Tuesday, July 24, 2007

It's Huckabee

July 24, 2007, 6:00, 6:45 a.m.

My Republican Pick: Governor Mike Huckabee

"What's a Unitarian and Democrat like you doing at an evangelical Christian rally for a Republican presidential candidate like Huckabee?" a friend asked yesterday.

I explained, "Some partisans want to do all they can to see to it that the opposing party picks the absolutely worst candidate possible -- so they'll be easier to beat. That's never been my approach. One of these parties' candidates is going to end up being president. Given the Democrats' finely honed skill at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, even though 2008 should be the Democrats' year we could just end up with another Republican president. If that happens I'd like it to be someone the country can live with."

Don't get me wrong. I'll be voting for the Democrat. There may be some scenario in which I would end up voting for a Republican president in November 2008 -- it's just never happened before and I'm incapable of imagining what it might be. But that doesn't mean I don't care who their nominee turns out to be.

I don't pretend to have thoroughly studied the records of all the Republican presidential candidates, but based on what I do know my favorite of the lot is Mike Huckabee. So I decided to go out to North Liberty to listen to him yesterday, this former governor who's lost 100 pounds, and runs marathons, and yet insists on holding his gatherings with voters in franchised outlets of the "Pizza Ranch."

My pictures of the Huckabee event are here

I don't remember what the TV interview was, but I do remember the first time Huckabee got my attention. Because the impression he made then has been borne out over the intervening months up to any including yesterday.

He was asked if he was "pro-life." He responded something along these lines: Of course, I believe in right to life. I just don't think the right to life stops at the end of the birth canal. I think a right to life has to include a right to nutrition, housing, health care and education.

Yesterday he expressed the same thought in another context: national security. National security, he said, requires a nation's ability to provide its citizens food and fuel, a better educational system and health care for all Americans. It was reminiscent of one of Dennis Kucinich' chants about "weapons of mass destruction": "poverty is a weapon of mass destruction," "lack of health care is a weapon of mass destruction." At worst it demonstrates a comprehension of how social programs have to be packaged to be sold; at best it provides a clue as to what he'd really like to see government do.

He thinks our striving for "energy independence" should be a 10-year, not a 20-year goal. He pointed to our successful undertaking to get "a man on the moon" as evidence of our ability to accomplish the difficult -- while noting something like, "although I suspect there are a good many of you here who still think that moon walk was faked somewhere on a stage set in Arizona."

He's not an isolationist, saying that we need both a global perspective and a focus on our internal needs, using the analogy of the way he inspects a plane before he boards: I'm not just interested in the left wing or the right wing, I'd kind of like for both of them to be there.

My sense is (again, I need to study his record more closely) that during his 10 years as governor he really did make some progress with education, the environment, roads, more efficiently administered state government -- and health care for Arkansas citizens, especially an additional 200,000 children. While he cut welfare, he didn't dump on the recipients. He said something to the effect that he'd never met anyone who really wanted to be on welfare; they want to succeed on their own.

In another TV interview I watched he was asked if he was a "conservative." He responded something like this: Sure I'm a conservative; I'm just not angry about it.

As for being "a uniter not a divider" (Bush's phase, not Huckabee's) bear in mind that Arkansas is over 80% Democratic registration. To be elected, and re-elected as a Republican governor in the State of Arkansas says something, without more, about that person's non-partisan ability to work with everyone.

Look, Huckabee's not trying to fool anyone and neither am I. He is a conservative. He used to be a Baptist preacher. He probably really would put restrictions on abortion -- if that was something a president could do. He favors raising all federal revenue from a sales tax rather than an income tax -- thereby permitting the dissolution of the Internal Revenue Service. (This so-called "fair tax" would shift an enormous tax burden from the wealthy to the poor -- I think. It might possibly bring on stag-flation as consumers confronted the sticker shock of significantly increased prices. I need to study it.) He may even really believe that's a good idea -- though I would hope it, too, would be politically impossible to pull off. He may even have been one of those who raised his hand at the Republican debate when the candidates were asked for a show of hands if they did not believe in evolution.

Huckabee's a Republican. He has to appeal to the Party's evangelical, conservative base. Didn't you ever read What's the Matter with Kansas? That's the way the Republicans obtained, and retained, power. They give the evangelical base the hot button rhetoric about God, guns and gays -- and doing away with IRS -- but then never do anything, or at least not very much, about delivering on the rhetoric. Meanwhile, they take the money, and return the benefits, to business interests and the wealthy. But before you get to feeling all smug and superior just remember that when it comes to raising millions from, and returning billions to, big business the inside-the-beltway Democrats have proven every bit as adept as Republicans.

It's kind of like my feelings about the last Pope. He was Catholic. I was not. We disagreed about a number of issues -- including the role of women in the church, contraception, the propriety of governmentally mandated laws about abortion, and so forth. But he was just about the only world leader speaking out on issues of war, peace and poverty. It seemed to me you had to give him credit for that.

There's a soft side to Huckabee. He meets people easily -- admittedly easier to do when there are only 40 there. But he comes across as friendly, comfortable, relaxed and genuine -- as well as often genuinely funny. He doesn't shout at you when he speaks. He's probably given the talk thousands of times -- which makes it easier to do without notes -- but you don't get the sense it's been written by media advisors, focus group tested, and overly rehearsed.

He acknowledged that he had once been a pastor, and that it might trouble some people, but that it had the effect of putting a human face on every social problem our society confronts: couples in debt, the elderly, and a variety of social pathologies are, he said, very concrete to him. He told of being asked if he was "one of those narrow minded Baptists who thinks only Baptists are going to heaven." He replied, "No. I'm even more narrow minded than that. I even know a good many Baptists who aren't going to heaven."

Jesus' name never came up during the hour-and-a-half meeting to the best of my recollection. Huckabee did not lead the group (most of whom came from a local evangelical congregation) in prayer. If God had told him anything in the last few days worth repeating Huckabee was willing to plagiarize it and use it without attributing the source. I'm not even sure he even asked God to bless them before he left. Maybe he did. It's hard not to if you want to run for any office in America. Now that I think about it, he didn't have anything to say about guns and gays either -- just the IRS.

Many candidates will tell you they were the first in their family to attend college. Huckabee goes 'em one better: he's the first in his family line ever to graduate from high school. He's experienced poverty first hand.

He's an optimist ("America's greatest generation has not yet been born") without being saccharine. (Remember Robert Kennedy's line: "Some see things as they are and ask 'why'? I dream of things that never were and ask 'why not'?")

He can use self-deprecating humor: "I'm leading in New Hampshire. The biggest percentage favors 'None of the above.' And that's me; I'm 'none of the above.'" At another point he referred to feeling like "a fireplug in a neighborhood of dogs" -- though, alas, I can't now remember the context.

Finally, he makes the point, as would I, that he has actually run a government. Americans are not irrational in selecting former governors as candidates for president and then electing them to office. That doesn't mean they all become great presidents or that everyone agrees with their programs. Some have even been disasters.

But a governorship is really about the only training ground we have for the presidency -- administering, managing something that requires making decisions and taking responsibility for them while working with the individuals and institutions necessary to build the consensus that makes progress possible. It creates an actual record of governing that can be judged -- for good or for ill. In any event, that's very different from making speeches on the Senate floor, or even working with a personal staff, all of whom are supposedly loyal to you.

Adlai Stevenson had been governor of Illinois (Democratic candidate 1952, 1956). Spiro Agnew was Vice President and had been governor of Maryland. Jimmy Carter was elected president in 1976 and had been governor of Georgia. Ronald Reagan had been governor of California, and served two terms as president. Michael Dukakis, who was the Democratic candidate in 1988, had been governor of Massachusetts. President Clinton was elected in 1992 and 1996 and, like Huckabee, had been governor of Arkansas. George W. Bush was elected in 2000 and 2004 and was formerly governor of Texas.

Based on that list, clearly experience as governor is not the only criterion one would look for in a president. But it's at least one factor that can be evaluated.

This year we have two governors running: Bill Richardson and Mike Huckabee -- at least one of whom may, as governors before them have done, end up being the pick of their party, even if not, ultimately, the American people.

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Massachusetts For Mike Huckabee said...

Great post about Governor Huckabee, thank you for your honest and thoughtful account of seeing him in person.

I don't know about you but I am so sick of the country being divided. The left the right, democrats, republicans. If only we could we all could just be Americans working for a common cause.

I think that Governor Huckabee could bring a unifying quality to the White House, it would be great if America could be whole again..

Thanks again for a great post!

From a Conservative Republican Evangelical Christian..

Anonymous said...

My choice, also, is Gov. Huckabee. Like Gravel - on the Democratic side - he's pointing the way away from an unholy Troika: Super-rich, politicians, and lobbyists. These, and others who are invested in the current income tax system, demagog the well-researched FairTax plan (*) by mis-representing its tenets. Despite this, its acceptance in the professional / academic community continues to grow (**). Failure to enact the FairTax - choosing instead to try to "flatten" a NON-FLATTENABLE income tax system - will result in an IRREVOCABLE ECONOMIC MELTDOWN. (*** Impossible, you say?)

In response to your need to further study the FairTax, here is why - after my own study - I believe that the FairTax MUST replace the income tax. The FairTax is:

• SIMPLE, easy to understand
• EFFICIENT, inexpensive to comply with and doesn't cause less-than-optimal business decisions for tax minimization purposes
• FAIR, loophole free and everyone pays their share
• LOW TAX RATE, achieved by broad base with no exclusions
• PREDICTABLE, doesn't change, so financial planning is possible
• UNINTRUSIVE, doesn't intrude into our personal affairs or limit our liberty
• VISIBLE, not hidden from the public in tax-inflated prices or otherwise
• PRODUCTIVE, rewards, rather than penalizes, work and productivity

Its benefits are as follows:

• No more tax on income - make as much as you wish
• You receive your full paycheck - no more deductions
• You pay the tax when you buy "at retail" - not "used"
• No more double taxation (e.g. like on current Capital Gains)
• Reduction of "pre-FairTaxed" retail prices by 20%-30%
• Adding back 29.9% FairTax maintains current price levels
• FairTax would constitute 23% portion of new prices
• Every household receives a monthly check, or "pre-bate"
• "Prebate" is "advance payback" for monthly consumption to poverty level
• FairTax's "prebate" ensures progressivity, poverty protection
• Finally, citizens are knowledgeable of what their tax IS
• Elimination of "parasitic" Income Tax industry
• Those possessing illicit forms of income will ALSO pay the FairTax
• Households have more disposable income to purchase goods
• Savings is bolstered with reduction of interest rates

• Corporate income and payroll taxes revoked under FairTax
• Business compensated for collecting tax at "cash register"
• No more tax-related lawyers, lobbyists on company payrolls
• No more embedded (hidden) income/payroll taxes in prices
• Reduced costs. Competition - not tax policy - drives prices
• Off-shore "tax haven" headquarters can now return to U.S
• No more "favors" from politicians at expense of taxpayers
• Resources go to R&D and study of competition - not taxes
• Marketplace distortions eliminated for fair competition
• US exports increase their share of foreign markets

• 7% - 13% economic growth projected in the first year of the FairTax
• Jobs return to the U.S.
• Foreign corporations "set up shop" in the U.S.
• Tax system trends are corrected to "enlarge the pie"
• Larger economic "pie," means thinner tax rate "slices"
• Initial 23% portion of price is pressured downward as "pie"
• No more "closed door" tax deals by politicians and business
• FairTax sets new global standard. Other countries will follow

(*) Tax Panel Rebutted

(**) Econs' Open Letter to Congress (Lists every tax that FairTax will eliminate, together with the power they represent to pol's and lobbyists.)

(***) Listen to an interview where Prof. Kotlikoff elaborates on the Meltdown In Progress!

The time for sitting around, pontificating, is over. We have NO CHOICE but to demand Congress Scrap The Code - NOW!