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Getting Vertical: A Threat to Democracy? January 8, 2008

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts, Ethics, Philosophy.

On the campaign trail Mike Huckabee makes repeated references to “vertical politics”. (See here)

Lots of people have been wondering what that means. David Domke, co-author of The God Strategy: How Religion Became A Political Weapon in America, has one hypothesis:

“This is definitely dog-whistle politics — that is, a message delivered in coded terminology and targeted to a particular subcultural group.  Conservative evangelicals often talk about the need to prioritize their vertical relationships with God first and foremost before worrying about horizontal relationships among people. It’s the individualized “get right with God” approach of conservative Protestantism.”

I don’t know if Domke is right about this but, if he is, it perfectly illustrates the dangers of a Huckabee presidency.

People who are willing to sacrifice their moral obligations to other persons are morally compromised. Morality is inherently interpersonal, inherently horizontal.

It is especially important to acknowledge the moral authority of other persons in democratic political relationships. Citizenship expresses the mutual obligations citizens have toward each other. We are accountable to each other, and democratically elected leaders are part of that system of mutual accountability.

As private persons in a liberal democracy we have a variety of other interpersonal commitments as well that may conflict with our role as citizens. But when we elect a President we expect that person to put the nation first, to give priority to his or her horizontal relationship with fellow citizens.

A candidate who admits he can’t adopt such a priority is disqualified from holding the office.



1. jonolan - January 8, 2008

A very flawed premise indeed – there are no valid “horizontal” relationships involved in democratic politics. There is – or should be – only the “vertical” relationship between the elected official and “The Nation” as represented by The People.

Of course that means that the conclusion is still valid, if for erroneous reasons. I mention this solely because a singular correct answer based on an incorrect premise or rationale can lead to future mistakes.

2. Moriae - January 9, 2008

Christians often seem to think that there is only one direction in the vertical that pertains to them; yet why wouldn’t logic suggest that the other direction equally applys? Empirically, the only thing demonstrably ‘verical’ about Huckabee is his eyebrows.

3. Forrest Noble - January 9, 2008

It seems to me

that there are many great qualities needed for a politician to get elected: to talk a lot of bs and nonsense, be ambiguous but always very upbeat and positive, smile a lot, talk of America’s potential in the near future, generally talk around controversy, find popular things to talk about, pretend you have a very popular cause, make lots of general promises, use platitudes, ata-boys, euphemisms, be a glad-hander, put your arms around people, kiss babies and go to church (especially in front of the cameras), contrary to what you believe– tout family values, pretend that you have class, pretend you’re not a drinking man and that you don’t take drugs– pretend that you are both a man’s man and a lady’s man. Have a good sense of humor, know lots of jokes, try to make no enemies especially in your own party–you must be perceived as a good-ol-boy, but mostly cater to those that will finance your election.

For Huckabee, maybe his hair dresser could work on the eye brows a little. I kinda like those seemingly vacuous words/ phrases though, such as vertical but horizontal is OK too. If this doesn’t sound like Hukabee, don’t worry, then he can’t get elected.

your friend forrest

4. NR - January 10, 2008

A classical analysis of the mythological concept “vertical” in the style of the mythologist Mircea Eliade would point out that in most religions the vertical signifies the point where the divine touches down and creates a sacred space in the world of the senses. As such, it differentiates between what really matters, and what really doesn’t matter (“the sacred vs. the profane”). So I’d say the interpretation of the crypto-meaning is bang-on: Mythologically, our lives only have true meaning when we find ourselves in the sacred space, with a “vertical” relationship to the the world above (or below, for that matter). Not good as a political agenda, in a country with a separation between church and state…. So does this mean Huckabee is horizontally challenged?

5. Forrest Noble - January 10, 2008

Horizontally challenged. Is that Freudian? If so maybe he does have the right credentials. Thought he was just a minister turned politician. Now he’s giving secret codes and he may by horizontally challenged. Wow– sounds like the inside track-to-god to me.

your friend forrest

6. Moriae - January 10, 2008

“So does this mean Huckabee is horizontally challenged?”

Only his wife knows.

7. Forrest Noble - January 10, 2008

Yeah you’re right about that Moriae. If he’s horizontally challenged he probably has no mistresses.

your friend forrest

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