Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Were Huckabee's Veep Chances Hurt by His Being a Pastor?

US News and World Report writer Paul Bedard quotes Baptist minister Richard Land as saying that Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee's didn't become Senator John McCain's running mate, in part, because Huckabee is an ordained minister. Writes Bedard:
With the mounting complications over John McCain's pick of Sarah Palin as his running mate, some conservatives have been asking why the expected Republican nominee didn't choose former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who won eight GOP primary and caucus contests and appeals to the same Christian social conservatives who have hailed the Palin pick. After all, Huckabee has more executive experience, was vetted by the media during the primary season, and honed his debating skills in myriad televised matchups. The answer, according to Richard Land who heads the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, is pretty simple. Huckabee is an ordained Baptist minister and, Land says, "polls show that 15 to 20 percent" of the electorate don't think a minister should be president. There's that, and the fact that economic conservatives are not fans of Huckabee, says Jim Wallis of Sojourners. So Huckabee, in the end, had a trifecta working against him: his ordination, his support of a scheme to replace federal income taxes with a national retail tax, and, ultimately, his gender.
Huckabee's economics may have hurt him. His gender, in an election year when it was only sensible for McCain to ask a woman to join him on the ticket, may have also hurt Huckabee.

His ordination probably did hurt Huckabee, especially because he's a Republican. A person with Huckabee's background and credentials would far likelier win a place on a Democratic national ticket than on a Republican one.

Let me explain.

Had the Ohio governor not withdrawn his name from consideration the vice presidency, I believe that the campaign of Senator Barack Obama would have taken a hard look at Ted Strickland as a running mate. Strickland is an ordained Methodist pastor.

In the end, Strickland's lack of high profile experience in foreign policy, something that Obama desperately needed to shore up his own total inexperience in this area, probably would have kept the governor from being on the ticket.

But I believe that his status as a clergy member, not to mention being from Ohio, enhanced his attractiveness for Obama's handlers, fueling speculation about him as a Veep choice long after he had emphatically taken his name out of consideration.

Simply put, a Christian clergyperson who is a Democrat plays against type, at least these days. The general public expect Christian clergy to be Republicans. (Few will remember that the 1972 Democratic nominee for president was also an ordained clergyperson, Senator George McGovern.)

For Republicans, of course, the calculus for constructing a national ticket must necessarily differ from that of the Democrats.

The GOP has become so associated with the conservative evangelical wing of Protestantism that bringing the evangelical Protestant preacher Huckabee onto the ticket would only have confirmed the negative view of such an association on the parts of independent and Democratic voters John McCain will need in order to stand up to Hurricane Obama.

Had former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani been nominated by the Republicans, he would have likely jumped at having someone like Huckabee on his ticket.

As it is, of course, McCain has selected someone that conservative evangelicals seem to like in Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. But she brings other attributes to the ticket as a woman and young mother.

Irrespective of what percentage of the electorate say that they would not be inclined to vote for a clergyperson for president, I think that the right candidate of that background could change some minds.


So, Land may be right about why Huck didn't become Mac's vice presidential running mate. But don't be surprised if a clergyperson does end up on a national ticket in the near future.

If that happens, it's far likelier that the candidate will be a Democrat than a Republican. A Christian clergyperson with the right combination of social sensibilities and policy positions could very well break the Red/Blue logjam that's harmed the country for so long and forge a new working majority for her or his party.

[See also: Should Clergypeople Be Elected to Public Office?]

[UPDATE: In spite of having run for office myself four years ago, I've reached the conclusion that it's a bad idea for clergypeople to run for public office myself, a conclusion I reached in the 'Should Clergypeople Be Elected to Public Office? But I object to it more from the vantage point of what's good for the Church than what's good (or bad) for the State.]

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2 comments:

smitty1e said...

Nit: "clergyperson"?
I think Mike Huckabee is a great American, an engaging speaker, and someone with whom I could enjoy a cup o' joe.
Two points:
1) Separation of church and state is as beautiful now as when Jesus answered the question on paying taxes. It would be all swell and spiffy for someone adhering to Smitty's own, personal, right wing reactionary approach to the Bible to be elected. Or would it? Is that a good precedent? Am I happy with the possibility of a Rabbi/Iman/Wiccan/Buddhist getting elected? I certainly should be, in a pluralistic society, but it seems a more convenient precedent to separate the evangelical zeal from the office.
2) My beloved old pastor stated explicitely that he thought the ministry itself was a higher calling, and that elected office would be a demotion. This is a subjective point, and not as strong as the first one, but it seems to get at the motive for pursuing office. All of the names on the tickets have substantial histories of public service. Running for (V)P is in character. Ordained people running for office seems kind of out of character, IMO.

Mark Daniels said...

Smitty:
In spite of having run for office myself four years ago, I've reached the conclusion that it's a bad idea for clergypeople to run for public office myself, a conclusion I reached in the 'Should Clergypeople Be Elected to Public Office? But I object to it more from the vantage point of what's good for the Church than what's good (or bad) for the State.

Mark