Election 2008 is bound to be somewhat of a disappointment, regardless of the possible outcome. This isn’t meant as an insult toward the candidates, many of whom are interesting people, but toward our so-called democratic process in general.
Let’s see here: The two-party system stifles diversity of thought in one of the most diverse countries in the world. The Electoral College is undemocratic and an insult to every single one of my fellow American citizens. And the soundbite-driven media provides us with a 24-hour sideshow circus wherein deep, provocative issues such as “OMIGOD Hillary showed cleavage” are somberly discussed. Despite some much-needed new blood (*cough* Obama *cough*), this is still a popularity contest in a dingy school lunchroom, not an election.
If I were to pick one element of Popularity Contest 2008 that, above all else, makes me want to despair, it would be former Arkansas governor and Iowa Caucus golden boy Mike Huckabee.
I know, I know, you’re all waiting for the standard screed of “OMIGOD he’s a religious nut-job, burn him!” Yet, I believe things to be more complicated than that. For me, Mike Huckabee represents the ultimate flaw in the way that political identity is shaped in America: the false dichotomy between religion and secularism, the immaturity of the discourse on what it means to be an American politician in the first place.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first: I do, in fact, heart Huckabee, or would like to heart him, as the case may be. I am a woman protective of my right to choose an abortion, a liberal Christian bewildered by conservative Protestantism, and an immigrant horrified by the dehumanizing language used against illegals, and yet I find this particular presidential candidate to be weirdly likeable. Huckabee was not propelled into politics as the result of being born into a wealthy family. He’s a gifted, charismatic speaker. He is straightforward; he eschews all slickness. He isn’t self-aggrandizing (*cough* Giuliani *cough*), and he strikes me as a genuinely intelligent human being.
It is my belief that the Huckabees of America, talented individuals from comparatively humble backgrounds, are crippled by a simplistic political system that substitutes televangelism (the love-child of Cotton Mather and big media) for faith, and infantilizes officials and electorate alike. Huckabee has stated that his initial involvement in politics stemmed directly from his opposition to abortion. Why? Probably because his community was encouraged to mobilize around an issue whose very nuances make it impossible to effectively discuss it in a group setting without first turning it into a kind of grim joke, an orgy of splattered-fetus imagery that does not begin to address modern anxieties over gender, ethics, and autonomy.
Abortion, and other topics of discussion, have become meaningless rallying points in a society where one’s political identity is shaped by a clutch of buzzwords. “Abortion!” We shout. “Economy! Iraq! Israel! Gay Marriage!” – hardly ever stopping to consider what these words really mean to us.
As Americans of all religious and ethnic backgrounds, we worry about radical Islam (with good reason, because it is first and foremost a threat to moderate Islam, a much-needed ally), but somehow manage to ignore the fact that we lose millions of folks to peddlers of Old Testament Lite. For many of my fellow liberals, these individuals are “crazies,” “wingers,” and “godbags.” To me, they are first and foremost tragic figures, indicative of our failures as a society. In the 21st Century, in the richest nation in the world, we have created a set of entirely arbitrary ideological divisions that prevent us from enacting any meaningful change to the way we live and the way we interact with each other and the rest of the world. It’s a stupid tug-of-war between Democrat and Republican, “godbag” and “godless,” Chuck Norris and the rest of the universe – and it’s costing us everything.
It is not my wish to patronize Mike Huckabee. I have simply read up on his stances regarding various political issue, and found them not only wanting, but puzzling, considering what I perceive to be his obvious intelligence. And wherein in the years before, I have been tempted to shrug off such puzzlement with a simple “this is a conservative, what can you expect?” – I have since begun to question my response.
The truth is, if we had a diversified political party system that meant anything, Mike Huckabee would be interacting with GLBTQ rights activists, various feminists, various atheists, and other potential opponents on a regular basis. This wouldn’t mean that Huckabee would have to give up his principles – but that he would be counter-weighed and challenged, and be allowed to counter-weigh and challenge in return, all in a setting that required actual interaction.
If, in our society, we were allowed to talk to each other, instead of at each other, we could begin to reach important deals on our quietly rotting economy, embarrassing foreign policy, and so on. And we would focus less on defining each other with brutal stereotypes – “redneck,” “baby-killer,” “welfare queen” – because real pluralism would encourage us to face each other. It is a whole lot harder to stereotype the person you closely work with, in government and beyond, as opposed to some nebulous Other somewhere. The rigid, artificial divide of Republican vs. Democrat, however, ensures that we continue to engage each other rather superficially.
I admire Mike Huckabee’s drive. I admire his tenacity, humility, and sense of humour. I admire what appears to be his genuine commitment to his faith. I admire his clever, streamlined campaign. I can’t say the same about the shallow two-party system and the evangelical theatrics that have influenced his politics.
What remains of my tattered hope is reserved for Obama, though I fear that in our country, prejudice runs too deep for him to win. Ditto for Clinton. My heart would be a trifle (or, actually, more than a trifle) thawed by the sight of the first black or female candidate taking office, but we’ve miles to go before we sleep yet.