Present at the Creation

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Those anxious to get up to speed on Huckabee and religion should hie themselves to Zev Chafets’ New York Times Magazine piece (“The Huckabee Factor”) and to Liz Clarke’s story in today’s Washington Post (“A Higher Power”). Chafets has the longer and fuller account, but Clarke has some critical additional information–most critically, in my view, Huck’s attendance at the 1980 Public Affairs Briefing in Dallas, which was the birthplace of the Religious Right as a national force. The Briefing was cooked up by GOP operatives and prominent evangelicals as a way to turn white evangelicals into Republican voters and activists. At the time, Huck was the publicity guy for the Fort Worth evangelist James Robison, who was one of the big dogs on the religious side. That Huck should seem to show–and in some sense does show–the face of a new kind of political evangelicalism needs to be put together with the fact that he was present at the creation, and in a pretty significant role.
By comparison, George W. Bush came late to the party. His religious conversion didn’t occur until 1986 or so, and his first experience of evangelical politics was working in his father’s 1988 campaign. So under the circumstances, it’s easy to understand Huck’s distress at not having an easier time picking up the support of old comrades in arms like Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention. Some put this down to a kind of coming of age of the Religious Right, as if the leaders have learned over the years to emphasize electability over ideological purity. But the movement has always been about supporting the electable, beginning with George H. W. Bush, the anointed candidate of the party establishment whose primary opponents included two candidates who were much more in tune with religious conservatives–Jack Kemp and Pat Robertson. Huck is simply dealing with what has always been the case, and as a player on both the religious and political sides he’s got to know it. His posture of injury–why aren’t they supporting me?–must be considered a bit of an act.