A few days ago, a group of students at John Brown University protested former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee’s chapel talk on civic engagement. By all accounts, everything went fine. Protesters stood along the wall of the school’s Cathedral of the Ozarks wearing bright white T-shirts with slogans such as “minority rights are human rights.”
Afterward, there was a Q&A session where I understand Huckabee acquitted himself well, which is what you would expect given his vast experience in politics and the media.
But the question that nags at me is this: Is Mike Huckabee really protest-worthy? I want to be clear that I am not arguing to shut down protests or inhibit disagreement, but I do want to challenge the students and those who may have encouraged them. Does Huckabee really live up to the ugly billing he received from protesters?
Let’s Ask a Few Basic Questions
In justification of their protest, students associated their state’s former governor and two-time presidential candidate with racism, sexual violence against women, police brutality, and various other unacceptable positions. So I thought about Huckabee and asked myself a few questions.
- Does he argue for the supremacy of a particular race, for the inferiority of a particular race, or for giving different rights to different races?
- Does he argue that women should suffer sexual violence at the hands of men, or commit such violence himself?
- Does he argue that police brutality is a good thing? Does he try to do away with investigative processes established to determine fault in the area of police brutality? Does he think there should be no accountability for police officers?
Now, let’s consider whether these questions have answers. It seems to me that Huckabee would say he does not endorse racism, embraces an ethic of sexuality that would preclude violence, and believes that police power can be abused because human beings are sinful. What you will really find, then, is that something more like the following is happening.
He explicitly argues against racial supremacy and discrimination, but disagrees with various legal remedies proposed to address racial inequality (such as affirmative action). The way the game is played, Huckabee is now a racist.
He does not argue for sexual violence against women and is not known to commit such acts. However, he supported Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy. If that choice establishes him as a supporter of sexual violence against women, then I suppose people who supported President Clinton were proponents of intern seduction. (See, the logic gets a little funny.) The reality is that we live in a largely binary system, and a person may have voted for Trump because she did not support Hillary Clinton.
Huckabee does not embrace police brutality. Most likely, he has looked at an incident where police brutality was charged and came to a different conclusion than others regarding the guilt of the officer involved.
You will notice that the examples here are all instances of left-wing political sensibilities being used to make someone (in this case Huckabee) radioactive (a racist!) when in fact they simply disagree with proposed solutions for addressing a particular issue. However, I would be wrong not to admit that the same thing happens in the opposite direction. Here is an example:
Assertion: “Left-wing politician X is an anti-Semite.”
Question: “Why is politician X an anti-Semite?”
Response: “He believes the Palestinians should have more rights to territory occupied by Israel than I do.”
What can we conclude? Politician X may be an anti-Semite (who knows but God, who sees hearts?), but not because of his position on this particular policy. His chosen policy simply indicates that he believes the Palestinians have a stronger claim than do those who favor the government of Israel.
Use Your Freedoms Well, Not Stupidly
After taking the time to explain this unhappy political phenomenon of bootstrapping disagreement with a right- or left-wing agenda into RACISM, SEXISM, ANTI-SEMITISM, etc., what we should do about it? If we choose to protest with as light a provocation as someone such as Huckabee provides (students pointed to his Twitter feed), then life will become miserably dominated by ideology.
Let me give an example. A few years ago, my school (Union University), which is Christian and leans conservative, invited Paul Begala to campus for a talk. Begala was an advisor to candidate and President Bill Clinton, and has been a longtime liberal media presence.
Now, many of us at Union highly oppose abortion. I have written against abortion many times over the years. One path would have been for me to encourage my students to make signs and T-shirts and march around the speaking venue denouncing Begala and his pro-choice ways. We could have stood around the edges of the room casting a pall over his talk with our attention-getting signs and shirts.
But we didn’t. Instead, Begala gave his talk in a winsome fashion, and it was well-received. Many in the audience surely disagreed with a variety of Begala’s positions, but the event was a positive part of university life. In large part, it succeeded because of the civility of the people involved: administration, professors, Begala, and students.
I don’t want to be heard arguing against the value of protest. Protest is an important part of life together in a free country, but freedom also requires virtue. Two of those virtues are civility and hospitality. Protest should be a live option. But it should also be one that is probably used with more provocation than Mike Huckabee’s Twitter feed, lest it become smothering in frequency and trivial in nature.