Running for Preacher

In the unlikely event he gets elected president, would former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee hector the country to death about cutting carbs?  Maybe, but he seems to have an even more ambitious goal than slimming us down.  As he put it on Meet the Press Sunday:

I think America needs positive, optimistic leadership to kind of turn this country around, to see a revival of our national soul.

Really: is our national soul in such a parlous state that its last, best hope is… Mike Huckabee?  I thought it was the Left that was supposed to believe America was in decline. 

More to the point, even if there was such a thing as a “national soul,” tending to it is not part of the president’s job.  In the taciturn and businesslike language of the Constitution’s Article II, you won’t find anything making the president our national pontiff–any more than you’ll find the language that supposedly makes him Supreme Warlord of the Earth.   

This isn’t just a complaint about the Republican party, or the Religious Right, or even about religion in politics.  I’m not sure Hillary Clinton was talking about religion in her ”politics of meaning” speech diagnosing America’s “sleeping sickness of the soul,” our deep existential angst stemming from our inability to redefine “who we are as human beings in this postmodern age.”  I’m not sure what she was talking about, but whatever it is, it doesn’t sound like something bold executive action can or should fix. 

And Barack Obama’s “Audacity of Hope” isn’t a specifically religious concept.  Instead, judging by his 2004 Democratic Convention keynote speech, it seems to refer to the continuing promise of redemption through presidential politics.  Belief in that ideal would require a leap of faith far beyond anything demanded by the world’s major religions.

Reviving our “national soul,” healing our spiritual malaise, unifying the metatext and subtext of our postmodern age–none of this is the president’s business.  He or she is a constitutional officer, charged with faithful execution of the laws.   

Former Senator Phil Gramm’s 1996 run for the G.O.P. nomination was a colossal bellyflop, but he had at least one moment of glory.  Pushed by Focus on the Family’s James Dobson to talk up values issues on the campaign, Gramm snarled: “I’m not running for preacher.  I’m running for president.”  How many of today’s candidates can tell the difference?