Politics, Religion, and the Left

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.


14 thoughts on “Politics, Religion, and the Left

  1. Do not forget that Jimmy Carter, who was a Democrat, was part of the Conservative movement. Though, they attacked him also since he was in office and did not speak against the expansion of the government. He did little to argue aginst Roe v. Wade. Honestly, I just do not hear much about Huckabee. I hear he did well this weekend in Iowa.

  2. I did not know that. Buying votes, that is a new part of America’s democratic process. Think: You have to have $ to win. Thanks Kristi! I really did not know that about the Iowa poll. I guess brother Huck bought a few votes. He needs to get out.

  3. Pooling money and resources to achieve results is okay for labor unions and gay rights groups, for example, but should be frowned upon when Christians do it?

    I think Republicans are waiting for Fred Thompson to join the fray before committing to a candidate. Fred-mania has cooled somewhat since he keeps waiting to officially announce, but once he starts debating with the others on TV the real party race will begin… and it’s wide open. Huckabee is interesting… I want to see more of him.

    This is not the first year that a minority or a woman has run for President, nor was it constrained to the Democratic party. Your point about it being a modern trend now is quite true.

  4. If a minority or woman wins, it will go against what many having been saying for years: the first woman or minority president will come from the Republican side rather than from the Democratic Party.

  5. Oh they are not that short. But I wish conservatives would just let people be who they want to be. Not every person can be a Christian, or a Republican, or a conservative.

  6. I’m not a Huckabee fan, but awhile ago he impressed me when he talked about how social conservatives who railed against Bill Clinton for his marital infidelity needed to keep those principles in mind when considering the candidacies of guys like Giuliani and McCain.

    I appreciate the call for consistency: if we’re going to not like a politician because of their character, it shouldn’t matter which party they belong to.

  7. Huckabee is, at least as far as I’m concerned, one of the least scary Republican options. Now, obviously, I’m not for any of them, but he frightens me less than a lot of the other options.

  8. Huckabee is not scary because he has no chance. He is a southern Republican Baptist minister, that is scary enough. That is like a conservative watching a treehugger who favors gay marriage and believes global warming will end the world running for office. Notice: Gore is not running. Relax pundits. Oh, this person is from say Colorado.

  9. My wish list:

    1. Politicians ( I wish) will stop manipulating various demographic groups for a vote: women, blacks, gays, religious people, the rich, and the poor.
    2. Let people be people and live a productive life if it is not hurting others. Politicians need to stop playing groups against each other.
    3. A person who makes $60,000 or less to win the White House.

  10. What? I’m being manipulated based on my gender? How absurd. (Just kidding for all you people who might not get the sarcasm.) You should include the elderly in your list of demographic groups. I’ve seen my grandmother be persuaded simply by having her age played to.

  11. Amen, Carson. I like your wish list. However I think the least likely is #3, lol.

    They manipulate, and pit groups against each other because it works. If it didn’t work, they wouldn’t do it. As much as I fault politicians, I fault a public that goes along with it more. Humans are highly prone to categorize themselves and see those who are seemingly different as the “other.” Politicians do a great job at exploiting a natural disposition.

    It is sad. I think it’s up to us to not let them get away with it anymore. We’re all human .. it’s those Duck-Billed Platepie we have to worry about …

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