Monday, December 10, 2007

Huckabee's Dangerous Blinders

Three events in the Huckabee campaign show evidence of a pattern that would make Huckabee a very poor choice for President. It’s a pattern of ignoring evidence – of drawing conclusions based upon his belief and using this to evaluate the evidence, rather than looking at the evidence and allowing that to inform his beliefs.

I have used an example in the past that involves riding a bus. In getting on a bus, you have the choice of two different drivers. Driver 1 wears a blindfold, shuts out the outside world, and says that through faith alone he can navigate the streets. Driver 2, on the other hand, refuses to wear a blindfold and makes his choices of where to turn and how fast to travel based on observation. In other words, he is constantly looking out the window.

Huckabee’s recent actions suggest that he would be the first type of driver – that he wears a blindfold and bases his policy decisions on faith, rather than basing those decisions on observation.

One of the three events pointing in this direction is his answer to a 1992 survey in which he said that people infected with the HIV virus should be isolated from everybody else. Scientists had discovered that the HIV virus was not spread through casual contact seven years earlier, in 1985. At the same time that Huckabee was willing to impose this great burden on a segment of the population (for no good reason), he was unwilling to spend any money to relieve this burden. That is to say, he was not interested in funding research into discovering a treatment or cure for this disease. He showed a tremendous lack of sympathy for those that he would cause to suffer.

Fifteen years later, Huckabee is standing by his original policy claim – suggesting that he would do the same thing in the future under similar circumstances.

Huckabee acknowledged the prevailing scientific view then, and since, that the virus that causes AIDS is not spread through casual contact, but said that was not certain. He cited revelations in 1991 that a dentist had infected a patient in an extraordinary case that highlighted the risk of infection through contact with blood or bodily fluids.

The core problem that I am interested in talking about in this post is Huckabee’s claim that the science ‘was not certain’. This raises the question, “What does it take for Huckabee to be certain of something? At what point will he look at the evidence and say that the evidence is so compelling that we can now be ‘certain’?”

The problem with Huckabee is that it does not take any evidence at all for Huckabee to be certain of something. He does not ground his claims on evidence. Instead, he first makes up his mind what is true – what he is ‘certain’ of – then looks through the evidence for whatever will support his initial decision.

The case of the dentist in 1991 was a case of irrational hysteria. It was a news story that provoked fear in people. Some people found that fear useful – it was a part of their agenda to promote fear and hatred of homosexuals and could fulfill that desire by promoting this story, using it to manufacture fear. The dentist claim that Huckabee pointed to was not a reason for isolating people with the disease, it was a pretext, in the same way that weapons of mass destruction and involvement in 9/11 was a pretext for invading Iraq.

In this case, Huckabee saw that the science ‘was not certain’ because this is what he wanted to believe. He wanted to find doubt that would justify ‘isolating’ homosexuals and, if the scientists themselves could not provide him with that evidence, he would find it elsewhere.

This is the same way of thinking that President Bush used. Bush (and others in his cabinet) first made up their mind to attack Iraq. From that point on, evidence did not matter. They used their desire to attack Iraq to evaluate the evidence – throwing away that which they did not like, and keeping (or leaking) that which supported their conclusion. This HIV answer suggests that Huckabee used his understanding of scripture to determine what he wanted the science to say regarding the disease, and accepted only that which corresponded with scripture, rather than evaluating it as science.

Another incident that demonstrates a disposition to let a will to believe blind him to mountains of evidence was his answer to a debate question on evolution. When a debate moderator asked for a show of hands for those who do not believe in the theory of evolution, Huckabee’s was one of three hands that went up.

Again, Huckabee’s rejection of evolution is not as telling as the comments he made afterwards. Explaining his answer,

"Is a president going to sit in the Oval Office and really make a decision on what's being taught in a third-grade class in Dubuque, Iowa, on creation or evolution? The answer is no."

Actually, the answer is ‘yes’. In fact, we have very good reason to reject any President who does not have at the very least a 3rd-grader’s understanding of science. If his understanding of science is at or below that level, then how can he possibly make good decisions?

The third incident that relates to Huckabee’s refusal to look at real-world explanations for real-world events came in an answer to a question about why his poll numbers were on the rise. Huckabee’s answer was,

There’s only one explanation for it, and it’s not a human one. It’s the same power that helped a little boy with two fish and five loaves feed a crowd of five thousand people. (Applause) That’s the only way that our campaign can be doing what it’s doing. And I’m not being facetious nor am I trying to be trite. There literally are thousands of people across this country who are praying that a little will become much, and it has. And it defies all explanation, it has confounded the pundits. And I’m enjoying every minute of them trying to figure it out, and until they look at it, from a, just experience beyond human, they’ll never figure it out. And it’s probably just as well. That’s honestly why it’s happening.

It is bad enough that Huckabee now thinks that he is being personally appointed by God to be President, rather than being elected by the people. If he had begun with the assumption that Presidents are chosen by the people (rather than God), then he would have had to look for an explanation as to why the people were choosing him to be leader. Something changed their mind. Perhaps it was the fact that the voters had decided to pay attention to the issue and conclude that he was the best candidate. Either way, if it is the people’s choice that he become President then the answer to the question can be found there. However, if it is not the peoples’ choice – if it is God’s choice – then the will of the people becomes irrelevant.

What is worse than Huckabee’s belief that God personally picked him to lead the country is his refusal to look for real-world causes to explain real-world events. Notice that he said that anybody who looked for a real-world cause would be disappointed, because the event could only be explained in supernatural terms.

Now, imagine that Huckabee is called upon to deal with some serious challenge facing the country – a Middle-East crisis or an outbreak of Bird Flu. America, then, would have a President who is more than happy to say that the event we need to deal with cannot be explained in terms of natural influences; that it can only be explained and understood in supernatural terms. Those who look for a natural explanation (and who built their response strategies on the best theories as to what that explanation was) would be dismissed as wasting their time – that the only people who can truly understand (and predict, and respond to) this threat is somebody who knows how it fits into God’s plan.

To get an idea of how Huckabee would rule, we need to imagine a leader from the Dark Ages – a leader who believes in magic and superstition. If he has an important decision to make, this leader first consults the oracles and astrologers – the ‘priests’ who open up a chicken on an altar and read the entrails. Huckabee’s first interpretation of events will be through the lens of scripture. His first question will be, “How does this fit into God’s plan?” However he answers this question, this will determine his reaction.

This is what I meant when I talked about a person driving a bus by putting on a blindfold and expecting to know by faith alone when to turn and how fast to drive. Huckabee wears a blindfold that allows him to simply ignore the best empirical evidence available for understanding any social problem.

Reality has this habit of being amazingly indifferent to human folly. If a foolish mistake takes a man’s life or destroys his business, he cannot go up to reality and say, “Okay, I was stupid. It was my mistake. Can I have a do-over?” There are no do-overs in the real world, so we need a President who is less likely to put us on a collision course with a stubborn and indifferent reality. We need a president who will drive by looking at the window and respecting the rules of evidence that hold sway in the real world.


Anonymous said...


Are any of the candidates for the Republican nomination sane?

Anonymous said...

These dudes make Maax from The Beastmaster look like a good choice.

Unknown said...

Excallent essay. Huckabee becoming president would be the worst possible thing that could happen to this country. A rational leader is the only kind that will get us through this mess Bush put us in.

Anonymous said...

I would add the "Christian Leader" ad to your list.

Anonymous said...

Really they should call him Hick-he-be, he's a back woods hick! Actually I was impressed that the Republicans had a majority who "believed" in evolution. Iowa has a lot of these types of voters so I'm not at all surprised he is picking up ground, the leaders of the pack are north east liberals, the religious right is a potent force in the republican party and Hick-he-be is their guy.