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Jacques Berlinerblau Jacques Berlinerblau is an Associate Professor and Director of the Program for Jewish Civilization at the School of Foreign Service. Berlinerblau has published on a wide variety of issues ranging...

A collaboration with Washingtonpost Newsweek Interactive's On Faith site, The God Vote explores the role of faith in this year's election. It is featured here as well as on Georgetown/On Faith.

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Huck to Constitution: Get Right With God

January 18, 2008

This past Monday, as most of America now knows, Mike Huckabee effectively told the Constitution that it had better get right with God. In so doing, he committed the single most egregious Faith and Values’ blunder of the 2008 campaign. In a follow-up interview with Steven Waldman and Dan Gilgoff, the former governor of Arkansas conceded that he may have phrased it “awkwardly.” Yet his subsequent responses to their insightful questions did little to suggest he did not mean what he said. I will get to that fascinating interview next week. But today I want to return to Huckabee’s original words--words which will haunt this relatively young politician throughout his career:

I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution. But I believe it’s a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God. And that’s what we need to do — is to amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards rather than try to change God’s standards so it lines up with some contemporary view of how we treat each other and how we treat the family.

Permit me to belabor the obvious: secularists, be they religious or not, will never forget this. Now let me make a somewhat less banal prediction: this assault on the national charter will make many of the Evangelical Americans who Huckabee is trying to mobilize very uncomfortable.

Say what you will about the old Christian Right, but it always picked its enemies carefully. Whatever their target -- secular humanism, Communism, homosexuality, Murphy Brown or the TeleTubbies -- Falwell and company knew better than to attack symbols near and dear to the hearts of the rank-and-file. It never occurred to them, for example, to propose congressional legislation banning Baseball.

Huck’s error was in taking on the Constitution, in putting it in its place. Its place, apparently, was somewhere under God and under (Huckabee’s interpretation of) the Bible. But why -- why? I ask -- would he brazenly instill this tension in the minds of his target audience?

I have had Evangelical students who can recite the Constitution chapter and verse, so to speak. Like many of their co-religionists they are patriotic in very conventional, mainstream American ways. They have no more interest in setting the Scriptures in competition with the Constitution than Jews have in exploring the possibility that the teachings of the great Rabbinic sages supersede the rulings of the Supreme Court.

Had Huckabee simply ranted about all of those “activist judges” who have misinterpreted what some scholars call "The American Scriptures," he would have been on far safer rhetorical ground. Instead, he inexplicably followed Alan Keyes down an intriguing avenue of theological speculation and intimated the existence of a scriptural chain of command.

I have, incidentally, often sensed that certain types of conservative Christian intellectuals share these misgivings. This is because our national charter refrains from citing the Bible or invoking the name of God. So, yes, there is a theological discussion to be engaged in there and maybe even a conference down at the seminary. But, no, this is not something that any wise politician would want to make into a campaign issue.

Huckabee’s endeavor to subordinate the Constitution will win him absolutely no new followers among non-Evangelicals. This state of affairs will not be lost upon pragmatic conservative Christians in the GOP who may throw their weight behind a less divisive, and more viable, candidate.