Should Catholics Like Mike?

When Mike Huckabee was a young man, he was guided by three principles: Abortion is murder; save sex for marriage; and recognize our duty to help the weak and the poor. Now as a Republican candidate for president, Huckabee says that, if elected, he would govern the nation by the same values.

It’s natural and warranted to view such political rhetoric with skepticism, but Huckabee deserves the benefit of the doubt. In his two terms as governor of Arkansas, he was that rarest of politicians: a Christian who successfully governed as one. Indeed, there is every reason to believe that he would make not only a good president, but an outstanding one.
This is good news, especially for Catholics: Huckabee is the most “Catholic” candidate since Bobby Kennedy in 1968 and Ed Muskie in 1972.
Huckabee signed into law every legal protection for unborn infants possible under Roe v. Wade, including parental notification for minors and informed consent for women. He passed legislation that made Arkansas only the third state to endorse covenant marriages, which have been shown to reduce divorce rates.
While those positions are consistent with the Christian right, he actually governed as a Christian humanist. He passed a law to dismiss poorly performing teachers, raised teacher salaries, and mandated arts and music education for students in grades one through six. He extended health care to uninsured children and made children of illegal immigrants eligible for state college scholarships. He convinced state voters to approve a $1 billion transportation package in 1999. And after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, forcing 75,000 people to flee to his neighboring state, he set up a command center to coordinate shelter and other relief efforts.
Huckabee’s policies worked. The state’s education ranking rose from 49th to 29th. The state had one of the “best records nationwide in lowering the number of its citizens without health insurance,” according to Governing Magazine.
His policies also won him praise. Time named him one of the nation’s five most effective governors; he was named chairman of the National Governor’s Association; Governing named him one of their top eight public officials in 2005.
It’s true that as a Republican presidential candidate, Huckabee has tacked to the right. He opposes universal health care. He favors getting rid of our progressive income tax structure and replacing it with a national sales tax, which would be more regressive than our current system. He opposed the Senate immigration reform bill and supports detaining, processing, and deporting those who are caught illegally trying to enter the country. {mospagebreak}
But in order to compete in the Republican primary field, Huckabee has had to adopt those positions. Already, Huckabee has drawn fire from the Club for Growth and Grover Norquist for raising taxes as governor. To expect him to advocate every policy consistent with Catholic social teaching is to assume, naively, that a candidate can win his or her party’s nomination by doing so. Such an expectation is simply imprudent.
With the possible exception of universal health care, there is little reason to believe that Huckabee favors any policy that would harm the poor or the weak. He opposes torture while detaining foreign prisoners. As a former Southern Baptist minister, he invokes Christian figures frequently. For example, he criticized a civil-union law this way:
The late Cardinal O’Connor decried a domestic partnership law [which provided that all couples who signed up, whether heterosexual or homosexual, would be treated the same as married couples] as legislating that “marriage doesn’t matter.” I agree with the Cardinal that marriage does matter. I would add that nothing in our society matters more. Our true strength doesn’t come from our military or our gross national product, it comes from our families. What’s the point of keeping the terrorists at bay in the Middle East if we can’t keep decline and decadence at bay here at home? The growing number of children born out of wedlock and the rise in no-fault divorce have been a disaster for our society. They have pushed many women and children into poverty and onto the welfare, food stamp, and Medicaid rolls.
Huckabee also uses Judeo-Christian imagery. According to veteran journalist Terry Mattingly, Huckabee asked religious leaders to open camps all over Arkansas to the evacuees from Hurricane Katrina, while urging the public to rally around this blunt public policy: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
His pro-life rhetoric, while less explicitly Christian, is compassionate and memorable: “Every child deserves the opportunity to discover and use his God-given gifts and talents. I have no desire to throw women in jail. I just want us to stop throwing babies in the garbage.”
Of course, Huckabee’s record and rhetoric won’t matter if he can’t win the Republican nomination, or at least be chosen as its vice-presidential nominee. And it’s true that Huckabee’s candidacy has flaws. First, he has no real foreign policy experience, although he points out that he has called out the national guard and traveled to foreign hotspots. Second, his history of having been a Southern Baptist minister will likely hurt him with secular voters. Third, his fundraising has been unimpressive. Fourth, his surname does not sound presidential.
But none of those flaws is necessarily fatal. He could name a running mate with foreign policy expertise, such as John McCain. His background as a Baptist minister is not likely to hurt him in such battleground states as Ohio or Florida. His fundraising will increase significantly if he wins in Iowa; according to Dean Barnett, winning the GOP nomination is worth about $60 million in contributions. And his last name — well, are we really going to disqualify a great candidate because his name isn’t sufficiently aristocratic?
More importantly, Huckabee’s flaws as a candidate are far outweighed by his strengths as a person. He has been married to his wife, Janet, for 33 years. His background is compelling — his mother was a secretary and his father a mechanic and fireman. He plays bass in a rock band, the Capitol Steps, which opened up for Willie Nelson. His humor tends to be witty and self-deprecating; after announcing that he would play in Clear Lake, Iowa, where Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens died in a plane crash, Huckabee said he would not be flying out of town that night. His policy papers are by far the most detailed and imaginative of all the Republican candidates.
For all of these reasons, Huckabee is surging in Iowa. Not only has he overtaken Rudy Giuliani in one poll, but he is also nipping at the heels of Fred Thompson for second place — and Mitt Romney is within striking distance.
Huckabee has already impressed an array of elite journalists and politicos — David Brooks, Dick Morris, John DiIulio Jr. Now he just needs to impress the American people.


Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Sign up to get Crisis articles delivered to your inbox daily

Email subscribe inline (#4)


  • Mark Stricherz

    Mark Stricherz is the author of Why the Democrats Are Blue: Secular Liberalism and the Decline of the People’s Party.

Join the Conversation

in our Telegram Chat

Or find us on

Editor's picks

Item added to cart.
0 items - $0.00

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Signup to receive new Crisis articles daily

Email subscribe stack
Share to...