I recall last summer while at the University of Nebraska, having dinner with Celia Applegate of the University of Rochester’s history department. We were joined by a German studies colleague (Brett) who was teaching at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock; I felt really bad because once I discovered he was in his final days at UALR, we spent the majority of the evening talking Arkansas history and politics. Well, as we all know, academics tend to be either liberal or extremely liberal. Brett, who is now at UNC, and I started talking about former governor Mike Huckabee, who represents the very opposite political position of many academics; he is a conservative Republican Baptist minister. I recall thinking that when brother Huck first occupied the thrown, he was a fool who knew little about education and public policy. After a few years, as both Brett and I stated, Huckabee became a far more likable person. He shifted more to the middle of the political spectrum and worked with Democrats on state reforms. As I was telling Brett, I was shocked that I liked this guy. I really liked his socialist healthcare policy for all children under 18 (?) called ARKIDS FIRST. I found him to be a populist; he had a desire to truly help the state and its people, regardless of race and ideological beliefs.
However, Arkansas is where the love ends. Huckabee is running for the White House on the religious right card. A recent article in The Economist titled Is America Turning Left? gave a nice historical draw on the role of the right, especially the Christian right, in shaping American politics. I was impressed when it started off by stating:
Thirty years ago Eric Hobsbawm, the dean of Marxist historians, chose as his subject, for the Marx memorial lecture, “The forward march of labour halted?” Things turned out even worse, for his side, than he had expected, thanks in part to the rise of a very American brand of conservatism. But are we now witnessing Mr. Hobsbawm’s revenge: the forward march of American conservatism halted?
I do not think so. Sure, if you turn on the TV to a religious station or attend any church service, you are going to hear that America is moving down an immoral path thus the end must be near. This Puritanical thinking has been espoused for centuries, starting with Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield, movers and shakers of the 1st Great Awakening; however, I have found an interesting twist to the religious historical processes as a shaper of mass politics: Starting in the late 1970s, those who supported Barry Goldwater in 1964, had unified to shape mass politics. Goldwater was the standard-bearer of the New Right. This Republican faction of conservative ideologues, fundamentalist Christians, and neo-populist voters deplored the liberal social, political, and economic trends of the 1960s and hoped to change it. Many of them were also against Civil Rights, a movement greatly endorsed then and today by liberals.
Just like the 1st and 2nd Great Awakening of the 18th and 19th century, evangelical leaders had been content to combat what they called the forces of Satan by asking all believers to join to save the souls of the lost. This action took place during religious crusades and revivals. The difference between this 3rd Great Awakening and that of the other two was TV. People no longer had to travel. A quick hit of a button had the religious right advocating political candidates to millions. Furthermore, it was Richard Viguerie, a right-wing publicist, who had marshaled the power of the computerized direct-mail advertising as a New Right unifier. This, as well as the message of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, served as an impetus to fighting leftism.
Mike Huckabee’s rhetoric worked for George W. Bush in 2004 as he shifted the focus from Iraq to that of homosexuality. In a recent Gallop Poll survey, conservatives who voted for W in 2004 believe they made the right call due to their fear of gay marriage, but they also contend that the Christian right convinced them into voting on a very narrow platform. I do believe that the United States has shifted towards the left, but not enough for us to see any major changes. Although, we do have a bi-racial candidate, a Hispanic candidate, and a woman competing for the White House. Of course, all three are from the same party.