The Evangelical Rebellion
The rise of Mike Huckabee as a presidential candidate represents a seismic shift in the tactics, ideology and direction of the radical Christian right. Huckabee may stumble and falter in later primaries, but his right-wing Christian populism is here to stay. Huckabee represents a new and potent force in American politics, and the neocons and corporate elite, who once viewed the yahoos of the Christian right as the useful idiots, are now confronted with the fact that they themselves are the ones who have been taken for a ride. Members of the Christian right, recruited into the Republican Party and manipulated to vote against their own interests around the issues of abortion and family values, are in rebellion. They are taking the party into new, uncharted territory. And they presage, especially with looming economic turmoil, the rise of a mass movement that could demolish what is left of American democracy and set the stage for a Christian fascism.
The corporate establishment, whose plundering of the country created fertile ground for a radical, right-wing backlash, is sounding the alarm bells. It is scrambling to bolster Mitt Romney, who, like Rudy Giuliani or Hillary Clinton, will continue to slash and burn on behalf of corporate profits. Columnist George Will called Huckabee’s populism “a comprehensive apostasy against core Republican beliefs.” He wrote that Huckabee’s candidacy “broadly repudiates core Republican policies such as free trade, low taxes, the essential legitimacy of America’s corporate entities and the market system allocating wealth and opportunity.” National Review’s Rich Lowry wrote that “like [Howard] Dean, his nomination would represent an act of suicide by his party.”
Huckabee spoke of this revolt on the “Today” show. “There’s a sense in which all these years the evangelicals have been treated very kindly by the Republican Party,” he said. “They wanted us to be a part of it. And then one day one of us actually runs and they say, ‘Oh, my gosh, now they’re serious.’ They [evangelicals] don’t want to just show up and vote, they actually would want to be a part of the discussion.”
George Bush is a happy stooge of his corporate handlers. He blithely enriches the oligarchy, defends a war that is the worst foreign policy blunder in American history and callously denies medical benefits to children. Huckabee is different. He has tapped into the rage and fury of the working class, dispossessed and abandoned by the mainstream Democrats and Republicans. And he refuses to make the ideology of the Christian right, with its dark contempt for democratic traditions and intolerance of nonbelievers, a handmaiden of the corporate establishment. This makes him a much more lethal and radical political force.
The Christian right is the most potent and dangerous mass movement in American history. It has been controlled and led, until now, by those who submit to the demands of the corporate state. But the grass roots are tired of being taken for rubes. They are tired of candidates, like Bush or Bill Clinton, who roll out the same clichés about working men and women every four years and then spend their terms enriching their corporate backers. The majority of American citizens have spent the last two decades watching their government services and benefits vanish. They have seen their jobs go overseas and are watching as their communities crumble and their houses are foreclosed. It is their kids who are in Iraq and Afghanistan. The old guard in the Christian right, the Pat Robertsons, who used their pulpits to deliver the votes of naive followers to the corporatists, is a spent force. Huckabee’s Christian populism represents the maturation of the movement. It signals the rise of a truly radical, even revolutionary force in American politics, of which Huckabee may be one of the tamer and less frightening examples.
Hints of Huckabee’s bizarre worldview seep out now and then. Bob Vander Plaats, Huckabee’s Iowa campaign manager, for example, when asked about his candidate’s lack of foreign policy experience, told MSNBC: “Well, I think Gov. Huckabee has a lot of resources that he goes to on national security matters. Here’s a guy, a former pastor, who understands a theological nature of this war as we’re fighting a radical religion in Islam.”
Robert Novak noted that Huckabee held a fundraiser last week at the Houston home of Dr. Steven Hotze. As Novak wrote, Hotze is “a leader in the highly conservative Christian Reconstruction movement.”
Huckabee has close ties with the Christian Reconstructionist or Dominionist branch of the Christian right. The Dominionist movement, which seeks to cloak itself in the mantle of the Christian faith and American patriotism, is small in numbers but influential. It departs from traditional evangelicalism. It seeks to redefine traditional democratic and Christian terms and concepts to fit an ideology that calls on the radical church to take political power. It shares many prominent features with classical fascist movements, at least as such movements are defined by the scholar Robert O. Paxton, who sees fascism as “a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cultures of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.”
Dominionism, born out of Christian Reconstructionism, seeks to politicize faith. It has, like all fascist movements, a belief in magic along with leadership adoration and a strident call for moral and physical supremacy of a master race, in this case American Christians. It also has, like fascist movements, an ill-defined and shifting set of beliefs, some of which contradict each other. Paxton argues that the best way to understand authentic fascist movements, which he says exist in all societies, including democracies, is to focus not on what they say but on how they act, for, as he writes, some of the ideas that underlie fascist movements “remain unstated and implicit in fascist public language” and “many of them belong more to the realm of visceral feelings than to the realm of reasoned propositions.”
Dominionism teaches that American Christians have been mandated by God to make America a Christian state. A decades-long refusal by most American fundamentalists to engage in politics at all following the Scopes trial has been replaced by a call for Christian “dominion” over the nation and, eventually, over the Earth itself. Dominionism preaches that Jesus has called on Christians to actively build the kingdom of God on Earth. America becomes, in this militant Biblicism, an agent of God, and all political and intellectual opponents of America’s Christian leaders are viewed, quite simply, as agents of Satan. Under Christian dominion, America will no longer be a sinful and fallen nation but one in which the Ten Commandments form the basis of our legal system, in which creationism and “Christian values” form the basis of our educational system, and the media and the government proclaim the Good News to one and all. Labor unions, civil rights laws and public schools will be abolished. Women will be removed from the work force to stay at home, and all those deemed insufficiently Christian will be denied citizenship.
Baptist minister Rick Scarborough, founder of Vision America and a self-described “Christocrat,” who attended the Texas fundraiser, has endorsed Huckabee. Scarborough, along with holding other bizarre stances, opposes the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine on grounds that it interferes with God’s punishment of sexual license. And Huckabee, who once advocated isolating AIDS patients from the general public and opposed increased federal funding in the search for a cure, comes out of this frightening mold. He justified his call to quarantine those with AIDS because they could “pose a dangerous public health risk.”
“If the federal government is truly serious about doing something with the AIDS virus, we need to take steps that would isolate the carriers of this plague,” Huckabee wrote. “It is difficult to understand the public policy towards AIDS. It is the first time in the history of civilization in which the carriers of a genuine plague have not been isolated from the general population, and in which this deadly disease for which there is no cure is being treated as a civil rights issue instead of the true health crisis it represents.”
Huckabee has publicly backed off from this extreme position, but he remains deeply hostile to gays. He has used wit and humor to deflect reporters from his radical views about marriage, abortion, damnation, biblical law, creationism and the holy war he believes we are fighting with Islam. But his stances represent a huge step, should they ever become policy, toward a theocratic state and the death of our open society. In the end, however, I do not blame Huckabee or the tens of millions of hapless Christians — 40 percent of the Republican electorate — who hear his words and rejoice. I blame the corporate state, those who thought they could disempower and abuse the working class, rape the country, build a rapacious oligarchy and never pay a political price.
Chris Hedges, who graduated from seminary at Harvard Divinity School, is the author of “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.”