During his first-ever visit to Yale on Friday, Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas Governor and 2008 candidate in the Republican presidential primaries, suggested all the nation’s problems could be solved by one simple rule: “do unto others as you would have others do unto to you.”
The event, entitled “Restoring American Values,” was the first in a series of lectures organized by the William F. Buckley, Jr. Program at Yale, founded last winter to promote intellectual and political diversity at Yale by providing a home for conservative thought, said the program’s president Nathaniel Zelinsky ’13, a staff columnist for the News. During his speech, Huckabee focused on his Christian approach to politics and the importance of American values, emphasizing that politicians who try to keep morality out of government are misguided.
In an interview with the News after his speech, Huckabee said he was glad, but not surprised, to find that a conservative base exists at Yale.
“I think it’d be a terrible school if you had to have a certain political ideology in order to attend,” Huckabee said. “People need to be exposed to points of view other than their own.”
Most politicians inaccurately characterize the American electorate, Hucakbee said, believing they are “wrapped up” in left-right ideology when, in reality, most Americans are more focused on whether things in the nation are getting better or worse.
Although many of Huckabee’s political opponents are vehemently against any overlap between the state and Christian morality, Huckabee argued that such normative principles already dictate the way America is governed. Laws exist to encourage the country’s citizens to behave in accordance with the values of the society, he said, and are proof that morality already plays an active role in government. But in some cases, he added, legal regulations necessary to solve societal problems have inflated government to a troubling size.
Ultimately, Huckabee said, our nation would be much better off if people treated others with the sort of respect they expect in exchange.
“My guess is that the prevailing part of the political spectrum [at Yale] is not where I land,” Huckabee said near the beginning of his talk, provoking widespread laughter from the audience. He added: “Your reaction confirmed that.”
In a question and answer session at the end of the program, students asked Huckabee to clarify his stance on the death penalty, given that he had emphasized the preciousness of all human life during his speech. Huckabee responded that some crimes are so heinous that the death penalty is justified, but added that he believes the issue needs to be treated with “some sense of sobriety,” not with the celebratory attitude displayed by attendees of a Sept. 7 Republican presidential debate.
As governor of Arkansas, Huckabee signed off on more orders to use the death penalty than of any his predecessors.
Regardless of their political background, students interviewed after the talk said they enjoyed Huckabee’s affability and appreciated his respectful attitude towards other points of view. Though Lizzie Hylton ’15 said she is an active Democrat, she also called Huckabee one of her favorite politicians.
“He very much sticks to his moral and religious beliefs,” Hylton said.
Elizabeth Henry ’14 said that she is an “evangelical-Christian” like Huckabee and that she is grateful to the Buckley program for bringing in speakers whose beliefs do not reflect the overall views of the student population.
At the end of the program, Huckabee told the News he was impressed with the turnout and the level of student engagement at the event.
“I’m not completely devoid of understanding that the probably overwhelming majority of students here were not necessarily people voting in the republican primary this time,” he said. “But they were extremely kind and generous in their respect for me tonight.”
The Huckabee talk was only the start to what Zelinsky said will be a busy year for the Buckley program. Its largest event of the semester will be a conference on Nov. 4 centered around God and Man at Yale, a book published in 1951 by former conservative commentator and founder of the National Review William F. Buckley, Jr. ’50. The event will focus on the historical impact of the book and its relevance today, and will include a panel on the state of modern conservatism featuring, among others, editor of the National Review Rich Lowry and conservative political analyst William Kristol.
Less then a year after the Buckley program was founded, members have raised about $70,000 in support of the organization. Zelinsky declined to identify the donors until they could be officially recognized by the program.
Zelinksy said Huckabee was a perfect candidate to jump-start the organization’s speaker series because of his broad name recognition and appeal to people of all beliefs.
“He also represents a certain brand of conservatism that I think students may not give a fair shake on campus,” Zelinsky added.
The program’s next event will be a lecture on Sep. 28 with Chris Tollefsen, a professor at the University of South Carolina.