What could be called "The Huckabee Moment" occurred Sunday morning when ABC's George Stephanopoulos asked the former Arkansas governor, suddenly and ominously the front-runner in Iowa's GOP contest, whether Mitt Romney is a Christian. Mike Huckabee knew precisely what was being asked of him, and he also knew, because he is a preacher, what the right -- not the clever, mind you -- answer should be. But Huckabee merely smiled that wonderful smile of his and punted. This, with apologies to George W. Bush, is the soft demagoguery of low expectations.
Wait ... so "because he is a preacher," Mike Huckabee knows that the "right answer" to the question is - what? That Mitt Romney is a Christian, in the sense that a former Baptist minister like Huckabee would define the word? Here's what Stephanopoulos asked him:
The President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Al Moulder - and you're a Southern Baptist - has written that we have to clarify, he said that Mormonism is in no way consistent with orthodox Christianity. It borrows Christian themes and texts but its most basic beliefs directly contradict the central teachings of Christianity. Do you believe that the basic beliefs of Mormonism contradict the central teachings of Christianity?
Now, Huckabee ducked the question, saying that "I'm not going to get into that argument because my goal in life is not to evaluate what's wrong with your faith or somebody else's, but it's to be able to live mine," and yada yada yada. This wasn't enough for Cohen, who called the question an opportunity for "a ringing statement in support of religious tolerance." But just a few paragraphs later, he allows that, well, "Mormonism is a significant departure from conventional Christianity. The Book of Mormon, like the Bible itself, is scripture to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- downright heresy to some conservative Christians." Yet Huckabee, one of those conservative Christians himself, was supposed to go on national television and pretend that none of this is so, that Mormonism isn't a bordering-on-heresy departure from Christianity, because anything else would be "demagoguery"? Deflecting the question wasn't sufficient - he was supposed to tell what he would presumably consider an outright lie, in the name of Richard Cohen's ideal of tolerance?
It is absurd that Romney feels compelled to deliver a speech defending his beliefs and that Huckabee does not have to explain how, in this day and age, he does not believe in evolution.
Um ... how many times has Huckabee been asked about evolution in this race? A few hundred times? Maybe more? (Often enough that he's begun bristling at the question, at the very least.) I don't mean this as a defense of his position by any means, and given the campaign he's running, it's completely legitimate for journalists to pester him about it. But they are pestering him: The notion that Huckabee's beliefs are getting a free pass in this race is just silly. And not just where evolution is concerned - you can watch none other than Bill O'Reilly grill him about whether he thinks non-Christians go to hell right here:
Richard Cohen wants to live in a world where these topics never get discussed. Fair enough. But asking candidates for public office to flat-out lie about their theological differences doesn't seem like a great way to get there.