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December 01, 2008

The future of the Republican Party-8: Compassionate conservatism versus brutal conservatism

(For the previous posts in this series, see here.)

If you look at his Wikipedia page, it becomes clear that Mike Huckabee is too pragmatic on economic issues for the Christianists. He is someone who as governor of Arkansas sought to find ways to solve the social problems that he faced, even to the extent of cutting deals with Democratic leaders rather that sticking rigidly to the lower-tax ideological script demanded by the Christianist leaders.

In late 1996, Huckabee campaigned for ballot Amendment 1, a plan to adjust property tax rules to make school funding more equal across the state, and Amendment 2, a constitutional amendment increasing the state sales tax 0.125 percent to improve the state's park system and natural resources.

On April 1, 1999, Huckabee signed into law a three cent increase in tax on gasoline and a four cent increase on diesel. Attached to the bill was a bond issue to pay for highway construction.

Huckabee also seems to be genuinely progressive on race, concerned about the state of the environment, and interested in trying to improve the conditions of the poor.

Huckabee proclaimed 1997 as a year of racial reconciliation by saying "Let every one of us make it our priority to bring reconciliation, not so much that we can force it or legislate it, because we cannot, but that we begin in each of our own lives to purpose in our hearts that we will not harbor anger, hostility, prejudice, bigotry and racism toward any person."

Huckabee signed legislation to create a health insurance program which extended coverage to children of lower-income families, to be funded in part by Medicaid, SCHIP, and a tobacco industry lawsuit settlement. The program, ARKids First, reduced the number of uninsured children to nine percent (compared with 12 percent for the nation) in 2003. Also in his first year as governor Huckabee signed a partial birth abortion ban and a $7.6 Million Smart Start program for primary school students to learn "the basic skills of reading, math, and character."

He was also not too hard-line on immigration issues.

Huckabee supported a 2005 bill by Arkansas State Representative Joyce Elliott to make some illegal immigrants eligible for scholarships and in-state college tuition, while vehemently opposing a bill sponsored by Arkansas State Senator Jim Holt which would deny state benefits to illegal immigrants, calling it "un-Christian."

All these actions were taken as signs of his lack of ideological purity and earned him the deep ire of the low-tax ideologues.

[T]he Club for Growth argues Huckabee increased state spending 65.3 percent (1996–2004) and supported five tax increases. . . Ernest Dumas of the Arkansas Times, a consistent Huckabee critic, responded . . . [that] Huckabee was "the biggest taxer and spender in Arkansas history." Former Arkansas State Representative Randy Minton (R) has said; "[Huckabee's] support for taxes split the Republican Party, and damaged our name brand." The group has pointed out that Huckabee publicly opposed the repeal of a sales tax on groceries and medicine in 2002, signed a bill raising taxes on gasoline in 1999, and signed a $5.25 bed-tax on private nursing home patients in 2001.
. . .
The Club for Growth accuses Huckabee of being a liberal in disguise, saying Huckabee increased state spending 65.3 percent (1996–2004) and supported five tax increases.
. . .
The Cato Institute, a libertarian non-profit public policy research foundation, gave Huckabee an "F" for spending and tax policy in 2006.

And this is the main hidden fault line that is dividing the Republican party. For all their professed concern about religion-based social issues, this group's fundamental allegiance is to an extreme form of free-market economics that serves mainly the interests of the very rich class. Any candidate that they approve of must support lower taxes (especially for the top echelons) and oppose any and all government programs that seem to benefit the poor.

These religious leaders have striven over the years to convince Christians that wealth is a sign of virtue and poverty is a sign of god's disapproval. Hence, by eliminating government assistance programs, poor people should be left to fend for themselves, to prove that they are worthy by raising themselves out of their situation without any assistance from the government, while the well-to-do deserve to be rewarded for their obvious good character by being given even more tax cuts and other benefits. These Christianists seem to take literally Jesus's words, "For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him." (Matthew 25:29)

They have partially succeeded with this message but they may be pushing it too far and alienating some of their base. Many Christians are not as callous as the Christianists are. They may think that they are entitled to a good life simply by virtue of being born-again Jesus lovers but they also believe in being their neighbor's keeper and are not comfortable turning away from people in dire need. They take Jesus's story about the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) as a prescription for action. Many are also concerned about the state of the environment and worry about the excesses of greed that have led to deep inequalities.

Huckabee's understanding of Christianity seems to push him in the direction of being an actual 'compassionate conservative' even though he remains religiously extreme, and the low-tax, ideology-driven religious right leaders did not want to have anything to do with him. While Huckabee may have fit the bill as far as social issues goes, he was too pragmatic and lacked gut-based, ideological approach to decision-making and the steely-eyed determination of Bush, McCain, and Palin.

In their rejection of Huckabee, these Christianist leaders are revealing a major fault line within the Republican party and showing themselves to be out of step with the values of many of their followers. Their rejection of the Huckabee candidacy reveals clearly more than anything else that their desire to serve the very rich triumphs over their so-called religious values.

This major schism within the Republican party is compounded by the rise of neoconservative influence within it, and this is what has driven the party off the rails.

Next: The Republicans' neoconservative problem.

POST SCRIPT: The Modern Apostle's Creed

What liberal Christians really believe.


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