Leader Blues

Friday, December 26, 2008

EDITORIAL >>Complaining won’t help

Mike Huckabee has a fresh complaint about the way the media covered his campaign for president. It turns out that Huckabee resented people referring to him as “a former pastor.” He is convinced that they did that to “minimizalize” his career in political office dealing with serious issues of government. Oh, he was just a Baptist preacher so what would he know about running the country?

What next? Will Sen. John McCain denounce the people who kept referring to him as a former prisoner of war? McCain was a United States congressman and senator longer than he was a POW. Huckabee told a crowd at the Clinton School last week that he was a lieutenant governor and governor longer than he was a pastor although to be factual the lieutenant governor is a ceremonial office whose occupant does not deal substantively with the issues of governance. He was governor for 10 ˝ years and a pastor for 12 years but a worker in the ministry for longer.

Huckabee was defined as a presidential candidate by his assertion of religious leadership and McCain by his courageous triumph over his long captivity in Vietnam. Such success as both men had in the presidential campaign in 2008 owes directly to admiration of both men for those life experiences and their skillful exploitation of the past.

Throughout the campaign, Huckabee was guest pastor at churches in primary states. It was a staple of his campaign. He organized fellow evangelical preachers, which became a pivotal part of his effort in the caucuses in Iowa and in the early primary states.

Before the Iowa caucuses in January, Huckabee rallied evangelical ministers, who led the big turnout of worshippers who gave him the big victory that catapulted him to the top tier of candidates. It was called the Renewal Project and it funded a pastors’ convention at Des Moines before the caucuses. The Renewal Project did the same during the next few weeks, in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida and Texas. He rounded up the support of big TV evangelists and worked to turn pastoral gatherings into Huckabee rallies and fund-raisers.

Frequently throughout the campaign, Huckabee made references to his faith and to his work as a pastor, which he said brought him into personal contact with all the social pathologies that confront the country. In his Iowa campaign, his TV commercials carried the words “Christian leader” beneath his picture and a glowing cross behind him (unintentional, he said).

Actually, in the debates, in news stories and in TV and radio broadcasts, Huckabee was almost never referred to as a former preacher and then only after mentioning his considerable years as a governor. It was mentioned about as often as Barack Obama’s early career as a community organizer and it clearly had a far bigger role in Huckabee’s success than Senator Obama’s few years as an organizer in Chicago’s poor neighborhoods had in his nomination and election.

But Governor Huckabee was only hinting at his real point. He faltered because he could never expand his appeal much beyond the evangelicals who thought his ministry of conservative churches and his embrace of the churches’ social doctrines was the core of who he was. That failure cannot be laid at the door of the media for occasionally mentioning that he was a preacher, but to the narrow dimension of his own campaign.

He is deeply engaged in running again in 2012, thus his new book and his book-signing tour of early caucus and primary states: Iowa, South Carolina, and Florida. He needs to shed his image as a one-dimensional evangelical while holding the loyalty of the base that he built so well. That will be hard to do, particularly with Gov. Sarah Palin cutting deeply into his conservative church constituency.

Talking knowledgeably and rationally about the real issues confronting the country will do it. Complaining about deeds that never occurred won’t.