Making Choices

The life of a political pundit isn’t easy. The other night, I was at a “mixed” dinner party. My partner and I were the only lesbians. All the others were straight married couples. They wanted my take on the upcoming presidential election—who would win in November?

Strategic, I am. Clairvoyant, I’m not. If Tim Russert and his crew on Meet the Press won’t try to call this one 11 months before we all get to vote, I’m certainly not going to try.

I do have my favorite Democrat, though: John Edwards. When push comes to shove, I think he has the best chance of beating any of the Republican nominees.

With John McCain resurging on the Republican side, polls are showing the one Democrat who can beat the Vietnam War vet is Edwards. Polling dating back to November consistently has shown him able to win against McCain, as well as against former Arkansas Governor and Baptist minister Mike Huckabee, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, and former Law and Order star and Tennessee US Senator Fred Thompson. The only Republican who even gives Edwards a challenge in national polls is Rudy Guiliani.

Only time will tell who will be the nominees. Unless one from each side becomes an unstoppable force, winning the majority of the primaries between now and the Super Tuesday of primaries on February 5, no clear choice may emerge until the primary season is over, and we get to the conventions. Despite this presidential campaign having begun earlier than anyone in modern history can remember, the ultimate deciders will be the voters. And this time, they actually have a choice—at least three viable candidates from each side are courting their political affections.

For the Republicans, vying for those voters also means playing politics with religion. Romney’s recent speech promising that his Mormonism would not inform his presidency tried to echo the groundbreaking speech John F. Kennedy made in 1960 saying he wouldn’t take political orders from the Pope. To borrow from the late Democratic vice presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen during a 1988 debate with his opponent, Dan Quayle: “Mr. Romney, you’re no Jack Kennedy.” Polls and pundits both agree: Romney’s speech didn’t help him familiarize his religion to the radical Christian right—or anyone else, for that matter.

But the political reality here is that Romney’s flip-flop politics are informed by one thing and one thing only: his unabashed political ambition. If you’re a card-carrying Mormon, you don’t support a woman’s right to choose. But when Romney ran against Ted Kennedy for the US Senate in 1994, he was adamantly prochoice. If you’re a card-carrying Mormon, you don’t support rights for GLBT people. But in 1994, Romney tried to “outgay” Kennedy by saying he was a better friend to the GLBT community than Kennedy ever was.

Now that Romney is running for President, he’s renouncing the “Rockefeller Republicanism” of his father, former Michigan Governor and 1968 presidential candidate George Romney. The younger Romney’s pandering to the radical Christian right—he’s now antiabortion, and has no problem using same-sex marriage as a wedge issue—rivals that of any other modern-day GOPer.

The one Republican in all this who doesn’t pander—because he’s a true believer—is Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist minister and one of the few Republicans ever elected Governor in Arkansas. He is also the one who scares me the most. Coming out of the political margins of the GOP, he is seeing a meteoric rise. But, as we know in politics, the faster you rise, the harder you can fall.

Huckabee is a strict Biblical constructionist. We also can count on his being a strict constitutional constructionist if he’s elected President. He believes that women should “submit” to their husbands, and that people with HIV/AIDS should be isolated from the rest of the population. In his 1998 book Kids Who Kill, he equated homosexuality with necrophilia.

When he ran for the US Senate from Arkansas in 1992, Huckabee responded to a questionnaire from the Associated Press by saying, “I feel homosexuality is an aberrant, unnatural, and sinful lifestyle, and we now know it can pose a dangerous public health risk.”

In the same questionnaire, Huckabee said that we were spending way too much federal funding on AIDS research, and that he thought AIDS funding should come from the pockets of the Hollywood celebrities who already were raising money to fight the disease.

Huckabee’s homophobia, AIDSphobia, and misogyny are stark reminders of why we must make our voices heard in the upcoming presidential primaries and election. While it’s not likely that this man will end up the Republican nominee, he very well would end up someone’s running mate—consider McCain/Huckabee or even Guiliani/Huckabee as the GOP ticket.

If you think the last eight years under George W. Bush have been disastrous, just wait until Huckabee carries water for the GOP in the White House. He just might help numb Middle America into a complacency that will sound the continuing death knell of our democracy.

Libby Post, the founding chair of the Empire State Pride Agenda, is a political commentator on public radio, on the Web, and in print media. She can be reached care of this publication, or at [email protected].

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