If anyone from Bush’s inner circle is going to defend Mike Huckabee’s Christian-centered presidential campaign, you’d think it would be Peter Wehner. Not only is Wehner, the former White House director of strategic initiatives, a self-described evangelical Christian conservative, but he also helped oversee Bush’s faith-based office. It’s not like the separation of church and state would be high on Wehner’s priority list.
And yet, in an interesting WaPo op-ed today, Wehner said Huckabee’s emphasis on religion is giving him a “queasy feeling,” because the former governor’s tack is “disturbing.”
After noting a litany of recent examples — the “Christian leader” ad, the talk of being God’s anointed candidate, the theological shots at Mormons, and the “birth of Christ” ad — Wehner suggests Huckabee is confused about his goals.
This is a man who, in 1998, when explaining to a Baptist pastors conference why he got involved in politics, answered, “I got into politics because I knew government didn’t have the real answers, that the real answers lie in accepting Jesus Christ into our lives. . . . I hope we answer the alarm clock and take this nation back for Christ.”
Now isn’t that odd — a former pastor who leaves his ministry so he can get involved in politics because he “knew government didn’t have the real answers.”
Well, sure, when you put it that way, it is odd.
Wehner ends up focusing on how very unusual all of this, asking whether Huckabee is “playing the Jesus card in a way that is unlike anything we have quite seen before.”
Invoking one’s faith is not unprecedented in American politics and is not, by itself, disconcerting. It can even be reassuring. But it is also fraught with danger. If certain lines — inherently ambiguous lines — are crossed and faith becomes a tool in a political campaign, it can damage our civic comity and our politics and demean our faith. […]
Mike Huckabee, by all accounts a faithful Christian, may not have crossed any bright lines yet — but he’s edging close to them. He should pull back now, before his political ambitions injure what he claims to care about, and undoubtedly does care about, most.
All of this sounds quite persuasive, but I was on a radio show yesterday with my friend Bill Simmon who raised a good point: as aggressively as Huckabee is pushing a line, and as uncomfortable as he’s making a lot of people feel, there’s an upside — at least there won’t be any surprises from this guy.
In other words, Huckabee’s candidness has the benefit of transparency. There’s no real wink-wink here; Huckabee is laying it out there for all to see — on matters of faith, he’s a right-wing evangelical creationist who has admitted publicly that he wants to help take the nation “back for Christ.” It’s better for Americans to see that and evaluate those beliefs accordingly, than for Huckabee to believe this and keep his agenda under wraps.
To a certain extent, Huckabee is undermining American political norms and using Christianity in ways no credible, modern candidate has. But at a minimum, at least we know what we’re getting.