Thursday, February 07, 2008

Should Mormons Hate Huckabee?

For the first time in American history, a Mormon had a serious shot of making it to the highest office in the land. But no more: Mitt Romney has pulled out of active competition for the Republican nomination and thus for the presidency. How should Mormons like myself feel about that?

I never was a Romney supporter; his "conservatism" (business-oriented, technocratic, globalist, classically liberal, only nominally cultural) wasn't the kind I particularly trust or like, and his style and preferences and stratagems left me cold. But that doesn't change the fact that I was fascinated with the man; that as a member of his tribe, I thought often (and even had some recommendations) about what he should say and who he should try to be. And consequently, I can understand one reaction many American Mormons may be feeling right now:

Pissed at Mike Huckabee.

Leave aside the fact that Huckabee was (unaccountably, but somehow truthfully nonetheless) a passing friend of Senator McCain's, and thus predisposed to take on someone else as the contest narrowed. Leave aside the fact that it was perhaps inevitable that they would clash: with Thompson a cypher, Ron Paul too much on the fringe for most even rather serious conservatives, and McCain and Giuliani occupying a moderate, pro-war, foreign-policy heavy middle, that left Huckabee and Romney alone seriously shooting for the Christian right vote. No, putting all that aside, there remains the question: did Huckabee undermine Romney's campaign through and because of bigotry?

I have a good friend, another Mormon, who has lived pretty much all his life in the South, and so despite my years in Mississippi, Arkansas, and now Kansas, I usually defer to him when it comes to interpreting Southern Baptist habits and words. And he is convinced that Huckabee's relentless attacks on Romney and his candidacy--attacks that at the very least played a not insignificant role in keeping some social conservative voters from straying over to the Romney camp, especially in the lead-up to South Carolina, Florida, and Super Tuesday--were not primarily the result of political calculation, but rather the result of religious prejudice. I quote from two recent e-mails of his:

I haven't seen any polls on the Mormon issue; but in listening to Huckabee supporters on TV and radio for the past month, it's clear that most of them have a profound distrust and often contempt for Romney, which makes it easy for me to assume that anti-Mormon sentiment plays at least some role--possibly a big role--in Huckabee's success. His continued Romney baiting--often in expressly religious terms--suggests that he's not unaware of that prejudice. ("Tonight, we are making sure America understands that sometimes one small smooth stone is even more effective than a whole lot of armor." So he's David to the evil Goliath. "And we have also seen that the widow's mite has more effectiveness than all the gold in the world." He's the hero of Jesus' parable and Romney is a Pharisee.)....Huckabee will stay in at least as long as Romney stays in. If he does, I'm sure at some point we'll hear him talking about how his campaign walks through the primaries "without purse, and scrip, and shoes"....Overtly religious rhetoric and posturing--especially on a consistent basis over the duration of a campaign--is an extremely unusual thing in American politics--even in the Republican party. Not even Pat Robertson in his '88 bid went as far as Huckabee has gone with the religious rhetoric, despite having a much more ambitious "moral" agenda. The thought that this decision is just a natural outgrowth of having once been a preacher, rather than a deliberate rhetorical strategy to consolidate a certain segment of voters and differentiate himself positively from his chief competitor, just seems like a stretch to me....They really do hate Mormons, man.

As I had to confess to my friend, I may be in the grips of an odd prejudice here (a doubly odd one for a Mormon to hold), but I just can't buy this. I have no doubt that more than a few of those evangelicals who turned out to vote for Huckabee on Super Tuesday did so because of anti-Mormon bigotry; I'm also quite certain that Huckabee and at least some of his people know this, and haven't gone out of their way to squelch it. But then...well, I don't know what to say beyond that. Obama is most certainly benefiting from votes coming from both Democrats and independents who loathe Hillary Clinton as some kind of communist lesbian vampire bitch; sure, he treats her with respect, but neither is he going the extra mile to make sure everyone knows that Senator Clinton is a perfectly fine and decent candidate. Politics makes use of prejudices, both honorable and dishonorable ones. Should the fact that there are (maybe a few, maybe a lot of) anti-Mormons voting against a Mormon candidate for a presidential nomination be something that derails the legitimacy of a whole campaign?

Well, maybe. Maybe if you can show that Governor Huckabee, in choosing his words and his target, is implicitly (or maybe even explicitly) making his opponent seem like an unChristian, untrustworthy, unauthentic human being, and doing so in ways that align very well with anti-Mormon rhetorical tropes. That is, maybe if you can show that Huckabee really has been stoking the fires of bigotry, then you might have a case against him.

I just don't think you can do that. Huckabee--like every candidate--has done some slimy and dishonorable things. Given the block of voters he was competing for, and given the sorts of rhetorical reservoirs he has to draw upon, his slimy and dishonorable things have often had a religious cast to them. Predictably, that religious cast has been an evangelical, Protestant one, and hence can easily be presented as anti-Mormon. But again...where do you go from there? You could, of course, insist upon a level of integrity, decency, and honesty from your presidential candidates. Yet besides the obvious things (like not playing fast and loose with the basic rules of the game, as Bush and his people did long ago in Florida, and as Clinton and her people appear to be trying to do with Florida and Michigan delegates now (see Timothy Burke and Ezra Klein for details)), such expectations often come to ground on subjective matters: did you attack someone's wife, did you lie about someone's record, did you say a mean and cruel thing? Too often, the result is school-yard taunts, of which we all get enough of every two or four years. In the end, I can't complain if it turns out that Huckabee's rhetoric, maybe even his occasional asides to his core audience, are basically tribal--as I recently said, I not only don't object to a little non-violent tribalism, I actually think it can often be a necessary and good thing. Mormons do it too, that's for certain (go ahead, get a random bunch of Mormon missionaries together, and ask them their honest opinion of Jehovah's Witnesses). And so, if a Mormon takes to the public square, especially the biggest public square of them all, he may find his tribe employed against his will or even against his notion of fair play in order to go along with the self-definition and get-out-the-vote drives of someone else.

As for me, well, I've never met Huckabee; I voted for him once for governor of Arkansas, but as I've said a couple of times before, I wouldn't vote for him for President. But I like the man because he reflects, at least potentially, a populist conservative sentiment that I can intellectually get behind, a sentiment that our country needs more of. Romney, in my view, didn't do any of that; hence, I'm not sad to see Huckabee remaining a player in the Republican contest and Romney throwing in the towel. I would be sad--I would be angry, I would be frustrated and depressed and pissed--if the only message here was "no one will listen to a Mormon, because they hate us." But at most, I think the message here is "if a Mormon without any deep roots in or even much of a relationship with the Christian rights decides, for some mix of personal conviction and political calculation, to make a play for Christian right voters against a former Southern Baptist preacher, one that will not be above making jokes and comments here and there to demonstrate his bona fides to his core supporters, prepare to not win." The anti-Mormonism out there--which surely is real, but is just as surely, I think at least, to be mostly implicit and/or subconscious and/or in the eye of the beholder--is just going to be the (admittedly somewhat bitter) icing on your farewell cake.

21 comments:

matt said...

I think the fact that you place yourself and Romney into a common "tribe" overlooks the very marked differences between your respective "tribes": you're a member of the working class, who didn't have enough money for a babysitter last week. He has absolutely no clue what that's like and never will. You seek a cultural, communitarian conservatism in response to your perceptions of alienation in society and community. Romney's class contextualizes his conservatism quite differently: a sanctimonious set of economic and moral principles (often at odds) in order to control the rabble and reap the profits--and keep people like you firmly in your place.

The fact that one religious fantasy triumphed over another, was deployed against other in the first place, concerns battles that you certainly have a stake in, but not that you control. If you were ever to meet Romney personally, he might give you a firm ward handshake or the proverbial, impersonal one armed bishop hug, but after your meetings, he'd go back to making decisions and implementing policies that absolutely and unhesitatingly f*** over people like you, me, our spouses, and our children. That's the "business model," and in a world where the economic overwhelms the religious and political, the business model supercedes the gospel (but doesn't hesitate to use it in its favor).

So I guess my answer to your question is: Wrong question to ask. Wrong ballpark. Wrong sport.

Anonymous said...

A strange world in which a philosophy professor is "working class."

Russell Arben Fox said...

Matt, your comments are hard, but I don't doubt they are essentially accurate. I'm committed to my "religious fantasy," and I really do believe that it affords at least some sort of common "ballpark" even between someone like Romney and me...but I'll also concede that the odds are extremely good that our shared ballpark/tribe/whatever wouldn't be enough for someone committed to elite capitalist finance to recognize the human cost to his brothers and sisters when he puts a company out of business.

Anonymous, believe it or not, I actually wrote a bit about that idea, way back when.

matt said...

The distinctions may not be perfect, but they are accurate enough. You can mitigate their exactitude but not their essence.

Russell, I didn't even mean to be harsh. I only mean to emphasize that the transcendence of socioeconomic hierarchy is a prerequisite to your vision, and that ignoring that sometimes tends to feed the machine rather than merely ... ignorning it.

Paul Ding said...

"Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity."

Romney is a chameleon that tells every group what he thinks they want to hear, and a man who stands for nothing will fall for anything.

I'm more inclined to be distrust fundamentalists than Mormons, yet I find Huck appealing. He admits that there are conflicts between the Bible and the Constitution, and his suggestion that we need a Constitutional amendment for right-to-life tells me that he considers the Constitution important.

Traditionally, Republicans have been conservatives, not neo-cons. Traditionally, Republicans have been *for* vaccinating your kid so he doesn't pass along something my kid gets; universal health care is a logical extension. Republicans have been *for* keeping government out of your bedroom and mine, and for handling things at the local or state levels of government; logically, a constitution amendment against gay marriage isn't a Republican idea. (I might point out that half a century ago, marriage was defined as being between one man and one woman OF THE SAME RACE in many states. Should a ban on miscegnation be part of the "defense of marriage?) Republicans have been for balanced budgets because running deficits is a tax called "inflation" that hurts all. Republicans have favored having a strong defense, and not a strong offense, such as fighting "pre-emptive" wars. For that matter, traditional Republican policy has been for requiring wars to be declared, as the Constitution demands.

You shouldn't hate Huck for religious reasons. You should hate Romney for embarassing the Latter Day Saints, just as Greek Americans hate Agnew.

Alan Jacobs said...

Hey Russell, I’ve posted a comment on this over at The American Scene.

Jim said...

All this talk of class warfare is just as ill informed and ill thought out as race or religious warfare, exactly for the fact that "class" "race" nor "religion" makes the man. This argument is just as likely to result from misplaced anger, or envy.

Plus, I think despite his failings he has done the "tribe" proud.

As far as Huck the Political Whore goes, he plays the religion card in the same manner as the KKK used to play the race card - to demean and to destroy.

While not physically violent, it is both mentally and culturally violent. As it was, coming from a presidential candidate, it was absolutely chilling.

I don't "hate" him, but I cannot trust him either. My initial reaction was much like yours, and most peoples, but once I got past his Gomer Pyle image, and saw the manipulativeness, the hate, the envy, the twisting of facts, for what they were, there was no going back. He doesn't just use slimy tactics, he is slimy in his heart.

Mud said...

"Well, maybe. Maybe if you can show that Governor Huckabee, in choosing his words and his target, is implicitly (or maybe even explicitly) making his opponent seem like an unChristian, untrustworthy, unauthentic human being, and doing so in ways that align very well with anti-Mormon rhetorical tropes. That is, maybe if you can show that Huckabee really has been stoking the fires of bigotry, then you might have a case against him."

I thought the "Don't Mormons believe that Jesus and Satan are brothers" comment was exactly that.

Jim said...

Mud - "hear hear." It was indeed "just that."

Rob said...

I've been convinced since the Jesus/Satan comment that Huck was leaving code words which meant "I'm the true Christian." There doesn't need to be an undercurrent of direct bigotry in order for that signal to announce a better match for Evangelical voters than Romney would have been.

Huck doesn't get my support in part because the policies are wrong, but also because a) he can't hold his own against a Dem nominee of any stripe, in my opinion and b) he's ridden the currents of that Christian-only bigotry to the wins and second places he did get.

Had Romney been a Catholic, I think the trends would have been more or less identical.

Adult Mormons (not the missionaries, who live in a kind of cultural eco-pod, to be truthful) have long since learned exactly how to get along with people like him. But mostly, I oppose him on policy grounds. I'm far more upset about the McCain quasi-chicanery during the WV caucus than I am about the Huck's affable un-bigotries.

Then again, Romney bought his supporters tickets to those Iowa straw polls, so maybe it's all just goose sauce. Ah... politics.

No need to defend Romney further; he'll be fine, and the PR boost for Mormons will turn out to be net positive, I think.

I have *got* to stick your blog back into my RSS feeds, Russell. You write good.

Russell Arben Fox said...

Matt, I didn't mean that you were personally harsh; I know the respect you have for those of us struggling to realize socially democratic ends within a what is in some ways a fundamentally conservative mindset. I meant that what you said was hard, because with your respect comes serious doubts in our whole project, and there's a lot of hard truth behind your doubts, truths that sometimes religious progressives like myself often want to ignore.

Paul Ding, I like your willingness to rethink conservatism; that is, to a great extent, what I would like to think I'm doing as well. Unfortunately, without doing the sort of criticism which religion sometimes discourages, it's very easy to allow the Republican party to define conservatism for you...which means that for a fair number of Mormons, a neoconservative agenda is unproblematic (though of course, it should be!).

Alan, thanks much for the link and your thoughts.

Jim and Mud, I've gone over this here and at Times and Seasons, and I'll just have to repeat: I'm willing to accept that Huckabee has been occasionally slimy, and that at least some of his sliminess has involved making peripheral use of extent anti-Mormon tropes in some of his words and actions. More than that, I just can't accept. Huckabee, filled with contempt and distrust and acting like an anti-Mormon Klansman? Sorry, I don't see it.

Rob, thanks for the compliment! Glad to see you around here again; I hope you'll stick around.

Jim said...

Russell - thank you for some fine thoughts and posts.

I think I understand your unwillingness to ascribe real consequential nastiness to Huck, as he does come across as very likeable and really a nice guy.

Over the course of the campaign, however, the more I paid attention to him, the more I came to distrust, and even loathe him. Once I quit buying his innocence persona, I could never go back. Let me tell you why:

1. He feigns innocence and ignorance in regard to Mormons.

His satan/Jesus remark was just an uninformed question. BS. The man spent years as an SBC preacher and leader, immersed in the ideology of a religion that to this day teaches that the LDS church is "false, not Christian, a cult, has no legitimacy."

2. He uses religion as a wedge.

Were huck to use religion solely as an affirmative identity pitch ( I am one of you) I would have absolutely no qualms about the man. But he uses the issue as a negative wedge (you are not one of us and therefore not legitimate.) His speech at the Family Research Council conference where he stated that the "language of Zion" should be a "mother tongue" ( I am legitimate because it is my native land) and not a language of convenience (Romney is not only an outsider but an imposter, and by definition so is his religion).

3. When given multiple opportunities to defend the idea of Mormonism as a legitimate faith, he declined to do so. (again citing ignorance)

I fully understand that to do so would be risky with his base, and is against his ideological underpinnings. I could overlook that failure to renounce religious bigotry in one seeking just about any office other than a national one, and most of all NOT in the POTUS.

All minority groups depend on the Chief Executive to protect and uphold their rights and by extension their legitimate claims to an unhindered life in the public sphere.

Considering all of the above (and more) in regards to Huckleberry, I cannot believe that he would do so in regards to us. When push comes to shove comes to blows, he will do nothing that we have come to depend on presidents since at least Eisenhower to do.

Now, that said, I don't know anything of your background, Russell, so let me explain where I am coming from. I was raised in an old Idaho family where memories of the persecutions and egregious wrongs heaped upon the saints by both citizens and government, at every level, were relatively fresh. So to have a candidate for POTUS come along and consciously reopen old wounds, to in short order replay the era from 1847, when my great grandfather was driven from Missouri, to 1896, when Utah became a state and Mormons gained some finite sense of legitimate citizenship, was appalling. At best.

Perhaps I am over-reacting. Perhaps America in the 21st Century is a place where we have integrated and have full citizenship. Trouble is, over the course of this campaign, I have been rudely disabused of that hope.

Huck represents something of a return to the 19th Century, and I for one am not willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, nor the chance to so negatively influence the culture and progress of the US in regards to Latter Day Saints.

Rob said...

I can't completely agree with Jim, though I'm acutely aware, having been an LDS "Ward MIssion Leader" in the past, in the state of Kentucky, that the leaders of the Baptist denominations really do teach what Jim claims they teach.

The material is ever-present today in Washington, where I live and where Russell spent at least some of his youth. (I can't remember how long your family was in Spokane, Russell.)

Russell, I'm sure, knows all about the Four-Squares and how they feel about Mormons. And Ed Decker's bitter recriminative lies about Mormonism from his books, which were also produced here.

That stuff persists in Christian bookstores.

So, sure, Evangelical Christianity stewards all the old hoary lies. And they actively teach them to the kiddies. In Kentucky, our congregation lost a new convert to that material, handed to her by her old Baptist minister.

Like Jim, I also descend from an old Mormon pioneer family, (on one side) thrust out of Illinois and made to walk to Utah, where they settled in Kaysville and Las Vegas.

Even with that shared context, I know full well how a news reporter can bend statements out of context, because it's happened to me when I've been quoted on local political issues.

Most of the rest can easily be ascribed to claims of being the "true religious conservative," which is a quasi-valid criticism against Romney. The politics he had to play to win election in MA simply provide too much ammo for ideologues like those who would follow the Huck into power.

What remains is Huck's direct use of Evangelical metaphor in order to differentiate himself. I think we don't need to ascribe that to malice, as long as we acknowledge that a tribally based bigoted underpinning, namely the bookstore stuff about Mormons, is always at work in that faction.

Jim said...

Rob - I like much of your thinking, even as I must disagree with it. If Huck had simply been taken out of context once or twice, I could see myself giving him the benefit of the doubt as you have done. However, as he said in his "Christian Leader" commercial, his faith defines him in all circumstances. And as his Arkansas record shows he is being honest. He does not, or cannot define himself in the public sphere as a leader of all citizens regardless of religion, but only as a leader of "Christians." He fit very well in heavily evangelical Arkansas.

He's smooth, he's engaging, he's on the surface non-threatening. I would challenge you to do two things - scratch the surface a bit deeper, and take him at his word. He is not benign.

Rob said...

I refuse to hate him. First, it doesn't work. Second, he won't win the nomination, so an expenditure of energy is not warranted. Third, in about 30 minutes I'll be caucusing for Obama anyway.

Fourth, I like the idea of "malice toward none, with charity for all... to bind up the nation's wounds." Some smart guy said that, once. Or his speechwriter did. Did they have speechwriters, in the antebellum time?

Jim said...

Rob - I don't hate the man either, even with the attacks on Mitt. I fully subscribe to Lincoln's words and meaning.

I do however, harbor bone-deep mistrust of the candidate. I don't believe Huckabee espouses those same ideals. He is far too religiously partisan.

After Mitt, my second choice is BHO. Go for it!

Russell Arben Fox said...

Jim and Rob--

Man, you are guys are getting it all settled without me! Thanks for the enlightening back and forth. Clearly, we can all understand each other pretty well; our disagreements are probably more a result of different experiences, memories and political preferences skewing our perspectives one way or another, rather than anything fundamental. Nobody wants an anti-Mormon in the White House, any more than one would want a racist, or an anti-Catholic. Since I always approached Huckabee as a valuable messenger, rather than a likely leader, it is probably easier for me to forgive some things than others of our mutual tribe.

A couple of notes: I used "hate" purely for rhetorical effect (well, that and the alliteration); I can't imagine hate being a proper response to any political figure in a democratic society. And as for pioneer heritage, well, I had a grandmother who could connect back to Brigham Young, and a few other extended relatives that can follow their family lines back to the mid-19th century. But the stories and memories that we have (or at least the ones that have been most influential for me) are mostly late-19th century/early-to-mid-20th century ones, in a world where Utah Mormondom, at least, was fairly well established. No ancestor's at Haun's Mill that I can think of. So, make of that what you will.

Interesting to see the Obama love. I'm intrigued by the man, though mostly as a way to make certain Senator Clinton doesn't become president (I don't hate her either, but I just don't want the 1990s to return). Since I figure the Republicans are going to completely crater in November 2008, an Obama vote seems like a strategically wise thing to do.

Jim said...

Russell - Thanks for hosting a meaningful discussion. It is worthwhile if only to sort out conflicting thoughts and clarify emotional responses.

As far as Obama is concerned - go figure. That those insular, racist, secretive cultists could relate to a "clean and articulate" black man, what is this world coming to?

Rob said...

Russell, rhetorical effect stipulated, of course.

I'm now back from the WA State caucus, which of course is certain to be second-guessed by all the media. And I see at this hour that CNN reports Obama 67% to Clinton's 32%, which reflects the results from my precinct.

I got to be tally clerk, and a cohort of mine (a minion? he's in my Elder's quorum...) served as precinct secretary. The back-and-forth, and the fact that the turnout was three times usual for an event like this, were both very interesting.

I may blog about my experience on my own, both from a religious angle, at onemormon.org, and personally, at parasiticmeme.com. Yeah, they're poorly updated. But I had a few things to say about O'Donnell two months ago...

And I see they've called Kansas for Huck. Does this mean Mormons should hate Kansas? What do you think, Russell? ;-)

Bits said...

I find this a very surprising and uninformed blog entry. The SBC went on a relentless campaign against Mormonism with a series of articles just in time for Huckabee. A fax was leaked from his campaign urging pastors to round up the votes...and how to use the right code to keep their tax exemption. If this isn't enough, there is always this study: http://politicspress.blogspot.com/2008/01/flip-flopper-label-anti-mormon-bias.html I came of age in the Civil Rights movement and I find the denial of something so blatant not just puzzling but disturbing.

Rob said...

@Bits - It's fair to say that the Evangelical movement has motivated itself against Romney because of its innate bias against Mormons, which is based on long-refuted bigotries. It is no surprise that such people organized against Romney and supported one of their own tribesmen.

It's also a depressing state of affairs, because of what it means about the thought processes of the faction currently in power. But enough has been said about that particular henhouse wolf.

It's also fair to say that Huckabee capitalized on that bigotry, if only to receive the bigoted supporters who could not think of a Mormon as the same species of human. In my opinion, that alone disqualifies him for national office.

But what is not conclusive is whether Huckabee actually shared the worst traits of his faction. Therefore, as Romney graciously did, I choose to believe him when he says he bears the LDS people no ill will, even if doing so is only the embrace of a polite fiction. I reserve the right to change my mind if his behavior changes.

Mormons have to make their way peaceably through a world where there are people aligned against them. Evangelicals and Baptists on the "right", with growing militant atheisms from the "left", kind of spells out that in the eyes of any ideologue, no Mormon will fit the bill. Damned if you do, and if you don't.

It is not worth torpedoing possible future humanitarian efforts in common with Evangelicals, to carry a torch against Huckabee.