A Simple Government: Twelve Things We Really Need from Washington (and a Trillion That We Don't!)
by Mike Huckabee
Sentinel HC (February 2011)
240 pp., $14.20

Mike Huckabee is tired of having social conservatives dismissed as irrelevant when fiscal priorities dominate the political discussion. "The idea that there is a conflict—if there is, it's not among social conservatives," he says. He also wants Americans to stop talking about President Obama's birth certificate and spreading false rumors that he is a Muslim, saying it's "inappropriate, wrong-headed, and not helpful to the overall discussion." Christianity Today spoke with Huckabee about prioritizing economic and social issues, whether a candidate's faith matters, and why he would enter the presidential race in the summer if he runs.

In your new book you make an argument that economic policy and social issues are interconnected. Do you think conservatives have let economic issues distract them from social issues?

It's more than a distraction. It's a misunderstanding of the connection, and that's one of the reasons I wanted to open with a reminder that you cannot have a strong economy if you have a social structure that's falling apart. If you look at the most runaway costs of government, it's Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid—all of which are essentially programs government designed to pick up the pieces of broken people. There was a day in our culture when families would have taken care of their family members. Two-thirds of women today who are impoverished, their children would not be in poverty if they were married to the fathers. There's a $3 billion Dad deficit, which is the direct cost that results from absentee fathers and single parents. I know some people who are fiscal conservatives who aren't necessarily social conservatives, and they may even be philosophically—they just don't think it's all that urgent. But the truth is the social conservative movement is also the foundation of the fiscal conservative movement. I'm tired of having social conservatives dismissed as irrelevant and out of touch with the real problems of joblessness and economic concerns.

In your last interview with CT, at the end of 2009, you said you'd run for President if there is a strong frustration with the Obama administration, if you had strong support within the Republican Party, and if you had enough money. Are those requirements in range, and are you leaning toward running at this point?

Well, it's not something I've ruled out. The thing for me will be, do I see a pathway to get to the finish line? One of the things I have as an advantage is that I've been the through the process before, so I understand the dynamics a lot better. Many people are looking into getting into things as early as possible so they can launch and begin to build. I'm in a very different situation, that if I do it, it will be much, much later, it will be late in the summer as opposed to sometime in the next three or four months.

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What makes you stand out from the other potential presidential candidates who are also evangelical—like former Alaska governor Sarah Palin and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty?

I don't even know that I would feel comfortable making some kind of comparison because I consider them friends and colleagues, not opponents, and I wish them the very best.

You've expressed frustration before that people see you mostly as a pastor. Do you think people still think of you that way? How do you want people to see you as a potential candidate?

What people miss is that I was a pastor 20 years ago. I was a lieutenant governor for three years, I was a governor for 10 and a half, and in the last election cycle I stood on a stage where no one, Democrat or Republican, had more executive experience leading a government than me. But you would never hear that. It wasn't like [reporters would ask], "Governor, tell us from your perspective, you dealt with highways and health care and your state's military and all those various things, so tell us what that tells us about how you would handle it as President." It was, "Tell me what you believe about creation," or "Tell me what you believe about some passage in Genesis." It was ridiculous. Nobody asked Mitt Romney about something he had done as a young member of his faith when he was in his 20s. It was a matter of attempting to, in essence, marginalize me as a one-dimensional candidate—that I was the token religious candidate, that the only reason I was in the race was to advance my own personal, spiritual agenda, which was ridiculous. I found that insulting.

Several groups boycotted CPAC for allowing GOProud to participate this year. You've said that it has become more Libertarian and less Republican.

CPAC has strayed from what it has in the past has billed itself to be, and it became more of a pay for play. I'm not comfortable with it any more, and I didn't feel like it was a forum that really provided a completely unbiased, unharnessed platform for people to come and present conservative views. It was one of those things I thought I could live without.

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Support for gay marriage is inching upward among evangelicals. Will this make it difficult for an evangelical who opposes gay marriage to run for office?

It could. I think George Barna has done the best research I've seen on this. One of the things that's most alarming about some of his recent research is that among younger evangelicals there is really no biblical foundation. Younger evangelicals, even though they might identify themselves as evangelicals, are not classic, orthodox, biblical Christians in the sense that they believe the Bible to be the authority, the inerrant word of God, and the traditional doctrines of the Christian faith such as Jesus as God in flesh. They identify themselves as evangelicals. But if you probe their faith it's really more eclectic, kind of what I think Barna describes as the cafeteria—I like a little bit of what the Buddhists say, I like a little of what the universalists say, I appreciate these thoughts from the Hindus, Jesus New Age stuff is kinda nice here—and they load on their plate whatever feels good to them for the moment. It's also not surprising because every movie, every television show, every novel that many young people are exposed to is an affirmation of the rightness of gay marriage and the idiocy, if not the antiquity, of views of people like me who think some social institutions matter for a reason.

At the same time, more Americans express pro-life views now than a decade ago. How do you explain this?

Today's grandmothers and even mothers of younger women were told the fetus was basically a blob, an unanimated protoplasm that at some point might become a human being, but was far from it at the point of abortion. But now, my daughter-in-law is pregnant, and a few weeks into the pregnancy was able to see a 4-D image of a baby with full toes and feet moving around. It's hard to deny that. I recall when I was on Jon Stewart's Daily Show program, one of the things he told me—and he's obviously a liberal and by default, pro-choice—was his wife was pregnant and he saw the sonograms, he said it's hard to look at that and say it's not a baby. So even liberals are having to acknowledge that you have to make a philosophical decision to deny this is a human being. You can't make it based on science.

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The last time former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney ran for President, about one-third of evangelical voters said they were less likely to vote for a candidate who is Mormon. How much do you think evangelicals should consider candidates' faith when deciding whether to vote for them?

I don't think they should, unless that person advances something truly bizarre. I'm more interested in, Do they live up to the tenets of their own faith? Let's say if a Catholic says, "I'm Catholic but I'm also pro-abortion and pro-same-sex marriage," I'd say whoa. It's not that you're a Catholic that's disturbing, it's disturbing that you would give your allegiance to a church and yet deny the very fundamental doctrines. I would wonder why that is—is it so empty and meaningless to you that you take it almost as membership in a club rather than devotion to and adherence to a set of beliefs? Those things are of far more concern to me than simply that a person happens to have a faith, whether it's similar to mine or very different.

On domestic policy issues, how should evangelicals think about caring for the environment in terms of practical policy?

It starts with each other as individuals and as families; we have a responsibility to be conservationist, and I try to practice that in my own life. From a public policy standpoint, the government needs to do all it can. If it wants, for example, for us to have more green policy, let it lead by example since it's the largest purchaser of energy in the country. I find it insulting for Nancy Pelosi to fly a Gulf Stream back and forth from D.C. to the [West] Coast and then lecture me on energy consumption.

President Obama has said immigration reform will be a big part of his agenda this year. You've emphasized that the border needs to be secured before anything else can be effective. But some Christian leaders have also suggested a process that would require immigrants here illegally to come forward, pay a fine, and then be allowed to earn legal status. What do you think of that kind of plan?

I've kind of come to the conclusion that until we do secure the border, nothing else really ought to be discussed. It's kind of like trying to decide what we'll have for dessert before we've even planned appetizers. It's probably best to not give people hope that there will be some amnesty if they can hurry and get across. Let them know that you're going to take the border pretty seriously and resolve that, because it seems to be the one thing that most Democrats and Republicans agree on.

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According to a Pew survey last August, 29 percent of evangelical Christians believe Obama is a Muslim, while only 27 percent think he is a Christian. Who or what is at fault for this misperception, and do evangelical attitudes/beliefs need to change?

He's been very expressive in his statements, even at the Saddleback Forum when he ran in 2008. He spelled out very clearly what his view was, and frankly, it's inappropriate , wrong-headed, and not helpful to the overall discussion when people try to say he doesn't have a birth certificate or he's a Muslim. To me that demeans the entire real discussion—what is he proposing and whether it's good for the country—that ought to be the centerpiece for our entire conversation, not what did he hear when he sat in church. If people went back and heard every sermon I heard when I was a little kid and some of the more fundamentalist pastors were yelling from the pulpit at me, if they took every one of those sermons and lifted out of them certain phrases and things, it could be scandalous, but only out of the context of the bigger picture. That's why I thought that a lot of the focus on Jeremiah Wright was misplaced.

Rep. Peter King is holding hearings to investigate Shari'ah law and radical Islam in the U.S. Does that concern you as well? How should Americans, especially American Christians, think about Muslims in the U.S.?

It concerns me that there's any approach to law that would be ex cathedra to the U.S. Constitution—not only Shari'ah law, but when a court begins to invoke some international legal finding as the basis for a decision. That is an unconstitutional decision from that court because the only authority the U.S. courts have is our constitution and our laws. We live in a country where people are free to be Muslim. They're not free, however, to impose a Muslim law as if it were civil law. If I were to say, okay, everyone must tithe to their local church, people would be outraged. Yet we're supposed to use tax money to provide a foot washing area at Michigan University because we want to accommodate the Muslim students. I don't remember anyone ever accommodating me and saying we're going to erect a cross so that we can make sure you're comfortable when you walk across campus. I find that the accommodation we're making to one religion at the expense of the others is very un-American.

Related Elsewhere:

A Simple Government is available from ChristianBook.com and other book retailers.

Christianity Today interviewed Mike Huckabee in 2008 and in 2009. CT also recently interviewed Tim Pawlenty, who is considering running in the 2012 presidential race.

Christianity Today also follows political developments on the politics blog.