Populism and Evangelicalism: A Winning Combination?

Will Huckabee's candidacy create a new majority coalition in 2008?

One of the phenomena hardest for progressives to comprehend is the alliance between working- and lower middle-class social conservatives and the economic/foreign policy conservatives who have made the GOP what Mike Huckabee has called "a wholly owned subsidiary of Wall Street."

Aside from sharing the word conservative as their last name, these two groups have very little in common.

Polls show, in fact, as common sense suggests, that a majority of evangelicals do not embrace the Republican pro-Capitalist agenda. According to a survey last year by the Pew Research Center, for example, more than two thirds of social conservatives agree that big corporations make too much money; almost three quarters -- 72% -- say too much power is concentrated in the hands of too few large companies; 78% want to increase the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25; and 59% support having the government guarantee health care for all citizens.

No wonder the corporatist power brokers are freaked out by Huckabee's neo-populism. A Huckabee win could signal that the unholy alliance between the evangelicals and Wall Street is over.

It is likely that it is Huckabee's populist rhetoric, not his opposition to gay marriage and abortion, that is exciting his followers (in fact, as he has ratcheted up the red meat Christian rhetoric since Iowa his support has appeared to recede somewhat) . After all, his was not the only hand that was raised when the Republican presidential wannabes were asked who believed the biblical account of creation to be literally true, and with the exception of John McCain, the rest of the candidates have exceeded him in their zeal to take reactionary cultural, economic and political positions. But, tellingly, it is Huckabee who emerged from the pack.

Much has been made of McCain's narrow win in South Carolina, but it's worth noting that, although the Arizona senator did slightly better, both candidates got about one third of the vote, even though Huckabee was vastly outspent, faced a hostile conservative press, had Fred Thompson flanking him on the right, and had to rely on a relatively amateurish campaign staff. The campaign is far from over and, and despite corporate media animus toward him, Huckabee can be expected to do well. Even if McCain or Mitt Romney eventually prevails for the top job, it will be surprising if the former governor and televangelist is not on the ballot in November.

Although the economic conservatives regard him as practically a New Dealer, it goes without saying that not all of Huckabee's economic views are progressive. He supports, for example, a regressive consumption tax -- he gives it the Orwellian name FairTax -- that would pick the pockets of the low- and middle-income voters he is courting. Still, Huckabee is running against the standard-issue conservative trickle-down economic scripture, arguing that conservatives need to "quit being a wholly-owned subsidiary of Wall Street, or else we're not going to win another election for a generation." He favors increasing the minimum wage and wants to provide health insurance to more children, positions that put him at odds with traditional economic conservatives.

And he is equally in conflict with many established religious leaders allied with the GOP. The editor of the National Review, who thinks Huckabee is a closet "liberal," is terrified of the governor because "he takes the Sermon on the Mount seriously," and indeed, this does seem to strike at the heart of his differences with the religious bosses who oppose him. Pat Robertson, for example, Rev. Ike-like, finds it convenient to quote Matthew ("To everyone who has shall more be given") rather than Luke ("From everyone who has been given much, much will be required"); the late Jerry Falwell found evidence in the Old Testament that capitalism is "part of God's plan for His people;" and Jim Wallis tasked Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition, for placing Republican ideology ahead of biblical principles of justice.

Yet evangelical leaders such as these, and not just the dead ones, no longer command the following they once did. More importantly, they never accurately reflected the economic views of most evangelicals, who are not worshippers at the altar of economic conservatism but rather hold a wide range of views on economic issues roughly similar to other Americans. Among economically progressive evangelicals, Jim Wallis is hardly a lone voice. And Huckabee, more in tune with evangelicals than other, more ideologically righteous economic conservatives, doesn't make them choose between their social and their economic beliefs.

This is bad news for progressive Democrats. With their party apparently headed toward nominating one of the two candidates from Wall Street (or, in a real nightmare, having them both on the same ticket), the potential to elect a progressive congress next fall could be seriously compromised if Huckabee's populist brand of compassionate conservatism catches on. There will be little incentive for alienated Democrats who have been voting Republican for decades -- and in even larger numbers not voting at all -- to turn out and pull the lever for progressive Democratic congressional candidates if, once in office, those legislators will be, as they were during the Clinton years, triangulated into impotence by the leader of their own party.


Anonymous said...

Gov. Huckabee's advocacy of the FairTax is the single most important policy position in this election. Research findings explain why, among other things, the FairTax is more progressive than the current system:

The FairTax rate of 23 percent on a total taxable consumption base of $11.244 trillion will generate $2.586 trillion dollars – $358 billion more than the taxes it replaces. [BHKPT]

The FairTax has the broadest base and the lowest rate of any single-rate tax reform plan. [THBP]

Real wages are 10.3 percent, 9.5 percent, and 9.2 percent higher in years 1, 10, and 25, respectively than would otherwise be the case. [THBNP]

The economy as measured by GDP is 2.4 percent higher in the first year and 11.3 percent higher by the 10th year than it would otherwise be. [ALM]

Consumption benefits [ALM]:

• Disposable personal income is higher than if the current tax system remains in place: 1.7 percent in year 1, 8.7 percent in year 5, and 11.8 percent in year 10.

• Consumption increases by 2.4 percent more in the first year, which grows to 11.7 percent more by the tenth year than it would be if the current system were to remain in place.

• The increase in consumption is fueled by the 1.7 percent increase in disposable (after-tax) personal income that accompanies the rise in incomes from capital and labor once the FairTax is enacted.

• By the 10th year, consumption increases by 11.7 percent over what it would be if the current tax system remained in place, and disposable income is up by 11.8 percent.

Over time, the FairTax benefits all income groups. Of 42 household types (classified by income, marital status, age), all have lower average remaining lifetime tax rates under the FairTax than they would experience under the current tax system. [KR]

Implementing the FairTax at a 23 percent rate gives the poorest members of the generation born in 1990 a 13.5 percent improvement in economic well-being; their middle class and rich contemporaries experience a 5 percent and 2 percent improvement, respectively. [JK]

Based on standard measures of tax burden, the FairTax is more progressive than the individual income tax, payroll tax, and the corporate income tax. [THBPN]

Charitable giving increases by $2.1 billion (about 1 percent) in the first year over what it would be if the current system remained in place, by 2.4 percent in year 10, and by 5 percent in year 20. [THPDB]

On average, states could cut their sales tax rates by more than half, or 3.2 percentage points from 5.4 to 2.2 percent, if they conformed their state sales tax bases to the FairTax base. [TBJ]

The FairTax provides the equivalent of a supercharged mortgage interest deduction, reducing the true cost of buying a home by 19 percent. [WM]

ALERT: Kotlikoff refutes Bruce Bartlett's shabby critiques of the FairTax.

John Gabree said...

I realize that the progressive income tax has gotten less fair over the decades since it was introduced, but that is a reason to reform it, not replace it with a regressive sales tax.

Here are some counter-arguments to those linked to in Ian's post:

Mike Huckabee's Fair Tax Fallacies by Niko Kavournis (Mother Jones)

FairTax Not So Fair by John Irons (ArgMax)

Huckabee's Magic FairTax by Ezra Klein (American Prospect)

In any event, a grandiose proposal with a reactionary pedigree and a high-tech sounding name that would require a constitutional amendment to be realized is just so much election year shuck-and-jive. The candidate is going to have to come up with proposals a lot more serious than this one or he's going to find himself becoming known as The Huckster.

Phil Dillon, Prairie Apologist said...

I think you were right on point about the shift in attitude on the part of Evangelicals and Reagan Democrats (I'm both).

I'm not sure that he'll make it big in the primaries, but I think he will come to the convention with more than a few delegates. For us Evangelicals and Reagan Democrats this will be the test. We'll find out whether the Party wants to take us seriously or just wants to treat us like window dressing.

One of the possibilities that might come out of this is a third party movement, with emphasis not on executive, but legislative power. I believe in this part of the country this type of third party could win enought congressional seats to have some impact on legislation.

Kittyrunner said...

a vote for huck is a vote for McCain, or maybe Huck for VP. He is currently given a 3% chance on intrade.

He also cannot think past anything but the fair tax, which means no progress with an oposing congress...

Anonymous said...

Kitty, Your observation is absurd. Obviously you've not checked out Huckabee on the issues.

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