Sunday, July 16, 2006

Mike Huckabee: making it cool to be a squishy conservative

We have squishy liberals, why can’t we have squishy conservatives? I am referring to Yepsen’s take on Mike Huckabee’s attempt to pull social justice themes into the Republican presidential race by pushing a little in your face politics on the religious conservative movement. (DMR link)

…some Republicans think this Baptist preacher turned politician is, well, too liberal because he goes beyond abortion and gay-marriage issues. He includes social- and economic-justice themes when he works audiences of key religious conservatives in Iowa.

In an interview last week, he said “nothing would be more disingenuous for me to say than, 'I have a faith, but I don’t let it affect my politics.’ That says to me your faith is a very insignificant, inconsequential part of your life. My faith has everything to do with my politics.

“My faith means I can’t ignore the poorest kid in the community. Sometimes maybe that confuses Republicans who are only concerned about how we preserve wealth, but I’ve also got to be concerned about preserving people at the bottom end of this country.

“Faith makes me think about the young mother who is getting battered.

You can’t ignore her. Faith makes me think about that elderly couple that’s deciding how they’re going to cut their medicine in half to make it last all month, or the young couple struggling with debt for things they can’t afford.”

Huckabee adds: “I earn the right to push for a strong pro-life agenda only by making sure I’m concerned about poverty, hunger and homelessness. If I don’t care about those issues, then my faith is incomplete.”

Those aren’t exactly the traditional themes GOP candidates use when they work religious conservatives, but Huckabee said “for me, as a true evangelical, it’s grossly inadequate to say faith is just about abortion and gay marriage.”

He gets passionate about it. “Do you care about a kid who is hungry? Do you care about a family that lives in a shack without running water and a sewer that runs out the back of their house? If I don’t care about that, I don’t have the right to care about abortion. I’ve not earned the right to talk about the structure of the family.”

Huckabee admits this concern for economic justice causes him trouble with some Republicans. “At times people in my party scratch their heads and say, 'Why are you dealing with inadequate housing?’ I say, 'How can you ignore that? Can you say as long as a kid didn’t get aborted, heck, we don’t care where he lives? Or as long as a kid didn’t get aborted, we don’t care if he gets an education? As long as we didn’t abort the child, we don’t care if he has access to health care?’”

“I want to push those in the Christian community who are involved in politics to realize their faith has to embrace a great deal more than one or two issues. It really has to cover a much broader spectrum. If it doesn’t, then I understand the resentment of the left” toward religious conservatives.

I think it’s a message that is overdue, but I’m afraid that it may be too easy to ignore. It’s hard for Christian Conservative political operatives to adjust a playbook that has worked for years.

The playbook? Appeal to a wide swath of religious conservatives on a few issues -- gay marriage, abortion, gambling -- that tend to have somewhat simple, absolutist solutions. Then suck loads of money out of wealthy religious conservatives that buy in to the basic agenda but ascribe to their own version of free market libertarian ideals to defend questionable business practices.

No one likes to be forced into a moment of self-reflection.

Despite the fact that issues of social justice have not been a part of the social conservative agenda, F.A. Hayek, the historical giant in conservative economic thought, struggled with the concept of social justice for years. Hayek interpreted the modern definition of social justice to be a theme used by political interests to subjugate individual behavior when the behavior didn’t meet the constructed and imposed goal of equalizing the social order. However, according to AEI’s Michael Novak, perhaps we should read Hayek using an alternate interpretation of social justice.

Social justice rightly understood is a specific habit of justice that is “social” in two senses. First, the skills it requires are those of inspiring, working with, and organizing others to accomplish together a work of justice. These are the elementary skills of civil society, through which free citizens exercise self–government by doing for themselves (that is, without turning to government) what needs to be done. Citizens who take part commonly explain their efforts as attempts to “give back” for all that they have received from the free society, or to meet the obligations of free citizens to think and act for themselves. The fact that this activity is carried out with others is one reason for designating it as a specific type of justice; it requires a broader range of social skills than do acts of individual justice.

The second characteristic of “social justice rightly understood” is that it aims at the good of the city, not at the good of one agent only. Citizens may band together, as in pioneer days, to put up a school or build a bridge. They may get together in the modern city to hold a bake sale for some charitable cause, to repair a playground, to clean up the environment, or for a million other purposes that their social imaginations might lead them to. Hence the second sense in which this habit of justice is “social”: its object, as well as its form, primarily involves the good of others.

Conservatives, if they’re thinking correctly, are naturally inclined to themes of social justice as defined by Novak. Friday’s override of the governor’s eminent domain veto is an excellent example of conservative social justice. The abuse of wealth and class by some Iowans to disenfranchise the property rights of other Iowans defines injustice, and the wellspring of public support for the override demonstrated the common sense that the use of eminent domain for economic development threatened our society.

“This goes beyond eminent domain. This goes beyond government procedure. This is about the people speaking in an overwhelming voice, and this is about us listening to those people,” said Rep. Jeff Kaufmann, a Wilton Republican, as he urged the House to override the veto. (DMR 7/15/06)

"No nation however powerful, any more than an individual, can be unjust with impunity. Sooner or later, public opinion, an instrument merely moral in the beginning, will find occasion physically to inflict its sentences on the unjust... The lesson is useful to the weak as well as the strong." --Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1804.

It’s inspiring that Huckabee is fearlessly sticking to his message on social justice. It’s almost as if he’s called to talk to the social conservative movement about their failure to address issues of poverty. As Huckabee sees it, to talk about marriage and babies without addressing the basic needs of the human experience represents a flawed agenda. It doesn't mean that social conservatives are going jump on the welfare state bandwagon; rather, it's a starting point to prompt conservatives to think about how a society might work to improve all aspects of the human condition.

I always appreciate those few souls that cannot ignore their convictions despite the potential costs. It’s that old fox versus hedgehog thing.

Thank you for your very insightful post! You've characterized Governor Huckabee quite accurately. It is his steadfast adherance to his convictions -- despite the potential political costs -- that has inspired us to work hard to help introduce America to him. Frankly, we would not have him any other way. Better to not be President and continue to do right, than to compromise his convictions (and his soul) for political gain. Huckabee says it this way: "I know that I will one day be judged by a power far greater than any constituency on Earth."

Please keep watching and posting,

Yes, I agree. I have had the very great personal pleasure of spending much some one on one time with Gov. Huckabee and can tell everyone that he is sincerely a "compassionate conservative" in every good sense of the term.

Remember, when we run the whole government we can't let the free market deprive old people of necessary medication because they didn't have a chance to budget them into retirement plans made as long as 60 years ago. The pharmecuatical wonders of today, while expensive, didn't exist when my folks started working, or even during their peak earning years.

My party position prevents me from endorsing a candidate, and you will hear other good things about other Republican presidential hopefuls, but Mike Huckabee is a genuinely good person.
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