January 21, 2008
Mike Huckabee: "All Things to All People"
How Huckabee's "cosmopolitan" faith helps him reach out to both the old and new guards of evangelicalism.
What is a "cosmopolitan evangelical," and how does he or she differ from an everyday evangelical, if there is such a thing? Several sociologists have commented on a perceived shift in American evangelicalism's image, goals, and rhetoric, most notably Michael D. Lindsay, author of Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite. He thinks that if you want to see what this new breed of evangelical looks like, you only have to look as far as Mike Huckabee, who indisputably had the vote of conservative Christians to thank for his Iowa victory two weeks ago.
Huckabee, though quite comfortable with speaking publicly about his personal relationship with Christ, his conservative views on religious hot-button issues like gay marriage and abortion, and even God's providential role in his Iowa win, nonetheless differs from many conservative evangelicals before him, especially those in the Religious Right.
"I'm a conservative, but I'm not mad at anybody," Huckabee often says, and when once asked whether the Christian life was the best way of life, he answered, "Well it is for me..." but that he didn't want to come off as "judgmental, caustic or pushy." As David Brooks of The New York Times recently noted, "Huckabee is the first ironic evangelical on the national stage. He's funny, campy (see his Chuck Norris fixation) and he's not at war with modern culture." In other words, you won't hear Huckabee talking about his push to "take back America" anytime soon.
As last Saturday's South Carolina primary ended with Huckabee in second place behind John McCain by only a 3-percent margin, and Super Tuesday comes in two weeks, some pundits say Huckabee's success will rely largely on his ability to appeal to members of both the old and new guards of American evangelicalism, all the while appealing to non-evangelical American voters as well. As Lindsay writes on the blog The Imminent Frame,
Mike Huckabee must straddle the divide between the populists [old-guard evangelicals] and the cosmopolitans, convincing both that he is one of them. It's a difficult balancing act, but Huckabee is singularly poised to unite both camps. Like Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, he is able to exist on the margins of different groups and yet seem like an insider. To win, a candidate must appear as comfortable before factory workers as he is before titans of industry. Huckabee's cosmopolitan faith helps him become all things to all people.
Jay Tolson, writing for U.S. News and World Report, echoes Lindsay's observation on the "Faith Matters" blog:
Whether Huckabee will learn to connect with a larger part of the electorate - or even see the need to do so - should become apparent in the coming primaries, particularly in Florida, a state with a strong core of evangelical voters but also a very diverse collection of other voters broadly representative of the American mix. . . . And how he comes through that trial may tell us as much about the new evangelicals as it does about Mike Huckabee.
Fortunately, the new evangelicals don't have to rely solely on a presidential win by Mike Huckabee to determine the strength of their voice in today's political arena.