Showing posts with label Mitt Romney. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mitt Romney. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

A post-election letter to conservatives

Originally posted on Facebook, with some light edits:

Dear conservative friends - Here's my message to you as a "pro-life", anti-pot liberal from two very red states who knows politics and has been on the losing end of some bruising elections: It will be okay.

As a former professor of mine used to say, a look at history proves that America survives in spite of her leaders, not because of them. He's right. I survived Bush, and you will survive Obama. That's what America does: She survives, endures, grows, leads, and perseveres, and when she does make mistakes (we'll disagree about last night, but surely we agree that there have been devastating mistakes before), she almost always makes up for them. To despair is to abandon your patriotism for America and your faith in God, and I know you're stronger than that.

More importantly, in the long run, our primary focus should never be who is in the White House or the Capitol. To put all our hopes in the ballots of men rather than in God will leave us far worse of than the outcome of the ballot itself, no matter who wins.

Go ahead. Say the country is ruined, the voters were duped, our freedom is gone, we'll never be the same. Of course I disagree; I'm proud of what the U.S. accomplished last night, and we could argue about what happened and what it means. But that's not the point. The point is this: Catharsis is good. Get it out. But on some level, remember that people said the exact same things and felt the exact same way in 2004, 1996, 1972, even, yes, 1984. So take a week, pick yourself up off the mat, and come give us your best shot over this whole fiscal cliff thing. It wouldn't be the same without you.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

On redistribution, free markets, and government handouts

I posted the picture at right to Facebook. A high school friend called Obama a "commie pig" in the comments. When rebuked for his words, he wrote this, and then liked his own comment:

People need to learn to fail. Free market means working hard for your money. Let the rich get richer - they earned it, and some day, so will I. I will earn my money from taking from the poor if need be - if they just consume and not contribute themselves. Envy is the character of the left. You all hate the rich, until you are rich yourselves. Fairness and wealth redistribution simply means misery together. Since you all probably rely on government payouts anyway, Obama has already bought your vote. Go ahead and be the middle class, I plan on making millions.
Here was my response:

We don't have a free market in this country - not when the biggest corporations can house profits off shore, get tax incentives that start-ups don't get, buy up the media to decide what consumers learn and what they don't, and receive government protection for their losses while their profits are private. The American free market is a nice idea, but also a myth.

I don't envy Romney's wealth, but I do think that a man who thinks six times the median American income is "not very much" and assumes most parents can afford to pay for their kids' college lacks the perspective on the country's reality that he would need to run that country.

I'm all for the rich getting richer, when they earn it, as many do - but when I'm paying a higher tax rate than Mitt Romney and Warren Buffett, they're not earning all of it anymore, they are indeed engaging in the "redistribution" you otherwise claim to hate so much. Same for when the banks crash the economy and don't pay a penalty for it - their failure, our punishment, they didn't earn that wealth. But no, I don't hate the rich, I just despise certain aspects of the system that bankrupts our country - the system that doesn't ask them to pay the same share to the nation that made them wealthy as the rest of us do. If you think the center-left hates the rich, it's because you refuse to let the left define their own beliefs, and just believe what the right tells you about them. I'm glad taxes aren't where they were under Nixon, Ford, Carter - but they should be where they were under Clinton.

Yeah, we've all gotten government payouts - just like we've made government payins. The government paid me out just tonight, when I drove home on several public roads and pulled over for a public fire truck. It also paid me out when I went to a *public* high school with you. It'll pay out again when I'm old and collecting Social Security and Medicare, to which I'm paying in now. Something tells me that if you do make those millions that you - and every other American - plan on making, you won't stop driving on those roads, refuse those Social Security checks, hire only home-schooled employees without college degrees who want the job because it means they can finally get off EBT or unemployment, or tell the government's military they can let AL-Qaeda into your place.

I'll leave you with this quote from the commie pig - er, excuse me, inventor of capitalism - Adam Smith. "The necessaries of life occasion the great expense of the poor... The luxuries and vanities of life occasion the principal expense of the rich, and a magnificent house embellishes and sets off to the best advantage all the other luxuries and vanities which they possess... It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion."

And also this about the poor who accept help when offered, those whom Christ reminds us to love, not scorn."[Romney's] a guy who sold his dad’s stock to pay for college, who built an elevator to ensure easier access to his multiple cars and who was able to support his wife’s decision to be a stay-at-home mom. That’s great! That’s the dream. The problem is that he doesn’t seem to realize how difficult it is to focus on college when you’re also working full time, how much planning it takes to reliably commute to work without a car, or the agonizing choices faced by families in which both parents work and a child falls ill. The working poor haven’t abdicated responsibility for their lives. They’re drowning in it."

Monday, January 23, 2012

Four Upcoming States Newt Gingrich Could Win

In addition to my first two posts here since 2010, I also just wrote my first Daily Kos diary since I started front-paging at MyDD in 2009 - and my first political post since going to work for the DNC. It's not progressive, it's not data-driven; it's just a little horserace speculation to get back in the blogging swing of things after such a long hiatus.

I'm going to try and be a blogger again, sharing religious observations and personal reflections here and political thoughts through a new Daily Kos account. (And as always, both on Facebook and Twitter, as well.)

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Sarah Palin: Running in 2012, or just running for cover?

Why is Sarah Palin resigning almost two years before the end of her term in a move almost as shocking as Mark Sanford's downfall?

While I'm sure her stated family concerns are a legitimate worry of the admirably-doting mother, I will argue the following in this post: Palin's own quirkiness, ignorance and alternative reality; Alaskan politics; and the arguments of conservative pundits like Mary Matalin and William Kristol all suggest that Palin wants to run in 2012. This is not to say that she IS running. It is entirely possible, even likely, that she will write her books and give her speeches and then test the 2012 waters, only to discover that this move didn't play out the way she expected it to.

I'd like to believe her stated reasons for resigning, but they sound pretty thin: "Many [outgoing governors] just accept that lame-duck status, and they hit the road, they draw a paycheck, they kind of milk it. And I'm not going to put Alaskans through that." If one buys this reasoning, than all politicians who are not going to run for re-election should resign before their term is over, and that's a load of malarkey. Folks often complain that politicians are always running for re-election rather than governing, and now we're supposed to believe it's bad when they're not running? Moving along, her words about her son Trig were somewhat touching, and for perhaps only the second time in electoral politics I am slightly inclined to believe the family argument. But while I'm sure family is a real concern, it's clearly not the only thing on her mind, given that she also talked about helping her party in a new role. So what else is she thinking about?

The first thought that comes to mind for many is that, given how unorthodox and even bizarre this move is, perhaps a scandal is brewing and she's getting out of the way early. This is, for now, nothing more than a conspiracy theory. It might be logical, but there's no evidence to back it up, so I'm not going to play that game.

The second possibility is that she is preparing for a possible presidential bid in 2012. Pundits aren't so sure, arguing that the move may make such a run harder for her. I'll look at both sides of this debate and come down on the side of, she wants to run. Summing up the arguments of the nay-sayers is Politico's Jonathan Martin:

Many establishment GOP operatives and political commentators of various stripes were withering, both about the decision and the way she announced it — in a jittery, hyperkinetic news conference that rambled between self-congratulation and bitter accusations at the foes she says are eager to destroy her... Even if it's only the small stage of Alaska politics she hopes to escape, skeptics say Friday’s events also diminished and perhaps even demolished what was left of her viability as a 2012 presidential candidate...

And as Slate's John Dickerson reminds us, this also leaves her with less than three years as Governor, hardly a solid response to critics who say she has little to no experience. Finally, I would add that it makes little sense to resign office this early to prepare for a run. The shadow primary (small Iowa speeches, backroom discussions, fundraising, etc.) hasn't even really begun. The PAC and major speech portion won't start until after the 2010 midterms. Usually when someone resigns to run, it's with less than a year to go, not 3.5 years with 2.5 of them before the main event.

It is important, however, to remember this: Sarah Palin makes up her own rules, and then assumes that everybody else plays by them, too. She doesn't live in the same political world as the rest of us. To her, this move just might make 2012-sense. To respond to Dickerson's point that she has no real experience, she thinks she does. Remember that foreign policy crack about Putin rearing his head and coming into our airspace?

A pro-2012 argument I haven't really seen elsewhere is that her popularity in Alaska is sliding. Sure, a 54% approval rating ain't bad, but this is down drastically from a 2007 rating of over 90%, and doesn't compare very favorably with that of fellow-Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski's 76%. With a 35% drop already, where is the floor? Could it be as low as 40%? Unpopularity at home always makes national voters uneasy, and this move might be coming just in time to save that required hometown image.

Conservative pundits Mary Matalin and Bill Kristol (who is a, Palin's biggest backer, and b, a nitwit who never ceases to amaze me) both had good things to say about the resignation. According to the New York Times, "Mary Matalin, a top Republican consultant, called Ms. Palin’s move 'brilliant' although she said she was initially taken aback by the news. But she seconded the notion that the governor’s decision was smart in the sense that it will free her up, as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has been, to travel the country to make inroads with potential voters." The Weakly Standard's Kristol (or is it Kristol's Weakly Standard?) agrees:

She's freeing herself from the duties of the governorship. Now she can do her book, give speeches, travel the country and the world, campaign for others, meet people, get more educated on the issues - and without being criticized for neglecting her duties in Alaska. I suppose she'll take a hit for leaving the governorship early - but how much of one? She's probably accomplished most of what she was going to get done as governor, and is leaving a sympatico [sic] lieutenant governor in charge.

And haven't conservatives been lamenting the lack of a national leader? Well, now she'll try to be that.

As argued above, I don't buy the argument that leaving office this early helps a politician on the campaign trail (see: Hart 1988, Bradley 2000, Romney 2008, Edwards 2008), but clearly some do. Perhaps Palin, like Matalin and Kristol, is one of them. My conclusion, then, is that resigning now hurts Palin's 2012 chances, but that she still did it to help them.

Palin's repeated responses to any and all reporters who ask her harsh questions or criticize her shows me that she has the thinnest skin of any major politician right now. To be fair, many of the criticisms are over-the-top sensationalism, but a national figure has to expect that, and the tough questions about complex issues are only fair. And yet, this woman seems to believe that anyone who dares criticize or disagree with her is an unAmerican idiot. This narrow-minded arrogance will be her ultimate downfall. Although it is way too early to make such guesses, my own no-money-on-the-table-quite-yet prediction is that the Republican Party's nominee for president in 2012 will be Mitt Romney.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Predicting the Republican Veepstakes: Tim Pawlenty

On Saturday, I wrote about the Democratic veepstakes, sort of predicting Joe Biden but hedging my bets given the recent buzz surrounding Tim Kaine. Today, I’ll tackle the Republicans. The McCain campaign has been even tighter about leaks than the Obama camp, so it’s hard to get a handle on them, but I’ll have some fun anyway. My prediction: John McCain will tap Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, and even if he doesn’t, he will NOT, all horse hockey conventional wisdom aside, select former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

Over a year ago, I was telling politically-minded friends that if McCain got the GOP nod, it would be a McCain-Pawlenty ticket. I predicted as much in writing back in May. Then Pawlenty’s chances seemed to dwindle as Governors Mitt Romney (fmr MA), Crist (FL), and Jindal (LA) all rose in stock. But pendulums always swing back, and in the last couple weeks we’ve seen Minnesota polls tightening, Pawlenty change his awful haircut, and Jay Leno riff about the Pawlenty buzz.

If it’s not Pawlenty, my guess is Florida Governor Charlie Crist. At first, despite rampant speculation, I didn’t think it would be Crist, since he’s single and Florida just isn’t as much a swing state as the press likes to say it is. While I still think McCain will win it with minimal effort, it turns out three out of four polls there do mildly favor Obama, and more importantly, Crist flip-flopped on his opposition to offshore drilling immediately after McCain did the same. Hmm, I thought, given how unpopular drilling is in Florida, he sure is taking a risk – maybe he wants the nod more than I thought! Additionally, he recently announced his engagement, erasing his one real liability.

A distant third choice and dark horse, I think, is Dartmouth alum (woohoo!) Rob Portman. Portman has a Bush One-like resume: former Congressman, trade ambassador, and OMB head. He comes from a swing state, Ohio, and is a good fundraiser. Unfortunately for McCain, Portman also has strong Bush ties. Some pundits say Portman would give McCain the economic gravitas he lacks, but others point out that Portman signed off on every one of Bush’s economic policies, and look where that got us. My fourth choice is Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. As I wrote about in May, I think McCain really wants to pick Jindal, but since I made that post he has probably been convinced that Jindal is so young that his age, rather than balancing out McCain’s seniority, would highlight it. McCain did visit Jindal a few days ago, but I’m guessing that was a courtesy call to say you’re out, I look forward to working with you as my Attorney General or whatever.

You may have noticed that none of Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, or Eric Cantor made my list. There was buzz about a fresh female Governor from a state like Alaska, but I think the recent Alaska GOP scandals, including one of her own, have probably pushed Palin out of the running. Cantor’s only claim to fame is that he’s a good fundraiser, and yet McCain is doing better on the money front than anyone initially expected, so it’ll probably take more than deep pockets to secure a spot on this ticket after all.

And Romney, oh Romney. Anyone who says McCain needs Romney to unify and excite the Republican base just doesn’t understand the electorate. I have to ask if they paid any attention whatsoever during the primaries. Economic conservatives and religious righties did not support Romney because they like him, but because they thought he was the lesser of ten evils. Let’s remember, this guy didn’t just change his positions on abortion, stem cell research, and gay marriage, he changed them just as he was preparing to run for President. Adjusting to new facts is one thing, but to do so on so many issues at a politically opportune time is another. Romney only got the support that he did because people didn’t like Mike Huckabee’s economics or Fred Thompson’s work ethic. His support was part of a disenchanted, fractured base, and as an important piece in the conservative Washington Times noted this week, he does not, new positions aside, offer a path to conservatives’ hearts. What he does offer is an easy, if not entirely accurate, Democratic attack line: at a time when we need economic leadership more than ever, the Republicans have nominated a guy whose idea of a financial miracle is to get ride of jobs and fire people! If you want a good conservative, you go with Crist, Pawlenty, or Jindal. You don’t go with a gay-friendly Mormon (let’s face it, deserved it or not, that doesn’t help him). That leaves Romney with only his good looks and his money, but people see through hair gel, and as noted with Cantor, McCain doesn’t need that money anymore.

Yes, I know that Novak said it will be Romney, no ands ifs or buts. I don’t buy it. I’m sticking with Pawlenty. Anyone in DC, Idaho, or New Hampshire who cares to bet a beer or a lunch over it, just lemmee know.

On another note, it sure is a shame Mike Huckabee pushed himself out of the running embarrassing McCain in Texas and Virginia. I liked him.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Just In Case You Needed More Proof

As if his conveniently-timed flip-flops, misleading economic panders, backstabbing health care vetoes, unmoving greasy hair, and irresponsible political trips as Governor weren't enough to show Mitt Romney for the inauthentic opportunist he is, here's a little more:

Governor Romney paid tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. when speaking to a group of employees at Gate Petroleum today and then shook hands and posed for photos with African-American families at a parade... He jumped off the Mitt Mobile to greet a waiting crowd, took a picture with some kids and young adults and awkwardly quipped, 'Who let the dogs out? Who who.' He took pictures with many in the crowd and greeted one baby wearing a necklace saying, 'Hey buddy! How’s it going? What’s happening? You got some bling bling here!'"

That's right. Mitt Romney thinks all he needs to do to fit in and look natural in a black neighborhood is raise his hands and say "bling bling." Maybe that's racist, maybe it's not, but given that "Who let the dogs out?" is not exactly the most common phrase in the Mormon CEO's stump speeches, it's certainly inauthentic.

Even politically, I don't see how this is good strategy. A cultural stereotype... an out of character moment... a decades-old one-hit wonder... what's next, Mitt, dancing the Macarena to win the contested Latin vote of Texas and New Mexico? If a forced love of the Baha Men can balance out the effects of your economic policies on black voters, surely Los del Rio will make Hispanic folks forget about that Tancredo endorsement!

This is, of course, the reason for my long-standing distaste for Romney - I'm no Republican, but I respect anyone, liberal or conservative, who listens to their opponents and acts not on ideology but on fact and principle. Case in point, John McCain and Mike Huckabee. It may well be a political statement to say, "Mitt Romney is no Mike Huckabee," but only barely.

Update: Here's video of Romney asking, "Who let the dogs out?" The bling-bling quote is not part of this clip. It seems harmless enough when you watch, but I still think it speaks to his inauthenticness - Romney is clearly the out-of-touch parent who believes the kids think he's cool when he makes outdated pop culture references in an over excited tone of voice, and again, I don't see how that wins votes.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Nevada and South Carolina Predictions

I'm having a tough time posting as often as I might like, both here and at MyDD, thanks to a larger than normal homework load. Hopefully that will change next week.

In the meantime, I do predict that Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney will win their respective Nevada caucuses on Saturday, both by single digits over Obama and McCain. The culinary union's endorsment of Obama will certainly help him, but I don't think it will be enough to overcome Clinton's poll lead or her slam dunk answers on Yucca Mountain at last night's debate. (Never heard of Yucca Mountain? No worries, it's a non-issue in 49 different states.) Edwards could suprise, but I doubt it. He's stronger in Nevada than he is just about anywhere else, but the only major January NV polls (ARG and Research 2000) both have him in third, and he doesn't have the organizational strength of Obama's culinary endorsment.

Romney's win will come because of his sons' campaigning and his strength in the west (he won Wyoming, and you know he's got Utah and Idaho). Some folks are suggesting Paul could pull of a surprise win as the only Republican to run commercials in the state, but again, I doubt it - his polls aren't anywhere near first. I figure he'll finish behind Romney, McCain, Huckabee and Thompson (in that order), though I wouldn't be shocked if he took a narrow third over Huck and Thompson.

Admittedly, I don't know the demographic makeup of the undecideds on either side, and it was the all-female makeup of the NH undecideds that swung that race at the last minute. Turnout is also crazy weird to understand.

The all-important South Carolina Republican primary will also be on Saturday, but that's even harder to predict. McCain's leading all the recent polls, but I think Huckabee's built-in Southern evangelical constituency and the third-party attacks against McCain will give Huckabee a narrow win, with Romney a distant third and Thompson's lazy savior campaign collapsing. Florida may ultimately decide the GOP nominee on Jan. 29, with Feb. 5 confirming the decision.

Rudy who?

And now it's back to the Latin.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Mitt Romney's New Low

I've never been a fan of Mitt Romney, the former Republican Governor of Massachusetts and presidential candidate. I often read the Boston Globe as my daily paper, and saw enough during his final year as Governor to become convinced that he is little more than an opportunistic shell.

I came to this conclusion even before taking his supposedly-calculated flip-flops on immigration, gays, and abortion into consideration. Now, there's nothing wrong with changing your position on an issue as you learn more, but it does seem suspicious when a politician shifts his position on so many issues dear to his party just before running for president. These flip-flops have led many to say the key to understanding Mitt Romney is understanding issue polls: don't know where Romney stands on something? Find out where the majority of Republicans stand, and then you'll know. Anything to get the nomination. I've never been sure if he's a moderate in conservative clothing or a conservative in moderate clothing, and I've never cared. Either way, he's very clearly pandering, which fits the pattern of naked opportunism we saw in him as Governor.

Pandering is, if not respectable, at least politically understandable when it's flipping from one viable position to another, but Romney sank to a new low last night at the South Carolina GOP debate.

Mitt Romney drew a distinction with John McCain while answering the opening question on the economy, a salient issue in Michigan more so than South Carolina.

"He said, you know, some jobs have left Michigan that are never coming back. I disagree," Romney said, challenging his chief rival five days before the primary in the economically suffering state. It's one the former Massachusetts governor can't afford to lose after defeats in Iowa and New Hampshire.

McCain shot back: "Let's have a little straight talk. There are some jobs that aren't coming back to Michigan. There are some jobs that won't come back here to South Carolina." But, the Arizona senator said, the country is obligated to help displaced workers find new employment.

Either Romney believes the manufacturing jobs America has lost overseas will come back despite our higher labor costs, in which case he's delusional and unprepared to lead us into a new economic era, or he was telling the voters of Michigan and South Carolina what they want to hear, even though he knew it wasn't true. Either way, this man is not fit to lead.

I'm a Democrat, and I will more than likely support the Democratic nominee for President this year. But as I watch my Republican friends pick their nominee, I pray they pick a true leader. Many Democrats want the Republicans to pick the easiest candidate to beat in November, but I don't think that way. There's always the possibility, no matter how slim, that the Democrats will blow yet another presidential election. In that unlikely event, I hope the leader we're stuck with is truly a leader - the best, or at least most reasonable, of the Republican nominees. I've written before about why I like Mike Huckabee, and I have an even greater respect for John McCain. I can't say the same thing for Mitt Romney. At least he's no Rudy Ghouliani, but that's not saying much at all.

Larry Craig Gets His Partisan On

Each of Senator Larry "Wide Stance" Craig (R-ID)'s email newsletters contains a little poll for subscribers to vote in. Like all online polls, the Craig eView polls are unscientific and meaningless, and often the questions themselves are biased and loaded, but perhaps they can at least give us some insight into the minds of Idaho Republicans. Obviously not all his subscribers are Idaho Republicans - I, for one, am a TX/ID/NH Democrat interested in veterans affairs, Craig's forte - but no doubt conservatives make up the largest portion of respondents, something previous poll results bear out.

That's why I find his latest results hilarious. Arriving in my inbox just moments ago:

An email list of probably 75, 80% Republicans, and all Craig could get to say the Democrats were failing was 56%? One would have expected a supermajority from such a biased sample, and yet if Idaho Republicans were all Senators, they couldn't even sustain a filibuster, much less override a veto! Obviously this sort of thing is just fun and games, completely meaningless, but maybe, just maaaybe, Idaho Democrats are in a better position for 2008 than I thought.

For the record, until Romney dropped him like a hot potato, Craig was a big supporter of Romney's presidential campaign. See my next post for more on Romney.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Exploring The Anti-Mormon Charges Against Mike Huckabee

With the holidays winding down and the first primaries rapidly approaching, the percentage of political content on this blog will increase for the next couple weeks. You may have figured as much, given the recent bits on Pakistan and Biden. The theological posts I've been making are not going to go away; my broader focus will continue, but it’s hard not to focus on the primaries right now.

About two weeks ago, I explained why even though I will never vote for him, I admire Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. I have plenty of complaints about him – Iraq, gay rights, the “fair” tax, and now Pakistan – but one criticism I won’t make is that he insults Mormons. This has become a common charge in the media, and I think it’s totally bogus.

The New Hampshire Union Leader editorial board typified this mindset when they wrote, "Huckabee has ridden Christ’s coattails all the way to first place in the Iowa polls and second place nationally by deftly exploiting anti-Mormon prejudice. Not very Christian of him." I’ve read the comments and heard the interviews that this charge refers to, and I’ve got to say, it is complete bunk. I have not seen one instance of Huckabee truly insulting Mormons; his words are frequently grossly distorted or taken out of context. I’m usually slow to accuse reporters of ulterior motives, but the journalists driving this particular narrative are either completely ignorant about faith or they are deliberately trying to create a story that doesn’t exist in order to sell magazines. Either way, it’s grossly irresponsible.

The most galling distortion comes from a Newsweek article by editor Jon Meacham, entitled, “A New American Holy War”:

“Asked if he thought Scriptural revelations from God ended when the Bible was completed, Huckabee said: ‘I don’t have any evidence or indication that He’s handed us a new book to the ones, the 66, that were canonized in 325 A.D. …It was a careful process that adopted those books. That was something I did study in college and seminary… the process by which we ended up with those books. I don’t know that there’s any other books.”

Which no doubt comes as a surprise to the world’s nearly 13 million members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who, like Romney, believe that God did indeed reveal another text in 19th-century America, the Book of Mormon.”

And just why, Mr. Meacham, would it come as a surprise to the world’s 13 million Mormons that a Baptist pastor holds Baptist views? Just what is surprising about a Baptist pastor not believing in the Book of Mormon as Scriptural revelation? OF COURSE Huckabee thinks the Bible is the end-all-be-all of Scripture: He’s a Protestant! That’s what Protestants believe! This is not a story, and it is certainly not, as the Politico said, “dissing Mormons.” The real story would be if Huckabee *did* believe the Book of Mormon is Scripture, in which case he would be one of those 13 million Mormons rather than one of the world’s 110 million Baptists.

I’m an Episcopalian. That means I don’t believe in the Koran as a holy revelations – will that “come as a surprise” to the world’s Muslims? I also don’t view the Bhagavad-Gita as Scripture – does that mean I’m “dissing” Hindus? Of *course* not! It’s just religious difference and theological disagreement, which do not alone constitute “holy war.” With this article, Meacham and Newsweek are recklessly and irresponsibly trying to create a conflict that doesn’t exist. Could they be deliberately distorting Huckabee’s words (and thus smearing his character) to create conflict and sell magazines? I certainly hope not – that kind of division is what splits this country apart and brings down good men. But it’s either that, or Newsweek’s editor is covering religion despite his own ignorance on the subject – which seems unlikely, given that Meacham routinely writes about religion, including one book on the subject. Either way, this is irresponsible journalism.

A second example of Huckabee allegedly attacking Mormons is his supposed implication that they are a cult. Huckabee was asked if he believes the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is a Christian church or if it is a cult, and he refused to answer. As he made clear, he wasn’t refusing to answer in order to imply anything, but because it’s irrelevant to the presidency, and because he lacks knowledge on the subject. I sympathize: I also won’t tell you if I think Mormons are Christian or not because I also don’t know enough about their views on Christ to honestly say. I won’t tell you if I think the Seventh Day Adventists are Protestants, a Christian group on the level of Protestants and Catholics, or a separatist Christian cult because again, I don’t know enough about their views to say. And I won’t tell you if I think Hindus are monotheists because I know that while they say they are, they also seem to believe in numerous incarnations of God. I’m not trying to imply anything about Mormons, Adventists, or Hindus, and I’m not being coy – despite my religious grounding and my Ivy League education, I honestly don’t know. Why should Huckabee be any different? He told Newsweek, “First of all, I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to start evaluating other religions. The more I answer these questions, the more people want to say, ‘Ah, you describe yourself as a theologian,’ or ‘Oh, you’re the one who is setting yourself up as a judge of religions.’ I am damned if I do; I am damned if I don’t.” I think it’s worth pointing out that the only non-Baptist faith reporters seem to ask Huckabee about is Mormonism. My guess is that, as he says, his answers would be similarly vague about other religions, if the reporters bothered to ask. In no way has he implied Mormons are a cult – that’s just the media distorting what he actually did say.

The one Huckabee complaint I can kind of sort of maybe see as a legitimate insult to Mormons came when he asked a New York Times reporter, “Don’t Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?” Romney called the question a “traditional smear” against Mormons, and LDS spokeswoman Kim Farah “said Huckabee's question is usually raised by those who wish to smear the Mormon faith rather than clarify doctrine.” This question certainly does seem to imply something unseemly about Mormons, but I’m willing to give Huckabee the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he was, as Farah said, trying to smear them, or maybe, as suggested above, he honestly didn’t know and had been influenced by someone who actually does fit Farah‘s description. Huckabee apologized to Romney, and explained the quote on CNN, which you can watch below.

Some have scoffed at the notion that Huckabee is ignorant about other faiths, given his seminary background. I’m more understanding, as it is very possible to major in a subject without exploring all that subject’s intricacies. For example, I am currently double majoring in Government and Native American Studies. My focus in the former is on American government, with some foreign policy. I’m not going to take a single class in comparative government, yet based on the Huckabee-must-know logic, critics could say, “Of course Empsall knows about parliamentarian systems – he has a degree in Government!” The same applies to Native American Studies. I need to take ten classes to earn that major, and the department offers a couple dozen. One of the courses I won’t be able to take is called “The Land of the Totem Poles: Native Peoples of the Northwest Coast.” Again, critics could say, “Of course Empsall knows about totem polls – he has a degree in Native American Studies!” If I can defy that logic, why can’t Huckabee? (Slate magazine makes a similar argument.)

I won’t be voting for Huckabee, but that’s no excuse for the press to distort his faith into something it’s not. The only way we will ever fix this country is if we treat one another with respect and decency, and journalists need to be held to that standard too. Quit dragging a good man’s through the mud and get it right: Mike Huckabee has not once purposefully insulted Mormons.

(Picture Credits: 1, 2.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

I Like Mike

This is the first of two stories about Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. Read the second post, debunking the myth that Huckabee attacks Mormons, here. On a sidenote, this is the 200th post at Wayward Episcopalian – wooo, part-ay!

There’s no doubt about it, I am a Democrat. I’m pushing hard for Joe Biden, and backed Howard Dean in 2004. Robert Kennedy is my hero, and I’ve volunteered for countless Democratic candidates in at least five different states.

But I have a confession to make: I heart Huckabee.

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist pastor and Arkansas Governor, has enjoyed a meteoric rise in support lately. Since coming in a surprise second in the August Ames Straw Poll, he has shot from single digits to first place in the early-voting states of Iowa and South Carolina, and holds a strong second place nationally. This success has stumped many pundits, but the only thing that stumps me about it is why it took so long to happen. All summer long, we heard stories about Republican voters’ dissatisfaction with their field of candidates, and about how maybe Fred Thompson could be their savoir. Those were the stories that stumped me. Huckabee has performed incredibly well in every Republican debate since they started in May, and his politics are a natural fit for the Religious Right. I was wondering when he would take off.

There’s no way I’ll ever vote Huckabee myself. He’s wrong on Iraq, wrong on the “fair” tax, and wrong on gay rights. But there’s more to a politician than those three issues, and I believe Huckabee is a genuine, sincere person worthy of respect. I would like to encourage my Republican friends to vote either for him or for John McCain. If you’re a Republican, you might say, “Why should I vote for the guy the Democrat *likes*? Shouldn’t I run in the opposite direction?” If I were praising Huckabee because I agreed with him on the issues, you’d have a point. But while his politics do play a small role in it, I like him largely because of his compassion and pragmatism.

Politically, I like Huckabee’s economic approach. The business wing of the Republican Party loathes him, and while I’m not exactly an opponent of business – entrepreneurship is good – that does start him off on the right foot with me. He endorses a national sales tax, which I believe is a terrible idea, but other than that, he did some solid things in Arkansas. He likes to brag about his 94 tax cuts, but the fact is he also raised taxes 21 times, leaving a net increase. I’m no fan of tax increases, but “fiscal responsibility” is more than just slashing taxes – it also entails balancing the budget, even if that means the price of cigarettes has to take a hit. Newsweek says, “At times he can sound like John Edwards, promising health care for low-income children and vowing to defend wage earners against Wall Street greed and runaway CEO pay. Alone among the GOP candidates, he speaks emotionally about the legacy of Jim Crow and the dangers of ignoring lingering racism. It is wrong, he says, that inner-city blacks routinely receive harsher sentences than affluent whites arrested for the same crime.” (As a pastor, he integrated his church even though it meant losing some members.) Furthermore, in his book “From Hope to Higher Ground,” he wrote that Reaganomics “makes a false and callous assumption that the poorest people in our nation—with inadequate salaries, lack of nutritious food, substandard housing and nonexistent or underfunded health care—can somehow afford to patiently wait while someone else’s wealth eventually splashes onto them.” It doesn’t get more Christian than that, and Huckabee backed an increased education budget, states-sponsored health care for poor children, gas taxes to fix crumbling roads, and more. His current immigration plan, while emphasizing security, does include a guest-worker program and path to citizenship. As Governor, he fought “stricter state-level immigration measures. Huckabee opposed a Republican lawmaker's efforts in 2005 to require proof of legal status when applying for state services that aren't federally mandated and proof of citizenship when registering to vote….That same year, Huckabee failed in his effort to make children of illegal immigrants eligible for state-funded scholarships and in-state tuition to Arkansas colleges.” In reference to that education plan he has said, “In all due respect, we are a better country than to punish children for what their parents did. We’re a better country than that.” He also admits climate change is real – a rarity among Republican solons.

On foreign policy, I disagree with his pro-Iraq views, but I do admire the essay he wrote last week for Foreign Affairs about Bush’s foreign policy, in which he wrote,

“The United States, as the world's only superpower, is less vulnerable to military defeat. But it is more vulnerable to the animosity of other countries. Much like a top high school student, if it is modest about its abilities and achievements, if it is generous in helping others, it is loved. But if it attempts to dominate others, it is despised. American foreign policy needs to change its tone and attitude, open up, and reach out. The Bush administration's arrogant bunker mentality has been counterproductive at home and abroad.”

One can hardly accuse Huckabee of pandering. Though this is the kind of foreign policy that will play well in a General Election, Huckabee isn’t quite there yet – he’s still competing in a Republican primary where George W. Bush continues to enjoy a 71% approval rating. So not only is Huckabee not in the pocket of big business, he’s also managed to alienate the neocons – my kind of guy!

But there’s more to a politician than issues, which is the real reason I admire Mike Huckabee. He doesn’t strike me as an ideologue. I told this to one liberal friend at Dartmouth, who was shocked to hear it and rattled off Huckabee’s right-wing social positions. Fair enough, but I don’t label politicians as “ideologues” based on where they stand. That word has to do more with how they stand where they stand, with how they approach the issues. Are they willing to work with and listen to folks who disagree? Do they take their blinders off and listen to facts rather than just their gut? Stephen Colbert once said of George W. Bush, “You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday. Events can change; this man's beliefs never will.” THAT’S how you define an ideologue. Huckabee is certainly too far right-wing on social issues for me, but I do believe he is a pragmatic guy who Democrats could work with.

I say this for a variety of reasons. One is his willingness to tick off fellow Republicans as Governor of Arkansas. Two is the approach he took as a pastor. His sermons were never full of fire and brimstone, and he often got things done by building consensus among his congregations. In 1989, he was talked into running for president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, and, though a conservative, won as the choice of the moderates. He became known as a reconciler who worked to bring people together and settle feuds, particularly over the issue of Biblical interpretation. If his personal history is any indication of what a man believes, then it is clear that Huckabee respects ideological differences.

In fact, moving away from the electoral side of things for just a moment, if I were a Baptist, I would be proud to have Mike Huckabee as my pastor. I disagree with him on any number of theological issues – homosexuality, the role of women – but since he shows respect for disagreement, his pastoral style would matter to me more than his specific beliefs. I first started to like Huckabee when I read this Politico story:

I asked him if he is still a Baptist minister — many profiles of him say he “was” a Baptist minister — and he replied, “I am one.” Then he added with a smile: “They haven’t defrocked me.”

And has being a minister made him a better candidate?

“I think it is the greatest preparation to run for office or to serve,” he said with real emotion. “There is not a social pathology that I can’t put a name and a face on: A 14-year-old girl who’s pregnant and hasn’t told her parents, I’ve talked to her.

“A young couple head over heels in debt, struggling to keep their marriage together, fighting all the time, I have talked to them.

“An elderly couple where one has Alzheimer’s and the other is struggling over whether to put the spouse in longterm care and it’s just eating them up. I am the guy who sat down and talked to them and worked with them.

“A family deciding to pull the plug on an 18-year-old kid in a motorcycle accident and donate his organs. I am the guy who was there at 2 o’clock in the morning in the ICU to talk to them.”

He leaned forward a little.

“In the very best people I have ever met, there is a secret side that nobody else knows, a dark side that make us all very fragile and human and real,” he said. “And in some of the worst people I have ever encountered I have also found that you can’t completely write them off as unredeemable.”

Hearing that poignant last paragraph from a high-level elected official is quite stirring. I was also thrilled to see him say the following in a Republican debate, when asked if he believes every word of the Bible:

Returning to the electoral side of things, Huckabee often says, “"I'm a conservative, but I'm not mad at anybody about it,” once adding, “I've learned that you don't have to give up your own convictions. But you do need to be willing to have an open mind, spirit and heart toward people who are completely different from you." Many liberals roll their eyes and say, “Bush called himself a compassionate conservative – don’t fall for THAT again!” But I say, one man claiming to be something he’s not hardly suggests that that something plain doesn’t exist. A side-by-side comparison of the two men shows that Huckabee is no Bush. Bush entered the presidency with no real political experience – just six years as Governor of a state where the Governor is little more than a figurehead. He had no record to stand on, so we had to take him at his word. Huckabee, on the other hand, has ten years as a real executive, and the education and health care initiatives mentioned above were very real. Furthermore, it has often been said that Bush didn’t know who he was as a person until he turned forty. As a pastor, Huckabee had to know who he was long before that. Politically, Senator Joe Biden and Pulitzer Prize winner Charlie Savage have both written that when Bush entered office, his political convictions were still in their infancy, and his advisers competed not just for his ear but for his heart. The Cheney camp ultimately beat the Powell camp, both on foreign policy and Constitutional. At heart, Bush really is a compassionate person – the liberal columnist Nicholas Kristof has said Bush frequently asks aides about Darfur – but his politics were pushed elsewhere. That won’t happen with Huckabee. This is a man who, as an effective Governor rather than a figurehead, has already established his political foundations. Throw in the foreign policy letter mentioned above and it becomes quite obvious that Huckabee is no Bush. We can believe his conservative-but-not-angry line without fearing a return of the compassionate conservative.

Huckabee’s time in office certainly had its critics, but I think most of the attacks are a little silly. The largest charge is probably the list of ethics complaints filed against him. Normally I take ethics violations very seriously, but the specific charges against Huckabee seem petty and largely inconsequential. Most of them revolve around potentially improper gifts from friends or funds that were legal but looked wrong. The casual way in which Huckabee dismisses these complaints bothers me – he was wrong, and he should admit it – but by and large, they are minor issues. Another frequent criticism is his handling of Wayne DuMond’s parole. DuMond was an Arkansas felon jailed for rape. It appears that Huckabee lobbied for DuMond’s parole, but once released, DuMond raped and murdered another woman. Though this sounds like a serious incident, I believe that sometimes what really is the right decision on purely philosophical grounds turns out to have unforeseeable and devastating consequences. Huckabee critics say the DuMond case is reminiscent of the 1988 Willie Horton and they’re right—which is precisely why it doesn’t bother me. That scandal was blown completely out of proportion and colored with racism. Michael Dukakis got a raw deal, and we’ll be better off as a nation if we can avoid treating another man the same way. I’m also dismissive of a 1992 AP questionnaire in which Huckabee wrote that AIDS patients should be quarantined. Although the facts behind AIDS had been established by 1992, myths were still commonplace. I think any citizen can be forgiven for demonstrating a lack of knowledge about the disease at that time. It would be far more troubling if Huckabee were to say that current AIDS patients should be isolated.

There is, however, one attack on Huckabee that does bother me. I have described him as a pragmatic statesman, and the national press has certainly bought into the sunny-demeanor narrative. Politicians who worked with him in Little Rock, however, aren’t so quick to praise him. Many say he is a thin-skinned, arrogant bully. Newsweek reports, “Jim Hendren, the state’s Senate minority whip, says he gave up trying to debate issues with Huckabee. ‘It was like you became the enemy,’ he says. ‘There wasn’t ever a negotiation. It was, ‘It’s going to be my way or else.’’” It doesn’t bother me that Huckabee might have a thin skin – that’s his problem, not ours – but I do think we’ve had enough of the “my way or the highway” approach. These critics are the people who know Huckabee best, and their words should be given serious weight. However, his letter condemning Bush’s arrogance and his style as a pastor do suggest these concerns may be overblown.

Moving away from Huckabee’s time as Governor, it is often asked, can a pastor be president? I certainly think, and as a political activist and potential pastor myself, hope so. Democrat and Methodist minister Ted Strickland was just elected Governor of Ohio, and is frequently mentioned as a potential running mate for Hillary Clinton. Across the aisle, Republican Episcopal priest John Danforth did a great job as U.S. Senator and U.N. Ambassador. These men are able to separate their religious obligations from their political responsibilities, and given the way he answers questions about women in ministry or evolution vs. creation, I think Huckabee, with an exception for gay rights, is able to do that. What ultimately matters isn’t that a candidate has acted on their spiritual beliefs in a professional way, but merely that they hold those views in the first place. Obama’s United Church of Christ convictions and Biden’s Catholic faith are no doubt just as important to them as Huckabee’s Baptist faith is to him – why would he be any more disqualified for office than they?

In a similar vein, there are those who suggest that Huckabee has carried his Christian views too far as a politician. For example, prominent liberal blogger Scout Finch of Daily Kos has implied that because Huckabee specifically mentions Christ in his latest television ad, he clearly doesn’t believe in the separation of church and state. I think that’s horse hockey – Huckabee is just being himself. His religious belief defines him at his core in a way no atheist could ever understand. To hide that would be disingenuous, and merely being devotedly Christian and letting voters know it doesn’t mean he wants to blur the lines of church and state. Case in point, Pastor Governor Strickland.

Finally, Huckabee has been accused of frequently insulting Mormons on the campaign trail. This charge is complete BS. Not once have I seen an actual instance of Huckabee trashing Mormons or their church. This is lousy reporting from an irresponsible and uninformed press, and I will address this in great detail with my next post.

Will Huckabee’s success last? That I don’t know. Coming out so brazenly against the neocons when 71% of Republicans still support Bush sure isn’t going to help him. Neither will his lack of foreign policy experience – when asked for his views on the new National Intelligence Estimate about Iran, he said he’d never heard of it. But with that report reducing the threat from Iran, the emergency situation in Pakistan ending, and fewer Americans dying in Iraq, maybe foreign policy won’t be quite the issue we thought it would be . If that’s the case, I don’t see how Huckabee’s numbers among conservative Christians in Iowa and South Carolina can fall, and if he wins those two states with a strong showing in Florida, he’ll have incredible momentum for Feb. 5, when half the nation votes. Given Huckabee’s compassionate pragmatism, McCain’s slim chances, Romney’s opportunism, and Giuliani’s arrogance, a Huckabee victory would be welcome. While it’s Joe Biden I hope to ultimately see in the White House, I urge my Republican friends to vote for Huckabee, if not McCain.

Photo Credits: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5