The Common Good

What's Next for Mike Huckabee?

Sojomail - March 6, 2008


I think joy and sweetness and affection are a spiritual path. We're here to know God, to love and serve God, and to be blown away by the beauty and miracle of nature. You just have to get rid of so much baggage to be light enough to dance, to sing, to play. You don't have time to carry grudges; you don't have time to cling to the need to be right.

- author Anne Lamott, in a recent interview. (Source: The Washington Times)

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What's Next for Mike Huckabee?

Tuesday evening, John McCain clinched the Republican nomination for president, and Mike Huckabee, the last remaining contender, conceded defeat. Huckabee's campaign, and the failure of the Religious Right to support him, has been one of the most interesting and puzzling stories of this primary season

While Huckabee is certainly a social conservative, he refused to toe the line on a number of issues. And that is more evidence for why I say the monologue of the Religious Right has ended and the evangelical agenda has broadened.

In the Republican YouTube debate, the candidates were asked if they believed every word of the Bible. Huckabee said that while some of the Bible was allegorical, we needed to take much of it much more seriously than we do - such the words of Jesus that say, "As you have done to the least of these you have done to me." This is not the text that most conservatives quote when asked about the authority of the Bible. In an interview with Reuters in January, Huckabee spoke about the broadening evangelical agenda:

Unquestionably there is a maturing that is going on within the evangelical movement. It doesn't mean that evangelicals are any less concerned about traditional families and the sanctity of life. It just means that they also realize that we have real responsibility in areas like disease and hunger and poverty and that these are issues that people of faith have to address.

And when conservative columnists such as Robert Novak attacked Huckabee for not being a "real conservative," this is precisely what they meant. When Huckabee was governor of Arkansas, he advocated spending money on poor people - behavior that is offensive to the economically conservative wing of the Republican Party. While Huckabee is a consistent social conservative, he is considered suspect by the party's economic conservatives who, of course, don't support spending any money on overcoming poverty. Huckabee disagrees with them.

On immigration, in that same debate, there was an all-out attack on "illegal aliens" who became the new scapegoat, the new "other," for many of the Republican candidates - and the preferred way to energize their primary base. Except for the acknowledgement from John McCain that "these are God's children too," every Republican candidate preceded to demagogue the issue, beating up on undocumented immigrants for crass political gain.

But then Mike Huckabee spoke. He agreed that our borders need to be protected and enforced (I do too), but then defended his support for a failed bill in Arkansas to give scholarships to exceptional students - including undocumented children. He said he didn't want to punish children for their parents' illegal actions because "that's not what we typically do in this country." This educational plan, he said, was intended to bring people from illegal to legal status. He continued, saying that he had received a good education; but if he hadn't, "I wouldn't be standing on this stage; I might be picking lettuce; I might be a person who needed government support." Then he said, "In all due respect, we're a better country than to punish children for what their parents did." Although he later moved more to the right in the heat of the primaries, that response remains.

Is that ultimately why the leaders of the Religious Right didn't support Mike Huckabee until late in the primary season? Is it because many on the Religious Right are really more committed to economic conservatism than social conservatism? Have religious conservatives gotten so used to their access to power that are they afraid to risk standing for principle over pragmatism? Huckabee was the most consistent social conservative Republican in the race - he won a straw poll at the FRC Values Voters Summit this winter - yet most of the leaders of the Religious Right never rallied around him. But the evangelical base did, keeping him in the race until this week.

Now that he is out of the race, what's next for Huckabee? The conservative Washington Times said that Huckabee is at the forefront of an evangelical revival, and quoted his former communications director as saying

He has become the leader of a new generation of Christian conservative voters. ... There is nobody else you can identify outside of Mike Huckabee as a leading person to take on that role, really in a new era where evangelicals care about a lot of things like the environment and working with the poor.

And, as former Bush staffer David Kuo wrote in The Washington Post,

That there's now a pitched battle for the soul of the religious right is a horrifying thought to Republican leaders long familiar with the old religious right, a hierarchical group dominated by larger-than-life figures who'd anointed themselves Jesus's political representatives. But that movement is withering at the top and in revolt at the grass-roots. ... What's new is how widespread social justice issues are in the evangelical world. Leading New Testament theologian N.T. Wright, a conservative, says that the greatest moral issue today is not abortion but the economic inequality between the U.S. and Europe and the developing world.

So, stay tuned. We haven't heard the last from Mike Huckabee.

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The Cost of War: Click here for the full series

Five Years of Living with War (by Peggy Gish)

After five years of being in the midst of the instability and suffering of the Iraqi people - hearing their pain, fear, and increasing hopelessness as they tell us about their lives, their shattered hopes and dreams - witnessing and experiencing violence ourselves as a team; but also witnessing truly courageous people who have not lost faith and hope as they work for peace, I am led to reflect on the legacy of the war and occupation.

My Son's Grave (by Celeste Zappala)

It is in that cold silence that my grandson and I visit his father's grave. He throws chunks of snow around the fully decorated gravesite. "My dad loves to have snowball fights" he tells me in present tense. "My dad and me always team up against my mom; she doesn't like snow." He laughs; and in this moment of transcendent playfulness I look at him with great love and will not speak of horror and lost hopes.

I Love My Name (by Omar Al-Rikabi)

Not too long ago, I was given the opportunity to preach in a Baptist church in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Before the service started I was introduced to the senior pastor. "Hello," I told him, "my name is Omar and I'll be doing the preaching tonight." As he shook my hand, he pulled me close and asked loudly with his Southern drawl, "Omar? You're not a terrorist are you?"

Peace Week (by Brian McLaren)

I'll be part of the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq this Friday, March 7. On Friday at midday, there will be gatherings in several locations around DC for worship. And there will be gatherings around the country too - including ones you may be just the person to organize. After these times of worship, there will be prophetic action taken by many to express our shared desire to pursue what makes for peace and mutual upbuilding rather than what makes for fear and mutual destruction.

The Cost in Dollars, Democracy, and Memory (by Peter Price)

The Iraq war has cost lives. Perhaps this is such an obvious statement that many will wonder why it has been made. It has cost lives of military personnel, many thousands of civilians in the immediate theatre of war, as well as lives of insurgents. It has even cost lives away from the war zone. In 13 African countries the rise in oil prices - which may be directly attributed to the war - resulted in loss of income, more than off-setting the increases in foreign aid. Nobel Peace Prize laureate and economist Joseph Stiglitz estimates the cost of the war worldwide as $6 trillion. Such sums indicate the loss of lives through failure to invest in education, healthcare, and housing across the world.


+ See what's new on the blog of Jim Wallis and friends

Carrie Newcomer's Songs for Change (by Becky Garrison)

On Jan. 22, 2008, I headed down to Joe's Pub in New York City to celebrate the launch of Quaker singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer's CD The Geography of Light. Newcomer's lyrics, grounded in her faith formed by a Midwestern sensibility, reminded me of The Power of Song, a documentary that I saw at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival. When I reflected on that film on the God's Politics blog, I asked if, in today's cynical world, we could enact positive social change through artistic self-expression - or if this notion is simply a relic of a bygone era.

Was Jesus a Politician? (by Jim Wallis)

Last Friday I was in Santa Barbara, California, to speak at Westmont College - where even on a Friday evening, the gymnasium was packed with students. Before that event I did an interview with The Santa Barbara Independent, a local weekly newspaper, which they titled The Next Great Awakening? One of the questions the reporter asked was, "Do you think Jesus was a politician?" Here is my answer:

Todo Cambia (Everything Changes) (by Janna Hunter-Bowman)

I am great with child—and the changes in my body are unmistakable. Nature is taking its course to bring this little human through me. Today I felt like myself, with a bounce in my step and ability to concentrate at work. There are other days, however, when the energy and creative power I once managed are directly channeled to the life within, and I find myself sitting breathless and fatigued before a blank computer screen. At these moments I rub my taut belly, and remind myself to marvel: I am the vessel for a child of God. At one such moment I reviewed the story of a woman who went into labor as she fled an armed attack on her village. She became a mother with the help of her uprooted neighbors en route to anywhere safe. I remind myself, I am a privileged vessel as I move into the stream of mothers who carry children in this land of turmoil and uncertainly.

Rumblings from the New Baptist Covenant (by Tony Campolo)

Already, the leadership of the New Baptist Covenant is planning the next steps that must be taken if this new "association" is to be more than just a one-time gathering with some inspiring talk. Many are waiting to see if "the talk" is translated into action and concrete efforts to end poverty, both in America and in the Third World. Given who the leaders are, I believe it would be surprising if the hopes generated at the Atlanta gathering were not actualized.

Denouncing the Hillary Haters (by Jim Wallis)

Last week I wrote about unfair attacks on Sen. Barack Obama's faith. And though it hasn't been in the headlines as recently, Sen. Hillary Clinton has also faced a steady stream of criticism of her faith. Christianity Today summarizes in sad detail and rightly debunks these "baseless blows to the former first lady" in a recent editorial, which I recommend reading. The editorial points to a higher ground from which Christians should discuss politics - both for the sake of the person in question, and relationships inside and outside of the church.

Rejecting Intolerable Rhetoric (by Ian Danley)

In Arizona it is clear that the immigration issue is more than just a political debate; human lives hang in the balance. Families we have come to love are finding themselves in increasingly desperate circumstances. For us the question to the church seems clear: "Who will speak for those denied a voice?" Locally the rhetoric has become intolerable as families - families in our churches, ministries, and neighborhoods - are described in angry, hateful, even subhuman terms. As Christians, regardless of our position on the issue, we will not accept this type of language and we must call our political leaders to a higher standard whether during national presidential contests or inside of committee hearings in our state houses.


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The Plymouth Center for Progressive Christian Faith is hosting a national conference on faith and politics in Minneapolis, April 11 through 13. Speakers include, Ray Suarez, Jim Wallis, and Rabbi Michael Lerner. Information at

Palmer Seminary at Eastern University and Sider Center/ESA announce joint appointment: tenure track Professor of Christian Ethics and ESA's Director of Public Policy. See job posting at

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