January 07, 2008
Electing a president, not a preacher
Posted by: Chris
Mike Huckabee surprised everyone by winning in Iowa so convincingly last week. The Southern Baptist preacher turned out evangelical Christians and gave a shellacking to the buttoned-down businessman and the GOP’s establishment candidates.
If nothing else, the former Arkansas governor and his choir of evangelical caucus-goers sent a clear message that the social conservative wing of the Republican Party was alive and well and not happy with the national frontrunners -- who are either too moderate or converted too late for their liking.
It’s easy for to dismiss Huckabee with a chuckle as a fringe candidate, what with his outrageous views on quarantining AIDS patients and the “dangerous public health threat” of homosexuality. Even his more recent pronouncements, comparing gay people to thieves and worse and condemning our “aberrant lifestyle,” sound like the type of political sermonizing that died off years before Jerry Falwell finally kicked the bucket.
The actual threat represented by Huckabee isn’t that great, since the condensed primary calendar favors candidates with more money and a broader base of support. Even if somehow he won the Republican nomination, polls show any of the leading Democrats would wipe the floor with him in the general election.
Still his appeal is notable, not just for what it says about the state of things in the Republican Party, but also for how lesbian and gay voters react to it in response.
Are we as bad as those evangelical Iowans, expecting our own politicians to act like our generals in the Culture War? Does that mean we’re still fighting on the terms dictated to us by the “religious right”? Or are we confident enough finally to refuse to sink to their level?
Last year, President Bush’s Joint Chiefs chairman said that gays shouldn’t serve openly in the military because homosexuality is “immoral.” Gay Americans were infuriated with Peter Pace, the Army general, but we were also furious when Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama initially declined to say whether they agreed with Pace’s position on our moral status.
When both Democrats backtracked, they were essential sinking to Pace’s level – albeit on our side of the divide – and figuratively patted us on our heads, reassuring us that our relationships are moral in their eyes. Why do we still need to hear that, especially when it suggests our supposed “morality” is actually relevant in deciding whether gays belong serving openly in the armed forces?
Hillary Clinton, in particular, fell right into Pace’s trap – insisting we should rely on the Uniform Code of Military Justice to determine “immoral conduct” from our soldiers and sailors. But the UCMJ still outlaws sodomy, years after the Supreme Court struck down similar state laws. It’s really not the government’s business who we sleep with, and that includes our soldiers, unless it has a direct and measurable impact on combat readiness.
A similar morality play unfolded last fall when Obama caught flak for not rescinding an invitation his campaign extended to several black Gospel acts, including Grammy winner Donnie McClurkin, who claims the Lord delivered him from homosexuality.
Obama’s refusal enraged gay bloggers and activists, who demanded that he exclude from any public role in his campaign anyone who views us as immoral or our “lifestyle” as something to be delivered from. But considering Obama’s gay rights record is practically perfect, why do we care that his message of “unity” actually convinces some of our cultural enemies to support him for president?
If anything, our complaint should have been with Obama’s use of gospel acts at all to promote his candidacy, considering it’s the kind of tactic we would rightly deride when the Huckabees of the world employ it.
Much of the problem stems from our understandable desire to expect tit from friends when we get tat from our foes. Underneath that, however, we’re no doubt still looking for that approval from society we didn’t get at home, at school and certainly at church.
If we could only resist the temptation to fight the right on their own terms, and instead insist that their argument has no place at all in politics, we would demonstrate a remarkable level of maturity as a movement. We would also be reaching out to Americans still in the “mushy middle” on the morality of homosexuality but who can relate to being judged by a finger-pointing preacher – especially one running for president.
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