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Huckabee on religion and the government

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee talks to Hardball's Chris Matthews about his ad containing the term 'Christian leader.'
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CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Right now, we go to the man with all the momentum, Republican presidential contender Mike Huckabee.  Governor, thank you for joining us. 

Governor, I think you, like a lot of conservatives, believe in the original purpose of the Constitution as written.  It’s our sort of secular bible.  It says there should be no religious test ever required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States. 

Why are you Republican candidates submitting to religious vetting about your belief in the literal nature of the Bible?  Why put up with those kinds of questions?

MIKE HUCKABEE, FORMER ARKANSAS GOVERNOR:  Well, Chris, when guys like you quit asking it, we’ll quit answering it.  But the fact is, we get asked these questions in the debates, and if we evade them, if we act like we’re not going to answer them, then we’re going to get hammered for being unwilling to address the questions that are put to us.  So that’s why I keep answering them.

MATTHEWS:  But these are religious test questions.  They’re not about public policy.  They’re not about what you believe the country should be about.  They’re what you believe about the Bible.  They’re particularly religious testing of you fellows.  Why didn’t somebody raise their hand last night and say, "This is not what America’s about." 

If there was a Jewish fellow up here, an Arab fellow up here, a non-believer, he’d have to say, I don’t believe in the Bible.  Then where would we be?  Some people giving the correct answer, according to some, and others giving the incorrect answer.

HUCKABEE:  I would love for us to be asked questions about education and health care and energy independence.  Unfortunately, those were the questions that nobody did ask us last night.  We instead got the questions that we got, tried to do them the best we can.

You tell me.  You control debates.  You’re the ones who moderate them.  I didn’t get to pick the questions.  If I did, I promise I’d have picked some different questions for me and for the other candidates, as well.

MATTHEWS:  Your campaign slogan is “Faith, family and freedom.”  On your TV ad we just saw here last night, it has a big line on it, “Christian leader.”  How does that separate you from the other candidates?  I thought all the candidates running this year on the Republican side are all Christians.  Why do you single yourself out as the Christian leader, if that’s not a religious case you’re making?

HUCKABEE:  Well, now, you used the wrong description there.  I never said I was “the” Christian leader.  I’m simply giving a description of who I am, introducing voters to me, since right now, there’s not been a lot of media for me in Iowa.  This is our first attempt to sort of introduce me.

And I think it’s a matter of letting them know that I have a background that I think they’re comfortable with.  But I’m not trying to impose my faith.  And Chris, very importantly, I certainly never said I am “the” Christian.  There’s no such thing as “the” Christian.  There’s only one “the” Christian, and that was Jesus Christ.  The rest of us are never going to be anywhere near Jesus Christ as “the” Christian, just a Christian following in his steps.

MATTHEWS:  But you said the only reason you answered questions about your Bible beliefs is because the question was put to you on a TV show. 

And now you admit that you’re putting up TV ads advertising your Christian belief.

There’s no message there when we see the big sign “Christian leader.”  You’re not saying you’re more a Christian leader then anyone else running.  What’s the point of mentioning it as a selling point?

HUCKABEE:  It’s been interesting that a lot of people have tried to read something into that ad that’s not there.  What’s there is, This is who I am.  I’m not saying anything about who somebody else is or who somebody else isn’t.  I’m trying to describe what I’m about, what drives my decisions, and that was the sole purpose of the ad.

I appreciate you showing it, and if you want to show it a few more times, feel free to do it.  We need the attention.

MATTHEWS: If I was the most fiscally conservative senator in the United States Senate or I had an ACA rating of 100 percent, that would be selling points.  I just want to know why is “Christian leader” a selling point for Mike Huckabee?

HUCKABEE:  Well, it’s a selling point only in that it’s a description of who I am.  You know, if I watch promos of "Hardball," we’re going to see things like “hard-hitting” or “truth telling.”  Does that mean that you’re the only person on television that tells the truth, that you’re the only one that has hard-hitting questions?  I think it’s a description of your show.

These are labels that are descriptive of who I am.  I think it’s a perfectly legitimate way to introduce myself to the voters of Iowa.

MATTHEWS:  But would it be appropriate for Joe Lieberman, who ran on the ticket of the Democratic Party in 2000 to say, “Jewish leader”? 

Would that seem right to you?

HUCKABEE:  It would be perfectly fine.  In fact, I would appreciate it.  I think Joe Lieberman is a tremendous individual.  I think one of the things that endear me most to him and that causes me to have enormous respect for him is that he is a person who not only believes his faith, he practices it.  And he practices it in not a showy way but in an honest, sincere way.  And Joe Lieberman is one of my favorite Democrats.  I wish he were a Republican, quite frankly.

MATTHEWS:  So when the Constitution says no religious test shall ever be used as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States, that phrase in the Constitution means what to you?

HUCKABEE:  It means just what it says, there shouldn’t be a religious test.  There’s no requirement that a person has a religious at all.  It may have been on your program, Chris, that a few weeks ago, we talked about Pete Stark, an avowed atheist. 

My point that day, and I’ll say it again, I’d rather have a person serving in Congress who’s an avowed atheist who’s honest about it than a person who tries to pretend he’s a Christian when he doesn’t live like it and he’s filled with hate and venom and anger toward people.

That’s hardly consistent with the Christian Gospel.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about capital punishment because it really does get to our beliefs, “Thou shalt not kill.”  We’re all familiar with the main tenets of the Bible, the Old and New Testament.  The New Testament’s more forgiving, as you know as a pastor, much more about compassion than perhaps fire and brimstone.

How do you look at the two different?  When you talked last night, someone asked you a good question, I thought, How does your religion affect your view of public policy on capital punishment?  And you had a very funny line.  It was very funny.

Jesus was smart enough never to run for office.  But you are.  And you are a “Christian leader,” self-described as such.  Therefore, what should that tell us about your views on capital punishment, being a Christian leader running for public office in secular society?

HUCKABEE:  Well, if you play the first part of the answer is anything but funny because in the first part of that answer, Chris, what I mentioned was that I carried out the death penalty more than any governor in my state.  And I pointed out that no one else on that stage had ever done what I have done, that’s actually have to carry out the death penalty.

I mentioned that it was the toughest decision I ever made as a governor because it was the only decision that was irrevocable.  I talked about how I looked through every page of every file in every box related to that case because I needed to make sure I was right, needed to make sure there wasn’t something there that shouldn’t be the basis for giving that condemned person another opportunity for review.

But the result of a long judicial process and the law is that a person would be put to death.  It was never something that I enjoyed. 

It was never something that I took lightly.

It was a heavy responsibility.  So there was anything but levity when it came to that issue with me.

MATTHEWS:  What would be the difference between your view of capital punishment as a chief executive carrying out the law and someone who is a non-believer?

HUCKABEE:  I’m not sure that there would be because carrying out the law is just what it is, it’s carrying out the law.  There are some times that I may not completely agree with the law, but if it is the law, then I have to execute it because I’ve taken an oath to do so.

As president of the United States, I have two options.  Maybe you’d say I have three.  I can obey the law, which is my first obligation. 

I’ve sworn to do that.  I could seek to change the law, which under our Constitution and way of government, we always have the opportunity to do.  Or I could disobey the law and then willingly suffer whatever consequences there were in doing so, but that obviously is the least of the options.

MATTHEWS:  So there’s no role for Christian forgiveness as an executive.

HUCKABEE:  Oh, there’s a role for Christian forgiveness, but forgiveness is not in conflict with justice.  The fact is, you can forgive someone, but that does not alleviate the temporal consequences that they should experience.  If a person’s a speeder, I can say, I forgive you for speeding, but you’re still going to pay the ticket. 

I’ll forgive you for robbing the bank, but you’re still going to do five to 10 years.

I’ll forgive you for the murder, but you’re still going to pay with your life for having brutally raped and assaulted and murdered another human being.

MATTHEWS:  Well, then it doesn’t seem like it matters much because if you’re going to assume your role as a secular leader in cases of executive role, an executive role carrying out the punishment of a court, even if it is the extreme punishment, the ultimate punishment, it seems like the role of Christianity, which you’ve advertised in your public advertising and then you advertise in your public speaking when it comes up, seems to be irrelevant.

What I’m trying to figure out here why is it relevant to run as a Christian leader, if, when I give you particular cases of life and death, perhaps war, you resort to the secular role, which is probably more appropriate to a politician?

HUCKABEE:  Well, because, Chris, frankly, there are times when the Christian Gospel does very much apply — inasmuch as you’ve done it to the least of these, my brethren.  When 75,000 evacuees came to my state from Hurricane Katrina, it was my Christian faith that said we’re not going to wait until paperwork is done to take care of these people. 

These are fellow human beings, and I want them treated like people, not pieces of paper.  It’s why we made sure that they had a place to sleep and that we had food for them, that we had blankets to cover them and clothing for them.

And when people said how are we going to budget this, I said we’re not going to worry about the budget.  We’re going to worry about these people and treat them like we’d want to be treated. 

That’s when I think you’ll see the Christian Gospel coming to be.

Now, did I violate the law in doing that?  Some might argue that I went beyond the authority that I had to authorize the kind of expenditures, not knowing whether we’d be reimbursed by the federal government.  I was willing to suffer whatever the consequences were because I knew that the right thing was to make sure that when that elderly person got off that evacuation airplane, I treated her as if that were my own mother.

MATTHEWS:  This is a hard question.  It’s not a “gotcha” question because it’s something I care a lot about.  Would you be more than less likely to resort to war as an option because of your Christianity?

More or less likely?  Would it affect the way you look at just wars, the — the hair trigger you have in terms of action which would cost people lives?

HUCKABEE:  I think it would make me ...

MATTHEWS:  Does it affect your thinking on those key issues of leadership in this country?

HUCKABEE:  In this way, knowing that war is the court of last resort, knowing that in war, you again are creating something that has irrevocable consequences in the potential loss of life of people not only in your country but in the country of someone else.  Would it affect me?  Yes.  Would I be willing to do it when it was the only way in which I could protect Americans, or best protect our freedom and liberty and future?  But I tell you, it would not be something that I would do without careful prayer, consideration and the counsel of many people.

That’s where I think a person of faith would certainly act not capriciously and not maybe with some sense of a cavalier attitude, but with only very deliberate dispatch, after much thought and much prayer.

MATTHEWS:  You wouldn’t believe, as president, that you were carrying out the will of God, would you?  You wouldn’t have a messianic notion because of your deep religious belief?

HUCKABEE:  No, I think that would be very ...

MATTHEWS:  You wouldn’t have a sense ...

HUCKABEE:  ... dangerous.

MATTHEWS:  ... that because you were elected ...

HUCKABEE:  No, you got to be careful ...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I think that’s extremely dangerous.

HUCKABEE:  You’re never, ever to be God.  In fact, I think the most dangerous thing that a person has is this messianic complex, where he thinks that he’s not being a servant of people, he’s being God of people.  That’s the opposite of what my faith teaches me.  My faith says that if you want to be great, you become servant.  You don’t lift yourself up.  You’re willing to allow yourself to be put down.

And I think when we see people who think they’re running not for president but to be lord of America, that’s a very dangerous thing.  And I certainly don’t look at it in that way.

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