Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Huckabee Split?

I opened my in-box this morning to find an interesting article from "The New Republic" entitled: "Smells Like Civil War" by
"The Huckabee surge," argues Dionne, "represents a break with what has been standard operating procedure within the GOP for more than a generation. Huckabee's evangelical Christian army in Iowa ignored the importuning of entrenched leaders of the religious right and decided to go with one of their own.

"Huckabee himself preaches a gospel of populism that rejects conservative orthodoxy on trade, the value of government and the beneficence of Wall Street."

The alliance between these disparate wings of the of the Republican story has been told many times, and is recounted quite well in Thomas Frank's "What's the Matter with Kansas?" It is an alliance that has brought great benefits to the upper class in America. As Frank writes:

If you earn over $300,000 a year...raise a glass sometime to those indigent High Plains Republicans as you contemplate your good fortune: It is thanks to their self-denying votes that you are no longer burdened by the estate tax, or troublesome labor unions, or meddling banking regulators. Thanks to the allegiance of these sons and daughters of toil, you have escaped what your affluent forefathers used to call "confiscatory" income tax levels. It is thanks to them that you were able to buy two Rolexes this year instead of one and get that Segway with the special gold trim.

But according to the article in the New Republican, Huckabee is leading a group of rebellious primary voters who are ignoring their nominal religious leaders (who support the likes of Mitt Romney- a wealthy Mormon who seems to offer the more traditional Republican nod toward values while groveling before capital.)

The former Arkansas governor has exposed a fault line within the Republican coalition. The old religious right is dying because it subordinated the actual views of its followers to short-term political calculations. The white evangelical electorate is tired of taking orders from politicians who care more about protecting the wealthy than ending abortion, more about deregulation than family values.

Dionne's article goes on to point out that the cauldrons of Republican thought have already been bubbling with fears that Huckabee and Giuliani could split the G.O.P. from both ends. A new group, it has been argued by some, is emerging- some call them Sam's Club Republicans, others call them "pro-government conservatives". Dionne quotes a Pew Research Center report that describes these voters as "broadly religious and socially conservative, but they deviate from the party line in their backing for government involvement in a wide range of policy areas, such as government regulation and more generous assistance to the poor."

Huckabee, then is donning the mantle of heartland populism, a mantle which has been worn by Williams Jennings Bryan, George Wallace, and Pat Buchanan - that tragic American garment which can combine an enlightened economic view of the world with a social vision of smallness, repression, and primitive religious fervor.

We can only hope that Huckabee does his job well enough to deprive the Republican plutocracy of support they do not deserve, but does not do it so well that he plunges us into a new dark age of religious intolerance and backwardness.

I wonder if this country will ever learn the secret of separating populism for provincialism.

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