Former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee acknowledged right away that he knew his visit to Cornell wouldn't exactly be a political homecoming.
"Someone has told me Cornell is just a little left of center, for the most part, so I know the Q and A is going to be a whole lot of fun," quipped the former governor of Arkansas during his April 15 visit.
He was right. Huckabee's casual, self-effacing demeanor brought levity to a near-capacity audience of 1,200 in Bailey Hall, for a talk titled "In God We Trust: The Role of Faith in Politics."
He was invited by the Cornell College Republicans and sponsored by several other organizations. Repeatedly, he stressed that though people might disagree with him, he cherished his right to be forthright about his religious beliefs. Before becoming governor of Arkansas in 1996, Huckabee spent more than a decade as a Southern Baptist minister.
There are some occupational hazards to being an evangelical Christian-turned-politician who decides to run for president, as Huckabee jovially admitted. Though the better part of his career as governor was spent dealing with such issues as education and roads, no one ever wanted to focus on that.
"I got all the God questions in the debates," he said. "I wanted to scream sometimes."
Even so, Huckabee said, his religious faith has influenced him in politics -- and he wouldn't have it any other way. As a minister, he witnessed many of society's problems firsthand: domestic violence, poverty and teenage pregnancy among them.
"There's not a social pathology in this country that is abstract to me," Huckabee said.
And though he pointed out that he had more experience as head of a governing body than any of the other presidential candidates, the press, he said, chose never to talk about that.
"It was, 'Hey. You believe the Bible?'" he said. "And what if I do? Is that going to make me a better or worse president in your mind? I personally think it might make me a better one, because it means I believe something. I don't take a poll every night to decide what I'm going to believe tomorrow. My beliefs are going to be pretty predictable. You may not agree with them, but you'll know that even if you don't agree with me, you'll at least find some comfort in that I agree with myself."
Huckabee described why he became a Republican as a teenager, emphasizing that he grew up in a working-class family, not as a child of privilege. He realized, he said, that less government would be needed if people would live by the moral values of "the Golden Rule."
"We have the responsibility to live in the context of respect for others in all that we do, all that we say and how we live," Huckabee said. "And in doing that, we truly do create a society where we don't need as much government."