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Mike Huckabee’s Vertical Politics

Josh Marshall was perusing Mike Huckabee’s campaign site to help understand his appeal and came upon something that stumped him:

Mike Huckabee’s Vertical Politics

Can anyone explain what the hell that means? Vertical? I guess if you’re main opponent was Fred Thompson you might push the fact that you spend most of your time standing up. But seriously, is there something I’m missing here? Or is this the weirdest campaign I’ve ever heard?

After some “research” (i.e., waiting for readers to email him information) he came across a video of Huckabee explaining this very thing on “Meet the Press” (which some wag has juxtaposed with a similar oratory from “The Simpsons”):

Here’s the transcript from the show (which, incidentally, took place nearly a year ago):

[T]here has been a huge cultural shift in this country, Tim. And I think that’s why many Americans are seeking leadership that has a positive and optimistic spirit, that wants to take this nation—what I call vertical politics rather than horizontal.

I just completed a book in which I talk about the difference between horizontal politics, where everything is left or right, everything is liberal or conservative, everything is Democrat or Republican. I think the American people are hungry for vertical politics, where we have leaders who lift us up rather than those who tear us down.

While one can wonder how this translates into public policy, the rhetoric is hardly impenetrable. Surely, not for a highly intelligent journalist with an Ivy League humanities PhD. But Marshall continues:

A few other readers suggest there’s some crypto-evangelical code wording going on with it too. And it seems like they’re definitely on to something here. Here’s one example, another and another.

The more I look at this I don’t think there’s any question this is a clever dog whistle call out to Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals that his politics are God’s politics.

Karl @ Protein Wisdom points out that,

Huckabee is a candidate who put the phrase “CHRISTIAN LEADER” in capital letters in his campaign ad as he talks about how his faith “defines me.” It does not seem as though Huckabee is trying to reach fundamentalist Christians under the radar with dog whistles or subliminal crosses. His appeals are quite blatant, yet a segment of the Left has some need to look for some secret plan.

Further, he notes that Barack Obama uses very similar oratory. Mark Kleiman agrees on both counts and gives a thoughtful overview of the history of religious rhetoric in American politics. He closes,

If you worship any of the versions of the Sky-God from Uranus onward, “up” means, among other things, toward Heaven. But the root metaphor is even more universal than that; “higher better” is among Lakoff’s “embodied metaphors,” built into the way our bodies confront the world. When Ezra Klein says that Obama’s rhetoric is designed to “elevate” the listener — or for that matter when a property appraiser inquires into a parcel’s “best and highest use” or an organization chart puts the CEO at the top of the page — they’re not reciting secret code-words; they’re just employing a universally comprehensible image.

If there’s anything more dangerous than treating your opponents as boobs, it’s imagining them as engaged in dark rituals.

Indeed.

As the MTP exchange demonstrates, Huckabee has been using this metaphor throughout his presidential run; it wouldn’t surprise me if he employed it during his gubernatorial campaigns. It’s flown under the radar, frankly, because most of us haven’t been paying him much attention.

UPDATE: Joe Carter emails to note that there’s a whole “Vertical Politics” page on Huckabee’s website. Much of it, frankly, is odd, focusing on an interactive “Vertical Day” outreach. But this paragraph encapsulates the idea:

Everywhere I go on the campaign trail, I meet voters with a real thirst for a healthy discussion of the issues. Ultimately, people don’t care whether an issue comes from the left or the right. What they want to talk about are ideas that lift America up and make us better. It’s what I call “Vertical Politics” and it is why we felt it was so important to set a “Vertical Day” aside to focus on the issues.

This is classic Third Way politics, à la Bill Clinton and Tony Blair.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Ron in Florida says:

    I am very surprised that an elitist doesn’t know what Mike Huckabee means by vertical politics when the (common person) understands what it means, if you don’t believe it watch the polls in New Hampshire where the pundits said Huck would not do well.

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  2. McGehee says:

    I guess if you’re main opponent was Fred Thompson you might push the fact that you spend most of your time standing up.

    Now that’s funny. I mean, I’m as much a Fred supporter as Fred is running for president, and that made me laugh out loud.

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  3. I Declare…

    It has occurred to me lately that I've never really stated straight up an enthusiastic endorsement of any given candidate for president. Apparently I've been gauging my degree of support against that of, say, the Cult of Paul-sonality, an…

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  4. DWPittelli says:

    Perhaps it would be clearer if we consider the antonyms to “vertical.” It would mean not supine, or not slinking. Good traits for a politician, if you can get them.

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  5. Triumph says:

    This is classic Third Way politics, à la Bill Clinton and Tony Blair.

    The use of “vertical” is bizarre. If anything it suggests a top-down form of hierarchical governing in the mold of a Bush or Giuliani.

    “Horizonatal” implies a more “third way” type of governance wherein disparate interests are integrated to come up with pragmatic solutions to policy problems.

    Surely, not for a highly intelligent journalist with an Ivy League humanities PhD. But Marshall continues

    The fact that an Ivy League PhD doesn’t understand this “vertical” nonsense should be reassuring. Remember, Huckabee–the master of logic who is deploying this term–did his schooling at an unaccredited Baptist college in Arkadelphia, Arkansas–hardly the epicenter of intellectualism.

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  6. mw says:

    Although the evangelical political pitch does nothing for me, I have no problem with presidential candidates making blatant appeals to Christians, religious right, social conservatives or whatever you want to call the constituency.

    It is a simple historical reality that Republicans cannot win a Presidential election without a fusionist candidate that appeals to both “evengelicals” and “libertarians” (using Ryan Sager labels from his book “The Elephant in the Room”). So whatever the candidate has to do: secret Christian decoder rings; evangelical dog whistles; subliminal crosses in ads; or just wearing a crown of thorns and dragging a full size cross to a MTP interview – if it works – go for it.

    My problem is that these candidates (in general), and Huckabee in particular forget that the evangelical constituency cannot elect a Republican President without the libertarians. Evangelicals are necessary but not sufficient for a Republican to win. David Boaz at CATO has documented a libertarian swing vote that is comparable in size to the evangelical vote, but actually swings a great deal more (I guess that is no surprise). The failure of the Huckabee campaign as well as others in this batch of Republican candidates (Paul excepted) is they seem oblivious to the equally necessary libertarian constituency.

    If any of these candidate made as strong an effort to pander to the libertarians as they do to the evangelicals, they might find that they actually can muster enough support to be nominated and eleced.

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  7. floyd says:

    MW;
    Evangelicals and libertarians are a natural coalition in spite of the lame arguments made to the contrary. What could be more useless to either than more government intrusion?

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  8. Vertical…

    VERTICAL….Apparently the latest hot word to convince evangelicals that you’re one of them is “vertical.” Who knew? It’s like trying to keep up with the latest from the hip hop world. In other trendy word news, the American Dialect Society……

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  9. [...] Marshall sees sinister plot underlying Huckabee codespeak to his fanatic minions. James Joyner says aw pshaww, he’s just preachin’ to the [...]

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  10. Tlaloc says:

    Evangelicals and libertarians are a natural coalition in spite of the lame arguments made to the contrary. What could be more useless to either than more government intrusion?

    Have you kept abreast of anything the GOP has done in the last 7 years?

    For some reason the name “Schiavo” just lept to mind…

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  11. Jim E. says:

    This is a quote from the main post: “Huckabee is a candidate who put the phrase ‘CHRISTIAN LEADER’ in capital letters in his campaign ad as he talks about how his faith ‘defines me.’ It does not seem as though Huckabee is trying to reach fundamentalist Christians under the radar with dog whistles or subliminal crosses.”

    In New Hampshire, there is a pro-Huckabee leaflet that touts him as a “leader.” In Iowa, there was an identical pro-Huckabee pamphlet, except that it described him as a “Christian leader.” My guess is that Huckabee is going to drop the Christian stuff in non-evangelical states and therefore will resort to dog-whistle references in those areas. He wants the evangelical vote, but doesn’t want to turn off non-evangelicals in the process — a concern that didn’t exist for him in Iowa.

    Therefore, I do not think the mocking of Josh Marshall and his fancy degree is warranted. How many Americans do you think could have interpreted the screen shot quote on Huckabee’s website? If you need a two paragraph explanation from a TV transcript to explain the context of “vertical,” chances are Huckabee might be trying to communicate to only a particular subset of voters with the phrase as used on his website.

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  12. McGehee says:

    Jim E., I don’t think New Hampshire voters are living in caves, utterly unaware of how Huckabee has been campaigning in Iowa. Maybe ten or twenty years ago it would have been possible to play that kind of game. Not so much nowadays.

    I have family in Iowa — aunts, uncles and cousins. And I’ve been following politics since I learned to read. Until the last couple of weeks I had no idea Iowa was the buckle of the Bible Belt; I always thought that was, like, the South, and into Texas and Oklahoma.

    Learn something new every election cycle.

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  13. Swift Loris says:

    Seems to me the question isn’t whether he’s using a term that everyone can understand, but whether he’s using a term that his co-religionists will understand differently. I think Josh may have nailed it by saying that the “vertical” notion is meant to suggest to Christians–but not to anyone else–that his politics are “God’s politics.”

    Something similar might be said of the stealth cross in his Christmas commercial. There’s a sort of wink-wink/nudge-nudge quality about it. Not a dog whistle per se, more like giving the dog whistle a prominent place in the brass band.

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  14. Tlaloc says:

    I don’t think New Hampshire voters are living in caves, utterly unaware of how Huckabee has been campaigning in Iowa.

    The vast majority of voters aren’t paying any attention. Even among primary voters, ostensibly the people paying the most attentionto politics, it is surprising how little they know. Consider that 17% of republican voters in Iowa decided the day of the caucus who they were voting for, another 13% decided in the three days before hand, and another 10% decided in the week before hand. That means a grand total 40% of the rep voters didn’t know who they were voting for as recently as christmas.

    People, by and large do not pay that much attention. We are a small minority group of freaks.

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  15. Plutarch says:

    {Sigh}You secular pundits just don’t get it.

    Christian Leader Huckabee is obviously referring to that vertical connection between This World and Heaven.

    Think of the paintings of The Assumption. Christ and Mary go vertical, Whoooosh!

    Huckabee’s politics isn’t just of this world, but extends vertically to encompass the next as well.

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  16. Paul says:

    I think the American people are hungry for vertical politics, where we have leaders who lift us up rather than those who tear us down

    But wouldn’t tearing us down also be vertical?

    Sigh, at least it is better than our current vertigo politics.

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  17. BlueNight says:

    It’s possible he’s quoting Reagan:

    You and I are told increasingly that we have to choose between a left or right, but I would like to suggest that there is no such thing as a left or right. There is only an up or down–up to a man’s age-old dream, the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with law and order–or down to the ant heap totalitarianism, and regardless of their sincerity, their humanitarian motives, those who would trade our freedom for security have embarked on this downward course.

    Then again, Huckabee’s a bit fuzzier than this, so he’s probably just stumbling across the metaphor independently.

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  18. Paul says:

    Evangelicals and libertarians are a natural coalition in spite of the lame arguments made to the contrary. What could be more useless to either than more government intrusion?

    Like hell. Evangelical does not mean just that one is religious, to evangelize is the act of preaching or trying to convert. Trying to impose one’s views on others is the opposite of libertarianism, at least in my book

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  19. Looks like the HuckaPaul is Pauling it up in New Hampshire. Guess he thinks Ron Paul plays well there. There you have the secret to the Huckster’s success – he will cheerfully tell you ANYTHING you want to hear.

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  20. [...] more, by way of James Joyner, there’s apparently an entire “vertical politics” section on Huckabee’s [...]

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  21. McGehee says:

    Evangelical does not mean just that one is religious, to evangelize is the act of preaching or trying to convert. Trying to impose one’s views

    Whoops! Definition creep sometimes goes a lot quicker than the word “creep” would suggest.

    “Trying to convert” is not the same as “trying to impose.” When people come to your door to talk religion with you, they’re trying to convert you.

    When they go around blowing you up on buses and in pizza parlors, they’re trying to impose their views on you.

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