Huckabee Lied About His Credentials–Or Did He?
Not that I ever understood why anyone would consider a theology degree useful for a presidential candidate (I have 2 such degrees, but if I were running for any elected political office in a secular state, would not think them at all relevant), but apparantly Mike Huckabee, fmr. Arkansas Governor and currently a candidate for the Republican nomination for U.S. president, lied about having one. The former Baptist pastor had one year of seminary at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Ft. Worth, TX, but never finished his degree. So much for him being “uniquely qualified” to understand the threat of “Islamofascism.” And we now get why he seems completely ignorant of Mormonism, too. (I do not consider Mormons to be Christians, but I also think the question is irrelevant in a presidential election. Huckabee’s little digs at Romney’s religion are in bad taste, to say the least. ) Hat tip to Big Daddy Weave for this newsflash.
While the possession or lack of a theology degree is irrelevant to one’s qualifications to be president, LYING about having said degree says quite a bit about one’s character. That IS relevant to the quest for elected office. Many in this country wanted Bill Clinton to be impeached and removed from office for lying about having sex with an intern, Monica Lewinsky. [To be clear: I did not think the charges rose to the level of “high crimes and misdemeanors” needed for impeachment, but I did think that Clinton should have resigned to spare the nation and allow the government to get work done. If he had, Al Gore would have had 2 years to work on the nation’s problems, and, with Lewinsky not an issue in the 2000 election, would have won handily and saved us the many ills of G.W. Bush.] Many voters are uneasy about Rudy Guiliani as a presidential candidate because he is now on his third marriage–and both his divorces stemmed from adulterous affairs. His current wife, former mistress, was apparently given New City police protection and much else via shady finances. I have thought the current resident of the White House should be impeached for his many lies and crimes. Character matters in elected officials, especially in one who heads a nation-state and whose power will affect the lives of thousands of people.
Huckabee’s lie about his education seems minor compared to some of these other cases–especially the murderous lies of George W. Bush which have resulted in so much pain, suffering, and death for so many. But if Huckabee would lie about something so minor–and so easily checked–it makes one wonder about his overall honesty. Compare this with Barack Obama’s candid admissions that as a teen he used drugs–pot and some coke. No hedging and saying he didn’t inhale. Talking with regret for the lost boy he was trying to find himself and finally coming out of it in college. Yes, Obama’s presidential hopes could be ruined by such admissions–but I think the public prefers candor. We don’t expect perfection–we just don’t want to be deceived.
Character includes moral maturity–and that includes being able to speak about our shortcomings–whether past misbehavior or never finishing an educational degree to which one aspired. Honesty and integrity must start with self-candor. It’s clear that Huckabee regrets never finishing his seminary education before becoming an assistant to an evangelist. But he can’t turn that regret into the fantasy that he did complete it–nor project that fantasy onto us. A national president must be able to see things clearly, too. But if Huckabee cannot even be honest with himself about his educational achievements, can we trust him to decide matters of life and death with clarity and sound judgment?
Update: Just before reading today’s comments, I heard a response from the Huckabee camp. Supposedly, the “theology degree” to which he was referring was his B.A. in religion at Ouchita Baptist University. If that’s what he meant, then he didn’t exactly lie. (Except that the New York Times reports that his B.A. at OBU was in Communications. Religion was his minor. A MINOR is not a “theology degree” under any stretch.) But he had to know that most people would think he was referring to a degree from an accredited theological seminary. So, the statement was at least misleading. Perhaps I am too skeptical, but this seems to me to be typical political “spin” after being caught in misstatement. It is what conservatives have taught us to call “Clintonian parsing,” as when fmr. president Bill Clinton claimed “not to have inhaled” when reports came out that he tried pot in college (strange how conservatives have never been interested in G. W. Bush’s cocaine use at Yale, as well as his binge drinking into his 40s!), or when he said in response to charges of perjury about not having had a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky, “it all depends on the definition of “‘is’.”
I can’t see into either Clinton or Huckabee’s heart (or anyone else’s). So, maybe he was referring to his OBU B.A. when he claimed a “degree in theology.” One of my faithful readers (and persistent critics) claims that he refers to his own undergraduate degree in that way. Well, I went to a conservative Christian college (as well as a major state university, a large denominational seminary, and many other educational experiences) and my degree was a double-major in religious studies and political science. But I have never referred to it as a “theology degree.” When I use that term, I always have in mind a degree from a seminary or divinity school. I have never heard of another use–but my experience is limited. So, I have added this update and a change in title for this blog post as a partial retraction.
I have no desire to slander Huckabee. I haven’t seen his OBU transcript to know whether the “paper of record” (which has certainly been wrong on other occasions!) got it right about his B.A. being in communications. (And I should have waited before breaking this story to see the Huckabee response.) I hope I was wrong and his answer is truthful (if weird). But I also hope he learns to be more precise and less misleading in off the cuff remarks. Because constant “further statements with more precision” is precisely how politicians get reputations for being less than honest.
Update II: The Christian Science Monitor (a great newspaper whatever one’s view of the Church of Christ, Scientist!) has been doing a series on presidential candidates’ faith and values. In their Nov. 7th article on Huckabee, they quoted him at the October Values Voters’ Summit. There Huckabee said concerning the tensions between being an ordained minister and a presidential candidate (James Garfield was our only minister president
–and he was one of our worst presidents!), “Anytime you have been a person who was identified as a pastor and you’ve got a seminary education and a theology degree, people tend to worry about you.” (My emphasis.) Now that phrasing, while perhaps not technically lying, is certainly misleading–maybe even bearing false witness. Anyone at that meeting or who heard that statement would assume (a) that Huckabee had finished his seminary education rather than dropping out after a year, and (b) that the “theology degree” was a degree earned at an accredited seminary or divinity school–not an undergraduate B.A., whether in religion or “pastoral ministries” as the spokesperson from Ouchita Baptist University described Huckabee’s degree. That B.A. is his only earned degree. He has 2 honorary doctorates which, in the U.S., are a cheap way of honoring commencement speakers. (In the U.K. and Europe, this is different. An honorary doctorate is usually given only to someone who has made tremendous contributions to a given field.) Again, the Constitution does not require any particular educational background for presidents: Our greatest president, Abraham Lincoln, never finished high school and became an attorney not from attending law school, but from private reading and then passing the bar exam. We have only had one president with a Ph.D. (Woodrow Wilson) and, although many came from legal backgrounds, we have had enormous variety in educational and vocational background in our presidents. So, Huckabee’s possession (or not) of a “theology degree” is not relevant. But his misleading statements and later spin ARE. They go to the issue of character and do not reflect well on the second “man from Hope.”
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