Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Swinging the Jesus Bat for Votes

Steve Benen deconstructs Mike Huckabee's new ad instructing Americans to forget about the presidential campaign and go "celebrate the birth of Christ."

I’ve done some cursory digging, and asked a few knowledgeable friends, and there’s no record of any major-party presidential candidate every mentioning Christ in a TV ad. That includes TV preacher Pat Robertson, who ran for the Republican nomination in 1988 (and came in second in the Iowa caucuses).

Purely at face value, what’s the harm in a presidential candidate wishing voters a merry Christmas? Nothing. Is there something wrong with an evangelical Christian, who worked as a Baptist preacher, remembering the “reason for the season”? Nope.

But there’s quite a bit more to this ad than that.

First, Huckabee is playing a little game. He’s running this ad in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, lamenting ads “about politics,” while hitting a political note — targeting evangelical voters and the Fox News crowd with heavy-handed religious rhetoric. As Michael D. put it, “They’ll see Huckabee as the person who’s not afraid, like so many candidates are, to come out and say ‘Happy Birthday, Jebus.’”

Second, it’s hardly a stretch to think Huckabee is being intentionally provocative. By becoming the first candidate to reference “Christ” in a TV ad, Huckabee is hoping a) that the media finds the spot newsworthy and gives his ad lots of free airplay; and b) that religious minorities, secularists, and advocates of church-state separation raise a fuss, which would only make him more popular with the GOP’s religious right base.

Third, the ad is rather crass. Not to get too Book of Matthew on Huckabee, but Christ’s name, for the devout, isn’t supposed to be used as a campaign talking point. As I understand it, the faithful don’t perceive the birth of the Big Guy as being about scoring points a few weeks before the Iowa caucuses.

And finally, the whole thing seems to be terribly gratuitous. Does Huckabee really need to go there? Are there still evangelical voters in the early primary/caucus states who don’t know about Huckabee’s religious background? He’s presented himself as a “Christian leader,” he’s explained his belief that he’s God’s anointed candidate, and he’s taken his obligatory shots at Mitt Romney’s faith. Now, he’s talking about Christ in a TV ad.

Way to swing the Jesus Bat at the electorate, Mike.

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