You can't fight a "culture war" with alternate truths!

In today's WSJ, Peggy Noonan looks at Mike Huckabee and declares that the culture war is what drives his followers:

...the thing really pushing his supporters, is that they believe that what ails America and threatens its continued existence is not economic collapse or jihad, it is our culture.

They have been bruised and offended by the rigid, almost militant secularism and multiculturalism of the public schools; they reject those schools' squalor, in all senses of the word. They believe in God and family and America. They are populist: They don't admire billionaire CEOs, they admire husbands with two jobs who hold the family together for the sake of the kids; they don't need to see the triumph of supply-side thinking, they want to see that suffering woman down the street get the help she needs.

They believe that Mr. Huckabee, the minister who speaks their language, shares, down to the bone, their anxieties, concerns and beliefs. They fear that the other Republican candidates are caught up in a million smaller issues -- taxing, spending, the global economy, Sunnis and Shia -- and missing the central issue: again, our culture. They are populists who vote Republican, and as I have read their letters, I have felt nothing but respect.

But there are two problems. One is that while the presidency, as an office, can actually make real changes in the areas of economic and foreign policy, the federal government has a limited ability to change the culture of America. That is something conservatives used to know. Second, I'm sorry to say it is my sense that Mr. Huckabee is not so much leading a movement as riding a wave. One senses he brilliantly discerned and pursued an underserved part of the voting demographic, and went for it. Clever fellow. To me, the tipoff was "Don't Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?"

That was also the tipoff for Ann Althouse last month.

And it should have been the tipoff for me. It was only last week that I realized that Huckabee's real source of strength derives not so much from his religious conservatism or his stance against the "Culture War" (an unfortunate but persistent meme, by no means original to Huckabee), but by his deliberate pandering to Mormonphobia.

Or is that a word?

I don't know, but even if it is, I might be off a bit, because I don't think it's really Mormonphobia so much as it is fear of dilution of the definition of Christianity itself. It can't be overstressed that the type of religious diversity on the right that Romney represents is a dagger in the heart of fundamentalist Christians. They know that if Mormons are to be considered Christians, then fundamentalism becomes not the Christian truth, but a Christian truth. Alternative Christianity means all ways to Jesus are valid, including the Jesus who ran around with Native Americans in alien texts that might as well (from the fundamentalist point of view) have been scripted by L. Ron Hubbard.

Because I'm not threatened by alternative views of the Christian message, I didn't feel especially threatened by Romney on that level, so I missed the implications.

But to those who believe Christian social conservatism rises and falls with Biblical inerrancy (and only one Bible), we just can't have alternative Christianity in a Republican White House. I think that's a more powerful impetus than the position of Huckabee on the various social issues (which are not that different from other candidates).

That Huckabee has flipflopped on these social issues only highlights that his real appeal is to unite Christian fundamentalists over their core identity issue.

Larry Sabato looks at history, and draws a parallel between the Huckabee Iowa victory and Pat Robertson's 1988 surprise (which ultimately fizzled). He also compares Huckabee to Bill Clinton:

With his ardent band of socially conservative supporters, Robertson ran quite well in 1988 in the caucus states, where a few votes can go a long way. He won first-round caucus action in Alaska, Hawaii and Washington, and finished a strong second in Iowa with 25 percent of the vote. Of Iowa's 99 counties, Robertson carried 14, a mix of rural Republican counties and Democratic-oriented ones along the Mississippi River from Lee (Keokuk) north to Dubuque.

But Robertson bombed in the primaries, where turnouts are much larger. He not only failed to carry a single primary state, but did not come close to winning any of them. In New Hampshire (which votes next Tuesday, Jan. 8), Robertson drew only 9 percent of the Republican primary vote; in Florida (which holds a primary Jan. 29), he received just 11 percent. Even in South Carolina, arguably part of the Southern "Bible Belt," he won just 19 percent. (South Carolina's Republican primary this year is on Jan. 19.)

Exit polls for the 1988 Iowa Republican caucuses showed that roughly two-thirds of Robertson's support came from evangelicals. The challenge for Huckabee in Iowa and the contests beyond will be to hold a large share of the evangelical vote while building on this base to include a large array of non-evangelical voters as well. His ability to do so will determine whether Huckabee is the latest incarnation of Pat Robertson, or the second president in a decade to hail from "a place called Hope."

Hope not.

There's plenty of irony to go around here. As someone sick of the damned culture war and its endless perpetuation of identity politics, I have mixed feelings about the Romney-Huckabee religious purity battle. On one level, I welcome the broadening of religious diversity in the Republican Party that Romney represents. On the other hand, the potential for enormous disruption could possibly cause the circling of the fundamentalist Christian wagons to intensify, catapulting Huckabee the anti-Romney to number one place on the ticket. This would, I believe, result in a Republican loss, no matter who wins the Democratic nomination.

The best thing Romney could do for the GOP would be to exit the race now. Whether he realizes it or not, he's upsetting the apple cart, and I'm not sure that either he or most analysts understand the implications. He's an ideological threat to the backbone of the Culture War itself.

Which means I of all people should support him.

Oh the irony!

UPDATE: In a must-view interview by Richard Miniter, Tom DeLay weighs in on the various GOP candidates, and I couldn't help noticing one of his observations about Huckabee:'s obvious to me that Huckabee understands truth...
Does he mean truth with a capital "T"?

posted by Eric on 01.05.08 at 02:36 AM


With all due respect, the view that Mormonism isn't Christianity is hardly limited to "fundamentalist Christians" (however you choose to define them: I take your use of this rather imprecise term as indicative of a general lack of knowledge of the actual divisions within the Christian community).

Mormonism is a full-throated, modern version of Gnosticism, and as such, is absolutely not even remotely near to being part of Christianity.

To argue that Mormons are actually Christians is equivalent to arguing that Muslims are really Jews: there may be some common antecedents to both belief systems, and they may share some common practices, but they are otherwise as chalk and cheese.

All of this is not to say that Mormons aren't fine people: I'd be happy to have them as neighbors (as long as they didn't come around to proselytize me too often). But to suggest that they have anything to add to the Christian conversation from a theological standpoint is laughable at best, insulting at worst.

David Hecht   ·  January 5, 2008 10:30 AM

I watched Fox News last weekend and saw an interview with Chairman
Frank MacKay from the Independence Party of America, all I can
say is FINALLY. Even though I usually vote Republican, the party has
failed us on so much. Voting for an Independent ticket of
Bloomberg - Hagel would be really tempting.

Joe Maven   ·  January 5, 2008 11:16 AM

David said it very well. Christians are not threatened by Mormons as a dilution of Christianity. Most agnostics can't tell the difference between any religion, much less between sects of a particular religion. Romney is not threatening to Christians because of his Mormonism, but he does belong to what most Christians consider a weird, if benign, cult.

Huckabee may be a socialist, but he is consistent on culture, and that is the number one issue for many evangelicals. They view the degradation of our culture and values as the most important issue, even above the threat from Islamism. We can defeat the Islamists, but we cannot defeat our own sinful nature on our own, and to pretend otherwise is dangerous in the extreme. If you believe that America has been blessed by God in some way (a very popular idea across the political and cultural spectrum, at least to some degree), then the thought that we might lose that blessing because of our own behavior is distressing in the extreme.

That said, I don't necessarily feel that way, although I am what would be considered a fundamentalist. I am more interested in secular government being led by the most competent secular leader. If that leader happens to have a strong faith in God, then that is even better. I am generally leery of people who are anti-life and anti-individual.

Chris   ·  January 5, 2008 10:00 PM

I was ruined by Sam Clemens:

Living out West, the effects on my family are real. How can a farmer compete with a farm that is owned by the church? It isn't a church as much as it's a ownership club.

Haven't heard much about taxing churches lately. Vote Mormon and let the taxing begin.

OregonGuy   ·  January 6, 2008 1:16 PM

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