Unless he can rescue his tanking presidential ambitions, we have now witnessed the zenith and the nadir of the political life of Mike Huckabee, and both involve the narrow question of how Americans should treat declarations of human rights by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Those were the 1954 decision that the Constitution required the integration of public schools, which President Eisenhower enforced at Little Rock three years later, and the court's decision this June that the Constitution also required states to permit gays and lesbians to marry. Huckabee's celebrated stands on both questions share no resemblance in logic or law, and people can dispute which was his nadir and which his zenith.
Huckabee's lowest point, in my view, was the spectacle he created by leaping to the side of Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because her apostolic religion considered them sinners. His criticism of the marriage decision was unexceptionable, shared by every other Republican candidate — it is simply good politics, craven though many think it is — but not his assertion that court decisions are nothing more than pieces of paper that do not carry the force of law and need not be obeyed. To repudiate the whole concept of common law and the duty of courts to interpret the laws borders on anarchy and ought to be a disqualifier for anyone seeking to be president.
On the other hand, the preacher-governor's posturing at Davis' side might be sympathetically understood as simply a desperate bid to recapture evangelical voters who had fled to Scott Walker, Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.
Also, if your sympathies are with Huckabee you might consider his other great stand, the apex of his political life in my estimation and, I think, in his. That was his speech at Central High School on Sept. 25, 1997, on the 40th anniversary of the court-ordered enrollment of nine black students at the school. Gov. Orval E. Faubus had sent National Guardsmen to the school that day to keep the youngsters out.
Huckabee's widely praised speech and his symbolic escorting of the Little Rock Nine through the school's famous portals were his proudest moment. So proud was he of the speech that you can still find digital links to it on his presidential websites.
On that crisp morning in 1997 there was no talk by Huckabee of defying the law of the land that the Supreme Court had proclaimed in Brown v. Topeka but rather of upholding it in the face of massive opposition. Huckabee strove to outdo the president of the United States, Bill Clinton, who shared the dais and the national spotlight that day, in condemning the forces that tried to prevent the nine children from exercising the rights the Supreme Court had vouchsafed them.
"I think today we come to say once and for all that what happened here 40 years ago was simply wrong," he declared. "It was evil, and we renounce it. What the people did who tried to hold those nine from entering the doors of this high school may be forgivable, but it is not excusable."
Like Clinton, he did not name Faubus as the culprit who defied the court and denied the kids' their rights, but it was Huckabee's plan to make that point by, along with the president, escorting the Nine into the school to contrast himself with Faubus, who had ordered troops to keep them out.
There was no trace of the 2015 Mike Huckabee, who says court orders do not matter and that religious beliefs, whatever they are, should determine whether one obeys the law. His 1997 speech actually is a clear rejoinder to the 2015 Huckabee by recalling that Southern churches had condemned "forced integration" as a violation of the Word of God.
"What ... we today come to renounce," the 1997 Huckabee said, "is the fact that in many parts of the South it was the white churches that helped not only ignore the problems of racism, but in many cases actually fostered those feelings and sentiments." He called on Southern churches to join Christians, Jews and Muslims around the world in saying "never, never, never, never again will we be silent when people's rights are at stake."
He called on people in Arkansas to abandon their old racial animosities even if they were based on religion. But "until justice is the same for every human being whether he or she is black or white," he promised, "we will deal with it."
Government could force the doors of the schools open to all kids, the governor said, "but only God can give us the power to love each other and respect each other and share life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness with every American, regardless of who he or she is."
"... unless they are gay," the 2015 model Huckabee would add.
Even Faubus, it needs to be said, did not believe he or anyone should be able to defy court orders. He publicly claimed that he was trying to prevent disorder, though he would confide to me and to others years later that his brief defiance was necessary to mollify the great majority of voters who hated the decision. Much later he tendered the fatuous theory that he was the true hero because he forced the president of the United States to set an example for the entire South by enforcing the orders of the court at Little Rock.
Mike Huckabee will have a chance one day to reposition himself on the right side of history on gay rights, too. Unlike Faubus, he won't be meek about it.