Columns » John Brummett

He talks, and talks, the talk

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A fellow posted an old newspaper article on his blog about a Mike Huckabee speech to a religious group in 1998. A friend faxed the article to me, then called to ask if I'd yet read it, which I had.

The friend believed strongly that the speech as reported in the newspaper amounted to an utter outrage.

Alas, I had to acknowledge that I was jaded after all these years to the hollowness of President-to-be Huckabee's easy rhetoric.

My friend said, yes, but this man essentially was saying that he wanted to establish his church as the state.

I said it didn't much matter. I said that, typically, all Huckabee actually was seeking by that speech was to regale an audience with words designed to impress only for the moment. I advised against spending a lot of time worrying about any real application.

My friend complained that Huckabee also was trivializing government even after he had chosen to make his bed with it, even as he was an agent of it. My friend observed that this is what Republicans do: They demean government while they seek positions in it, perhaps while they are in charge of it. They run as outsiders while insiders. They inoculate themselves against their own failures by ridiculing government.

Yes, that's what many of them do. Ronald Reagan said government wasn't the solution, but the problem. George W. Bush has run government as if not to make him a liar.

But, whether outrage or hollow cant, Huckabee's speech would provide a worthy column, I decided.

Huckabee gave this speech to a religious convention in Salt Lake City. According to the account at the time in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Huckabee proclaimed that he got into politics because politics didn't provide the real answers. He said the real answers could only be found in Jesus Christ.

In other words: He'd abandoned his minister's service to his holy one, who had the answers, so that he could enter this lesser secular field that didn't provide any answers.

You're thinking that surely I'm twisting or oversimplifying. So here's his direct quote, and you can decide: “I didn't get into politics because I thought government had a better answer. 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.”

That can only mean one of two things. One is that Huckabee is trying to become president so he can subjugate the role and influence of government to the role and influence of religion, presumably his own. That's a frightful prospect that, to be fully implemented, would require amending what our founders wrote in the Constitution. The other possibility, the operative one, I am certain, is that he simply was popping off to appeal for the occasion to a religious audience with agreeable and ingratiating words.

He was making a grandstand play, much as he's been making for months now in Iowa, where about a third of the Republican caucus-goers seem to have bought it.

Again I submit that he's as much a product of his disc jockey past as his preacher past. His pronouncements are no more sermons than in-studio performances. When the red light says “on air,” nice spoken words flow gracefully from Huckabee, but often without full attention or sensitivity to any impact beyond the moment.

Several weeks ago, amid a different dynamic as he met with reporters in Washington, Huckabee held forth admirably on how it was wrong for anyone to assert that his view of God ought to be imposed on politics.

The difference? The DJ was with a new station, one that had another programming format. He can do Christian rock. He can do Top 40.

Back in that real world — off stage, away from pulpit and out of studio — Huckabee will go along pragmatically with funding government adequately to attend to practical and even compassionate concerns about health care and education and infrastructure.

He's an economic pragmatist and populist third. He's a social conservative second. He's a performance artist first.

Sometimes he's better than he talks. Sometimes he's worse. But seldom is there a direct overlay.

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