Asa Hutchinson, Bill Clinton and questions
In 2014, I was a pastor at a small nondenominational church in Jonesboro, Arkansas. One afternoon, I decided to get a quick haircut at a place called Sportsclips. I was lucky because the place was unusually empty, so I didn’t have to wait. After paying for my haircut and chatting with the hairdresser, I was about to leave when I almost bumped into a tall man standing behind me. He had a unique appearance with white hair combed over, piercing eyes, and a blue suit. I guessed him a conservative person of importance, but I couldn’t figure out who he was. He introduced himself and shook my hand, but his name didn’t register with me until later. But I will always remember his quiet strength, kindness, and humility. It turns out that I had just met Asa Hutchinson, who was campaigning to become the governor of Arkansas.
Asa Hutchinson was eventually elected as the Republican governor of Arkansas in the fall of 2014, giving the Republican party complete control over the state government. He took a more moderate and practical approach compared to many other Republicans in power. During the pandemic, Hutchinson showed himself to be a steady and reasonable leader, sometimes disagreeing with members of his own party and those from the opposing side. Now, Asa Hutchinson is running for the Republican nomination for president in 2024, positioning himself as an alternative to the style of politics associated with Donald Trump. However, considering the current political climate, I don’t believe Asa Hutchinson has a realistic chance of becoming the GOP nominee for president.
What struck me the most about meeting Asa Hutchinson at Sportsclips was that, despite running for governor, he didn’t feel the need to reveal his identity or ask for my vote. This kind of personal humility is not common among politicians or people in general nowadays. It made that encounter with Hutchinson stand out in my mind and made it even more memorable. Based on my personal impression of Hutchinson, if given the opportunity, I will vote for him in the Republican primary. But this presidential election cycle, I will be participating in the Republican primary as a registered Independent voter if given the opportunity to do so by my state.
Before the 2016 presidential election, I had never voted for candidates outside of the Republican party. My first vote, when I turned 18 in 1988, was for George H.W. Bush, and I considered myself a follower of Ronald Reagan’s Republican Party. My political beliefs were influenced by my Evangelical Christian values and the Republican Party’s promises to uphold those values. I avidly listened to James Dobson and later Rush Limbaugh, who criticized the “situational ethics” of the Democratic Party. I strongly supported everything I heard. My right-wing politics became even more extreme during the Clinton administration. Unlike many of my family members and the people in my community, I did not support Bill Clinton, a fellow Arkansan, due to concerns about his ethics and his support for abortion rights and other liberal policies.
Almost as strange as my unexpected encounter with Asa Hutchinson, I had a couple of serendipitous encounters with Bill Clinton during my youth. Firmly committed to what I believed was representing the “Christian Right,” I participated in the American Legion Oratorical Contest and made it to the Arkansas State Finals in July 1988. While waiting in the lobby of the Excelsior Hotel in Little Rock for my turn to deliver my speech, I heard cheers behind me. I peeked around a large chair and saw Governor Clinton surrounded by supporters as he prepared to give his infamous nomination speech for Michael Dukakis, the Democratic presidential nominee that year. Before his own run for president, I saw Governor Clinton every year at our Pentecostal summer Family Camp, where he played his saxophone and joined in as we sang gospel hymns together. Clinton would stay for the entire service, which could last up to four hours. As a skilled politician, he seemed like another pastor on the platform, adding his hearty “amen” to the chorus of support for the enthusiastic preaching. However, his presence conflicted with many of the values embraced by my Pentecostal organization. I felt a sense of betrayal when Clinton was elected president, not just once but twice. Many of the people around me, who had warned me about Democrats, couldn’t hide their support for his presidency. But I took comfort in the belief that the majority of Christians in America shared my right-wing politics. At least that’s what I thought at the time. Throughout the Clinton administration, Christian leaders aligned with the Republican Party repeatedly criticized Clinton for his moral failings and policy positions that contradicted the perspectives of the GOP and the Christian Right.
Betrayal: An identity disruption
A significant turning point for me came in 2016 when I voted for Clinton. Hillary Clinton. It marked the first occasion where I voted for a Democrat when there was an alternative on the ballot. I made this choice primarily in response to the nomination of Donald Trump as the Republican presidential candidate. I couldn’t understand how the Republican Party, which had long viewed the idea of the ends justifying the means as unacceptable, decided to abandon that principle and support Trump. Now, it appears that Trump is currently the frontrunner for the GOP and the Republican Party is once again rallying behind him.
Take a moment to grasp that fact.
Despite everything we know about Donald Trump, including his involvement in inciting the assault on the Capitol on January 6th, the numerous scandals which surround him, and his conviction by a New York State jury for sexual assault and defamation, none of these seem to diminish the unwavering support of Trump’s core followers, whose enthusiasm for him borders on cult-like.
But my support for Clinton in 2016 and Biden in 2020 goes beyond my distaste for Trump. I genuinely feel betrayed by the GOP. With over fifty years of life experience, I have come to the realization that this country is best served by elected officials who understand that policy decisions have the potential to improve the lives of everyday people, not just those who are wealthy, privileged, and lacking in melanin. This perspective is why my initial impression of Asa Hutchinson was so positive. Hutchinson gets his haircuts at Sportsclips, distances himself from Trump, and seems to respect the concerns of all Americans, even when he disagrees with them. I will support Asa Hutchinson wherever possible in the GOP primary, but unfortunately for him, unless there are drastic changes between now and November 2024 and his party denounces Donald Trump and his politics of personal attacks, it is likely that I will find myself voting for Joe Biden once again.
Photo by Kelli Dougal on Unsplash
I also am incensed at the hypocrisy of the self-described “religious” right, who cast their lot with the embodiment of too many traits of the Anti-christ – a trickster who led them to forsake their beliefs in exchange for empty promises, revolving around punishing perceived enemies, and satisfying petty desires. Regardless of political ideology, any person of high integrity is preferable as a leader, because they see even adversaries as humans, and find greater gains with shared accomplishments, rather than with Old Testament retributions, vendettas, retaliations. Dehumanizing as a tactic is divisive, and anti-Christian, as Jesus was the original Humanist, embracing, forgiving, loving all as equals in the eyes of God; no one, and particularly no political leader, can ever claim absolute knowledge about right and wrong – which was why the Founders wisely kept State and Church separate. You are free to believe, but not to impose your beliefs on others. Yet this is precisely the motivation driving nearly every Rightwing candidate, from school boards, to governorships, to national offices.