“I have a great respect for Barack Obama,” noted Huckabee, during a “Tonight Show” visit. “I think he’s a person who is trying to do in many ways what I hope I’m trying to do and that is to say, ‘Let’s quit what I call horizontal politics.’
“Everything in this country is not left, right, liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican. I think the country is looking for somebody who is vertical, who is thinking, ‘Let’s take America up and not down.’ ”
This is how the Southern Baptist pastor tweaked his “vertical” credo on “Meet the Press,” facing journalist Tim Russert: “There has been a huge cultural shift in this country, Tim. And I think that’s why many Americans are seeking leadership that has a positive and optimistic spirit. … I think the American people are hungry for vertical politics, where we have leaders who lift us up rather than those who tear us down.”
The former Arkansas governor has used the word “vertical” so many times that enquiring politicos want to know: What’s “up” with this guy? Some worry that, as critic Josh Marshall put it, Huckabee is sending a “clever dog whistle call out to Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals that his politics are God’s politics.”
This kind of uplifting, vaguely spiritual language may make some people uncomfortable, but there is nothing unusual about it, according to former White House insider Michael Gerson, the evangelical scribe who helped craft the early speeches of President George W. Bush.
“Making use of these kinds of non-sectarian religious references is, itself, the great tradition of American political speechmaking,” said Gerson, who is now a Washington Post opinion columnist. “As a speechwriter, when I hear this kind of language it tells me that someone is trying to describe a politics of idealism and aspiration. It’s a kind of bringing-America-together language and there is certainly nothing new about political leaders trying to do that.”