The economic consequences of Huckabee

What would Jesus do in a recession? More tax cuts for the rich? Or a new New Deal?

By Andrew Leonard

Published January 4, 2008 3:14PM (EST)

"No one has articulated the message of the religious left more effectively than Mr. Huckabee," writes David Sanders in Friday's Wall Street Journal. That's right -- the religious left. Huckabee, explains Sanders, believes that his faith justifies "advocating greater government involvement in just about every aspect of American life."

Call it crazy, this notion that Jesus might have considered the alleviation of poverty a moral imperative for government, but Huckabee appears to believe it. His victory in the Iowa caucus has plunged mainstream Republicans into a distraught tizzy: a "Huey Long populist," as one commentator at the conservative blog RedState put it, his keyboard dripping with disgust, is, for today, the most popular Republican candidate for president.

Writes Sanders in "Mike Huckabee's New Deal: More God, More Government":

As governor, he championed the ARKids First, which extended free health insurance not only to children of the working poor but to some lower middle-class families. He pleased teachers unions with his consistent opposition to school choice and voucher programs. He satisfied labor by signing into law a minimum-wage hike of 21 percent. "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me" -- Mr. Huckabee's oft-cited scriptural justification for growing government -- proved costly for Arkansans, who saw government spending double and their taxes rise about a half-billion dollars during his tenure.

In the orgy of analysis sweeping the Net and the airwaves last night, (finally, finally, we have some real numbers to chew on) conservative commentators did their absolute best to marginalize Huckabee by pointing to the overwhelming support he received from self-identified "evangelicals." They desperately want to believe that Huckabee's win has nothing to do with his "government-should-help-the-little-guy" message and everything to do with the way he bears a cross as if it were a coat of arms.

Maybe they're right. Maybe Iowan evangelicals were so blinded by the light shining from that cross that they couldn't see (or didn't care about) his heretical economic platform. Or maybe the opposite is true -- maybe the Republican punditocracy is so blind to growing economic angst and uncertainty in the United States that they simply can't comprehend that Huckabee's popularity might have something to do with the fact that he is the only Republican candidate (outside of, possibly, Ron Paul) who sincerely appears to care that some people are having a hard time right now.

If some portion of Huckabee's support does come from evangelicals who are comfortable with the thought that Jesus might care about the environment, poverty, and hunger, or that, as Huckabee said in August, "we can't ignore that there are kids every day in this country that literally don't have enough food and adequate drinking water in America," then Republicans are faced with a great paradox. The GOP long ago made its bed with Jesus Christ. But there's nothing in the Bible that equates belief in the savior with a belief in small government and tax cuts for the rich. By selling its soul to Christian conservatives, the GOP may have surrendered its own ability to define the conservative economic platform.

Democrats have reason to be ecstatic, and not just because of the massive voter turnout for their candidates in Iowa. Should one of the other, more "traditional" Republican candidates manage to seize control of primary momentum and make Huckabee's victory seem like just a bad dream, where will the Christian conservatives who are concerned about the economy -- in an election year that quite possibly could include a recession -- go?

Because you don't have to look far to find a preacher on the other side of the fence, as anyone who watched Barack Obama's victory speech Thursday night can tell you.

UPDATE: Alex Koppelman has more on the mainstream Republican repudiation of Mike "dangerous leftist" Huckabee in War Room.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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