, Huckabee tried to explain what he meant. He wasn’t talking about mandating that anyone worship on Sunday or tithe. He was talking about two things only: the human-life amendment and the marriage amendment. But these causes cannot effectively be defended in this way.
Arguing that “God said so” won’t persuade anyone who doesn’t already agree with you. Even though Americans remain a remarkably religious people, the Bible doesn’t carry the authority it once did. And many of those who generally hold the Bible in high regard consider it “dated” and “out of touch” on certain controversial moral questions.
Luckily, social conservatism has resources for public argument besides the Bible. After all, on many of the day’s most important issues—human cloning, embryo destruction, creating designer babies—the Bible offers little specific guidance. And our obligations to treat fellow citizens as equals—as well as the practical requirements for broad political consensus—demand that we rise above sectarian appeals to religious authority. If social conservatism is to win the day, social conservatives—especially those seeking and holding public office—must make public arguments using public reasons to defend human life and marriage.
Defending these moral truths with reason and campaigning on those same reasons shouldn’t prove difficult. Huckabee argued that we should amend the Constitution to fit “God’s standards,” so we might consider what the Christian tradition has had to say about God’s standards. St. Thomas Aquinas taught that “we do not offend God except by doing something contrary to our own good.” If Thomas is right, then rather than claim that a debased practice offends God, politicians can—and, I would add, should—explain to the public what aspect of some immoral behavior is contrary to our own good, especially the common good—and why a just and decent society shouldn’t accept it.
Rather than argue that abortion is contrary to God’s law and that we need to bring the Constitution into conformity with God’s law, social conservatives should argue that as a matter of scientific fact the child in a mother’s womb is a whole, living human being, and that as a matter of moral truth the direct killing of any peaceable human being is gravely unjust.
John Paul II argued as much. If the universal pastor of the Catholic Church could speak publicly about abortion in a way that was intelligible to non-Catholic Americans, why shouldn’t American Christian politicians do the same? This approach was natural for John Paul because of his understanding of divine commands: “The Ten Commandments,” he said, “are not an arbitrary imposition of a tyrannical Lord. They were written in stone; but before that, they were written on the human heart as the universal moral law, valid in every time and place. . . . To keep the Commandments is to be faithful to God, but it is also to be faithful to ourselves, to our true nature and our deepest aspirations.”
Read the rest here: First Things