I’ve been catching up on The Daily Show online, and November 12′s interview with Mike Huckabee was interesting in many ways.
Generally, I find Mike Huckabee to be a good “noble opposition” Republican – while I disagree with him on a great many issues, he usually helps me understand where he’s coming from. I generally put Mark Rubio, Jon Huntsman, and Bobby Jindal in this camp, though the latter’s taken a big hit in the credibility department this last week. Believe it or not, I’ve voted conservative before and arguably could be persuaded again if the party changed some of its rhetoric on science and being smart, generally.
But back to the Huckabee ad. During the election, Mike Huckabee made an ad (available at Politico in case you don’t want to watch the whole TDS interview. Stewart makes the case that a lot of people would watch this ad and think if they don’t vote a certain way they’re hell-bound. Mike Huckabee points out that this is playing with a specific Christian metaphor that people who are Biblically literate will get: that this isn’t talking about hellfire but refining fire that tests whether something is well-made and perfecting it. Huckabee’s basically saying that the ad wasn’t talking about punishment at all; it was about the way our choices have an affect that lasts, for us individually and our society.
I’m biblically literate. Extremely, actually – I’ve read the Bible multiple times from cover to cover, grew up in the church, and often discuss it both with other Christians and with non-Christians. And I got that meaning the first time I watched the commercial, so I think on some level Huckabee’s right. Someone who’s literate in the Bible probably wouldn’t think this was talking about hellfire. The ad makes that clear. But at the same time I think Stewart was right, too. The majority of Americans – even Christians – just don’t know their Bibles that well. As Stewart asks Huckabee, “Can you understand how someone can watch that and go, ‘So wait, if I disagree with you about gay marriage, I’m going to hell?’”
I can’t blame them, honestly. And that’s the real issue, because this is the internet age, where everyone has TiVo and nothing stays just with its intended audience. Let’s take Huckabee at face value and say he’s sincere: that the point of this ad is to tell Christians if they vote against Christian values for whatever reason, that choice will affect them over the years. Let’s also set aside the serious problem with identifying Christian values or translating them into votes, and the equally serious question of whether a Christian who tries to codify his faith into law that applies to non-Christians is genuinely loving his neighbor. Even if Huckabee meant exactly this and nothing more, he still had to know folks who wouldn’t get his metaphor would end up seeing this ad, and they’d read it in just the way that Stewart did.
I’m seeing this again and again, actually. There doesn’t seem to be any room for local politics without the national scene interpreting it as just another beat in some national “issue” (gay marriage, abortion, immigration, whatever). I’m not a big fan of the “states’ rights” approach to politics since I think it’s mostly an excuse to drag your feet on granting unpopular civil rights, but I still think there are such a thing as local concerns. As a rule, Democrats in Detroit are worried about different things than Democrats in Branson, MO, and ditto for Republicans. The trouble is those comments don’t stay local, and commercials like Huckabee’s simply haven’t made that jump yet. I’m not saying the local-becoming-national is a bad thing. But you can’t just ignore it!
On a slightly different track: I actually don’t mind politics trying to develop a culture of life that stretches from conception to natural life. I think conception is too early a barrier, but as far as political philosophies go you could do worse. The problem is that simply isn’t what the word pro-life means to me. To me “pro-life” as a political label means “will push for legislation to restrict abortion, and maybe “will push for legislation to restrict euthanasia. Pro-life people are sometimes concerned about what happens in the middle, but it’s not necessary to be considered pro-life.
By the same token, I’m not in favor of redefining marriage. In general I don’t think the law should redefine things beyond what reality or popular opinion recognizes. The trouble is, this isn’t what gay marriage is about. Sometime in the late middle ages and into the Enlightenment, humans started, well, romanticizing marriage, and it became about more than just solidifying alliances and producing the next generation. Gay civil marriage is simply about applying that understanding of marriage to the best psychology of our day: that for many people, romance is not limited to someone with opposing genitalia.
This is what drives me crazy about “values voters.” I’m pro-life and against people trying to redefine marriage from what we’d come to know across the last few centuries, too. I’m just not pro-life in the way American politics twists that concept.
(And let’s not even get started on his assertion that life begins at conception being an unquestionable scientific fact. *sits on hands to keep from typing, starting… now*)