Is America Ready for Vertical Politics?

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee often harps upon a “vertical politics” of raising people up instead of pitting left against right.  What does he mean by this “vertical politics?”  And how do we engage in it?

Well, let’s suggest one very good place to start: our common creeds.

Senior Associate Editor, Harold Simmons’ recent article on Media Rostra provides a very good example of how religious zealousness can pull politics away from any higher purpose.  Instead of using religious language to impose rigid doctrinal and political party litmus tests unconnected to faith, the article suggests that we instead look to common texts to build a shared understanding of purposeful and sound public policy.

Mr. Simmons’ point is summed up in saying that “somehow I can’t see where one’s belief in a modern political party would fit in the early apostolic confession,” a confession which he includes in full.

These days, you don’t find many discussions of the Apostles’ Creed in the context of purposeful public policy.  We do, however, have litmus test questionnaires sent to our candidates, be it from the Family Council, environmental groups, or other interest groups.  These questionnaires from the differing groups often exist in very different worlds from each other.  Each group may use concepts and language largely unfamiliar to those outside of that specific sub-group. For example, the Family Council may ask about a fetal-pain standard for abortion, while a labor group may query candidates about CAFTA and outsourcing jobs.

If we are ever to get to an understanding of “vertical politics,” we have to reject much of these specific tests.

Instead, we should seek to build on a broad common understanding.  As a thought experiment, what if we asked each other: “Do you truly believe that ‘he shall come to judge the living and the dead’?”

If so, what does this mean for a policy on crime or for our justice system?  What does it mean for our obligations to each other?

Take as another example this common creed:  “Do you believe in ‘the holy catholic church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins’?” 

If so, what does this mean for a policy towards ecumenical action, or for rehabilitation and deterrence, or for what it means to be a part of a community?

You may say these questions are too philosophical or esoteric, but the text has carried through time as an orthodox and common basis for belief.  If we are to have purposeful public policy that raises people up, we must start with a common foundation.  If there is no foundation, there is nothing to rise from.  It is thus only from a foundation that we can understand how there can be a “vertical politics” that rises up from something.

The Apostles’ Creed is only one foundational example, and there are other common creeds that we should ask each other to build our understanding upon.  I bet you can think of some others.

In closing, there certainly will be doctrinal differences in politics, as there are in all human endeavors.  As long as humans see “through a glass, darkly,” interpretive variation will remain.  However, absolute relativism (the dogma that truth is whatever you make it) has no place in the law of nature or of man or otherwise.  Be it first from our understanding of the Philistines or of modern physics, there is a beginning and an end, there is reckoning and grace, and we have to continually ask ourselves what that means for our lives and the lives of those around us.  If we do so well, we can rise to a vertical politics of purpose that makes a real horizontal difference.

About Chris Burks, Contributor

Chris is an Arkansas attorney and writer. He graduated from Davidson College and the University of Arkansas School of Law. He writes a bi-monthly politics column for The Log Cabin Democrat newspaper in Conway Arkansas, and practices primarily in the areas of property and family law in Central and South Arkansas. His all-time favorite basketball player is "The Floor General'" Corey Beck -- the starting point guard on the Razorbacks 1994 NCAA Championship Team -- someone whose story perfectly encapsulates both the triumphs and madness of our sports, culture, and time.


  1. I think religious concepts have nothing to do with politics. I know religious issues are part of a society, and usually, they beacon its values and identity. This way, religion will be somehow part of the political issues, but they should not be the main point of thinking politics.