Jonah Goldberg: Holy warriors of left, right

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg

Mike Huckabee doesn’t have a lot of prominent defenders, and I am not volunteering for the job.

Huckabee has always struck me as a right-wing populist-progressive. A deeply religious — and by all accounts decent — man, Huckabee nonetheless has a view of the state that would have jibed almost perfectly with such forgotten titans of the Progressive Era as Richard Ely, Josephus Daniels and even William Jennings Bryan.

Ely, a mentor to Woodrow Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt and the founder of the “Wisconsin school” of progressivism, believed that “God works through the state in carrying out his purposes more universally than through any other institution.” It “is religious in its essence,” and “a mighty force in furthering God’s kingdom and establishing righteous relations.”

Daniels, Woodrow Wilson’s secretary of the Navy, was a devout evangelical who banned alcohol (and condoms) from the service. At Daniels’ insistence, officers were forced to replace wine with coffee in the officers’ mess. They took to calling their replacement beverage “a cup of Josephus,” which was quickly shortened and immortalized to “a cup of Joe.” Daniels ordered that prostitutes be kept five miles from every port, and with the aid of a young assistant secretary of the Navy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, oversaw a heavy-handed crackdown on homosexuality at the Naval Training Station in Newport, Rhode Island. Their tactics were so unseemly, Congress rebuked them both in 1919.

Bryan, the dashboard saint of populists for the last century, largely for his assaults on monied elites and his opposition to World War I, had no problem imposing his values on others — at home and abroad. After Prohibition was passed, he proclaimed, “Our nation will be saloonless for evermore and will lead the world in the great crusade which will drive intoxicating liquor from the globe.”

Huckabee isn’t as severe as the progressives of yore, but the same impulses are there. When he was governor of Arkansas — and on a weight-loss kick — he wanted Arkansas schools to track the body mass index of students. In 2007, he favored a national ban on smoking and argued that we have a Biblical duty to fight global warming. In 1992, he told the Associated Press, “I feel homosexuality is an aberrant, unnatural, and sinful lifestyle, and we now know it can pose a dangerous public health risk.”

It’s worth noting that the progressives of yesteryear Huckabee resembles were not “right-wing” back then. The original progressives, so beloved by contemporary liberals unburdened with historical knowledge of their forebears, were overwhelmingly religious (and quite often very, very racist). The main reason Huckabee is placed on the right side of the political spectrum today is that liberals have largely jettisoned the Christian rationalizations for government activism.

But their pious faith in government activism itself remains intact. For liberals today, it is right and good to use the state to impose your values on others, but don’t you dare suggest that Jesus told you to ban smoking or cut down on sugary soft drinks. The new preachers in the pulpit are public health activists and social justice warriors imbued with religious fervor sans religion.

In the 1990s, Hillary Clinton famously pushed for a “politics of meaning” that she hoped would “remold society by redefining what it means to be a human being in the 20th century, moving into a new millennium.” Barack Obama has defined sin as “being out of alignment with my values.”

Against this backdrop, Huckabee is an anachronism — again, not for his statist meliorism, but for his openly religious motivations. And while I have as little use for a nanny state anointed by Jesus as I do for a nanny state anointed by bureaucrats, Huckabee has more of my sympathy. He can at least point to something outside and better than himself — i.e., God — as his lodestar. He can also invoke traditions grounded in how people want to live. The meddling busybodies of the left only have their own innate sense of superiority to guide them.

Huckabee recently earned a lot of criticism for denouncing the “false god of judicial supremacy” in the context of the Supreme Court’s ever-growing role as the all-wise shepherd of our society. His grasp of the legal niceties no doubt leaves something to be desired. But he has a point.

I certainly don’t want robed priests dictating how America should define life, death and everything in between (including marriage), but I’m at a loss as to why having robed lawyers (i.e., judges) make such decisions is such an obvious improvement.

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