Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee isn’t likely to capture the Republican presidential nomination, but as a potential vice presidential nominee, his remarks merit scrutiny. Here are a couple that caught my attention recently:
Speaking before the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., Huckabee mentioned a woman who had emailed him from Tennessee to report that her house had been destroyed by one of the dozens of tornadoes that struck the South on February 7. Amid the wreckage of her neighborhood, she said, her “Mike Huckabee for President” sign still stood in her front yard, untouched by this act of God.
A sign? But how to read it?
And how did Mike Huckabee read it? Tornadoes can do strange things. Sometimes they pierce hardwood trees with wheat straw.
But during the same set of storms, a twister hit Castalian Springs, Tennessee, and plucked an 11-month-old boy from the wreckage of his home, wafted him 100 yards through the air, and then set him down gently enough in a field of debris that he escaped with only minor injuries. A miracle? Perhaps.
On the other hand, his 24-year-old mother was killed, along with at least 58 other people across the South. God moves in mysterious ways, indeed.
What does Huckbee think about his campaign sign, left standing amid the destruction? As far as I know, no one at CPAC asked him.
Justifying the ways of God to man has been a challenge for theologians, philosophers, and preachers for millennia — this special branch of theology is called theodicy. Huckabee has undoubtedly spent his fair share of time pondering why an all-powerful, all-loving God permits grief and suffering on his footstool.
In fact, every thinking human who professes religious faith has had to somehow negotiate this difficult question.
But we’ve already had at least one president — George W. Bush — who seems to believe that the anointing finger of God lies especially upon him, and we may want to be wary of another.
However, I’m more interested in another remark Huckabee made during the same speech. Flaunting his tax-slashing credentials, he said that in Arkansas he created a “Tax Me More” fund. Citizens who opposed his bare-bones approach to government financing were challenged to deposit their own money in “Tax Me More” envelopes, printed and distributed by Huckabee, and donate it to the government at whatever high “tax rate” they pleased.
Philosophy must have a word for this fallacy. It’s common in the environmental debate.
Many an ardent environmentalist has had his arguments deflated by accusations of some perceived failure to practice what he preaches. In fact, a version of this argument has been used against Al Gore.
Essentially, it says, “If you believe global warming is such a big deal, you’re welcome to stop driving a car and using electricity. In fact, you can retreat to a hut in the woods and live on grubs and berries.”
Although this argument is short on logic, it’s often effective because it seems to support what people are already desperate to believe. In the case of the environment, it tells us that it’s okay to ignore our energy-guzzling ways and whistle past the graveyard of global warming.
In the case of taxes, everyone wants to believe that we already pay too much, in spite of our budget-wrecking deficits.
But what really concerns me about this argument is that it has more than a dash of the arrogance and mean-spiritedness of the America-Love-It-or-Leave-It theme, a sentiment that has resurfaced during clashes over our war in Iraq.
It’s condescendingly dismissive of differing points of view and thoroughly cynical about actually solving problems that can have only a national — or global — remedy. Individuals will never solve our environmental problems by their private actions, any more than our massive deficit and debt will be resolved by the donations of a few generous citizens.
The people who want to resolve national environmental and economic problems shouldn’t be dismissed so casually. In fairness to Huckabee, he’s far from being the only one who does this sort of thing. Still, a more serious and generous spirit, one that unites rather than divides the country, would be a refreshing change in the White House.
(John M. Crisp teaches in the English Department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas. John M. Crisp teaches in the English Department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas.)