It wasn't Huckabee's decision, God told him to do it, I'm sure. Or maybe it was his campaign manager...
Mike Huckabee doesn't wish you happy holidays. He wants you to have a Merry Christmas. And keep the Christ in it, please.
The ad has drawn cheers from Christian bloggers, consternation from advocates of church-state separation, and a fair amount of fascination from all sides: Yesterday, the Internet buzzed with speculation about whether a bookshelf, prominently featured in the background, represented a subliminal "floating cross."
Conspiracy theories aside, the ad has gained attention for what it represents: a deliberate, pointed salvo in a Republican primary campaign that has increasingly hinged on religion. The implied message, observers say, seems to be twofold: that there's one important religion and one candidate who represents it best.
Asked about the ad on Fox News Channel yesterday, Ron Paul, a rival for the Republican nomination, gave a sharp off-the-cuff assessment. He quoted Sinclair Lewis saying that "when fascism comes to this country, it will be wrapped in the flag, carrying a cross," then went on to tweak Huckabee for "using a cross like he is the only Christian, or implying that subtly." [...]
Paul is correct.
Although the religious right supported Bush in the last two elections they'd probably choose Huckabee over Bush today. Bush didn't deliver for the religious Christianistas, and in Huckabee the religious right sees a candidate who'd be willing to elevate their moral platform and push harder for a Chist-centered government in Washington.
If Huckabee is indeed trying to lay claim to the Christian faith, his ad, clearly aimed at evangelical conservatives, seems a not-so-subtle contrast with Mitt Romney, Huckabee's rival in the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses. As Huckabee's profile and poll numbers rose in recent weeks, his frequent references to religion - and to his background as an ordained minister - prompted Romney to deliver a long-awaited speech about the role of faith in public life, in which he asserted that religion had a role in the public square.
But Romney, well aware of some voters' mistrust of Mormonism, was careful to talk about the value of all religions.
Huckabee, by contrast, has been specific, said Barry Lynn, executive director of the advocacy group Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. "Jesus and Mike Huckabee are both products being sold by this commercial. And I don't see how anyone could view it otherwise," Lynn said.
The ad is part of a striking rise in religious rhetoric during this campaign, he said. Talk of faith also extends to the Democratic side, he said, from Barack Obama's references to "a kingdom right here on Earth" to Hillary Clinton's references to times that she has prayed.
"I've never seen such a religion-drenched primary on both the Democratic and Republican sides," Lynn said.
Religion has always played a large part in American political life, said John Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. In 1988, Green said, Democrat Jesse Jackson and Republican Pat Robertson - both ministers - ran for president and "laced their speeches and their ads with religious appeals." And references to faith have resurged since the late 1990s, he said.
Still, the appeals do seem more feverish this year, Green said, because so many candidates are vying for the religious voting blocs that once supported President Bush.
And it is worth noting, Green said, that Bush has made religious themes a prominent part of his presidential rhetoric. It is just that Bush, unlike Huckabee, tends to generalize.
"It's very rare to hear President Bush talk about Jesus," Green said. "It's very, very common to hear him talk about God."
By going out on a limb for Christ, if you'll pardon the expression, Huckabee is taking a big chance. Hypocrisy is a perilous platform for a political candidate.
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