CONCORD, N.H. (JTA) – Asked to write an editorial explaining why the Jewish community should support former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee for president, I wondered which aspects of his record I should highlight.
Of course, the cliche pitch to the Jewish community is to emphasize a candidate’s pro-Israel credentials, and Huckabee is a strong supporter of the Jewish state who has visited Israel nine times. But fortunately, all of the major candidates in both parties are officially pro-Israel, so most Jews will be choosing their presidential candidate based on other issues.
Should I focus on his achievements in education and health care? Time magazine named him one of the top five governors in the nation for his innovations in health care. He expanded health care for children, eliminated vending machines in public schools to curb childhood obesity and created incentives for small businesses to offer health insurance.
Governor Huckabee also signed landmark legislation to provide music and art education to all children in his state, raised quality standards, and increased transparency and accountability. Under his tenure, the Arkansas school system went from one of the nation’s worst to one of the best.
Huckabee was the only candidate at a recent Republican debate to address the economic struggle so many Americans are having in today’s economy. He has also proposed an ambitious program to cut carbon emissions, end energy independence and fight global warming.
On all these issues – even where I disagree with the governor, such as his workplace smoking ban – Huckabee seems to be a perfect fit with the political mainstream in the American Jewish community. Yet it seems that most Jews refuse to give Huckabee a chance because they see him as the newest incarnation of the old bogeyman, the “religious right.” After all, he ran ads in Iowa referring to himself as a “Christian leader” and religious rhetoric flows freely from his pastoral tongue.
As a prerequisite to discussing the merits of a Huckabee presidency, it is necessary to examine the Jewish attitude toward Christian religious expression in politics.
It should be noted that religious rhetoric isn’t unique to Huckabee or even the Republicans. It wasn’t Huckabee who promised a congregation of evangelicals in South Carolina, “We’re going to keep on praising together. I am confident that we can create a Kingdom right here on Earth.” That was U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, a Democratic presidential hopeful.
And it wasn’t Huckabee who told The New York Times that he carries a Bible on his campaign travels and that he experienced “the presence of the Holy Spirit on many occasions.” No, that was U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, another Democratic presidential candidate, whom the Times article also noted “sought to meld her faith and political ideology into an overarching philosophy of public values.”
Jews might not agree with the political philosophy of evangelicals, but there’s no denying they are Israel’s greatest friends.
“The greatest support Israel has today is in the United States,” said former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a recent meeting of the Knesset’s Christian Allies Caucus. “And the greatest support Israel has in the U.S., besides the Jewish community, is that of evangelical Christians.”
While it’s always important to maintain a healthy skepticism, we must recognize who our true friends and allies are. It is imperative that the Jewish community adopts a more mature view of American evangelicals instead of the ghetto mentality that automatically assumes that all committed Christians are our antagonists.
Many of our old alliances have broken down, and expressions of hostility to Israel, Zionism and even Judaism are becoming increasingly frequent in some quarters on the left. Meanwhile, evangelicals repeatedly have risen to Israel’s defense and refrained from missionary activities directed at Jews.
Our shared agenda doesn’t end at Israel. For decades it has been evangelicals like Mike Huckabee who have led the fight against poverty and who are now pushing for good stewardship of the environment, a solution to the AIDS epidemic in Africa and an end to human rights violations around the world.
“Real faith makes us more humble and mindful, not of the faults of others but of our own,” Huckabee says on his campaign Web site. “It makes us less judgmental, as we see others with the same frailties we have. Faith gives us strength in the face of injustice and motivates us to do our best for ‘the least of us.’ ”
The great rabbi and social activist Abraham Joshua Heschel marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. – a Christian leader – to promote civil rights. Perhaps it is time for Jews to join forces with another Baptist minister to confront the challenges of the 21st century.
(Jason Bedrick is a member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives.)