Sunday, June 26, 2011

And the winner is . . . Jon Huntsman

June 26, 2011, 3:00 p.m.

Jon Huntsman . . . Better than "Least Worst Republican"

Every four years about this time I begin taking a look at the Republican field of presidential candidates.

There are two reasons why I'd probably never end up voting for any of them, and at least one reason why I engage in this exercise anyway.

Although I've become increasingly non-partisan over the years, and increasingly willing to give serious consideration to thoughtful ideas from anywhere on the political spectrum, my political activity, such as it has been, has been based in the Democratic Party. I've been registered as a Democrat, a Precinct Co-Chair for the Democrats, a member of the Party's county central committee, ran for Congress in a Democratic primary, and received three presidential appointments from Democratic presidents.

Secondly, no matter how wonderful a presidential candidate of either party might be, he or she brings with them a cast of thousands to which at least some deference must be paid. (Although, as President Obama has shown the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party that got him the nomination and much of the election, it need not be all that much deference.) I'm not thrilled with the national and Iowa leadership of either party. But given what the Republicans have shown me in the House of Representatives in Washington, and Des Moines, I think I'd rather have the Democratic Party's gang of party members, contributors, political consultants, staffers, lobbyists and elected officials than theirs.

So why do I bother evaluating the Republican candidates for president?

Because, given our system, the president is virtually guaranteed to be either a Democrat or Republican. One of them is going to win, and govern us for better or worse. That's why I'm not interested in promoting the Republican candidate least likely to win. I'm interested in promoting the Republican candidate who, if she or he wins, will do the best job. ("Promoting" may be a bit strong; I'm not going to contribute money to, or time to "campaigning" for, Huntsman. But every American's water cooler, and family dinner table, conversations contribute something to the national dialogue first reflected in public opinion polls, and ultimately in election results. So do blog entries, comments on call-in radio programs, letters to the editor in newspapers, and the other ways we express ourselves.)
The one thing that does unite Democrats and Republicans every election year is their fear and hatred of third parties. Third parties have been the source of many of the most progressive legislative solutions to our nation's challenges, such as child labor laws, wages and hours legislation, and Social Security. Everyone, even the two major parties, would be aided by innovative approaches such as instant runoff election, and fusion tickets. The two parties unite in stopping such innovations, because they would also showcase the popular support the third parties would have. The two parties tightly control the presidential debates, setting the bar to entry so high as to almost always eliminate popular third party candidates from their primary means of reaching the American voters with their message. The net result is that business, the wealthy -- the plutocracy -- continue to control both parties with campaign contributions. As New York's Boss Tweed used to say, "I don't care who does the electing, just so long as I do the nominating." They are the ones who are doing the nominating for both parties.
Whatever the reasons for, and consequences of, our two party system, the fact is that every American, including especially those who don't even bother to vote in the general election, has a stake the candidates offered us every four years for the presidency.

This year my first Republican favorite was Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels. (See, and Mitch Daniels, That was when, like roughly a third of Republicans still today, I'd never heard of Huntsman. Once Daniels made it clear he was not running, I started looking elsewhere.

Iowans are used to not only meeting, but conversing with, the presidential candidates -- and more than once -- before (literally) standing with their choice at the precinct caucus. Given that Huntsman has chosen to skip Iowa -- a publicized, if only temporary, disastrous choice of Hillary Clinton in 2007-08 -- I will probably never have the opportunity to talk with him.

Nor have I done all the research on Huntsman I will have done by the time the caucuses are held. So you have access to the same information I do from the Internet.

(Ambassador Huntsman in Beijing, riding his bike to meetings rather than taking the long, black limo. Photo credit: Huntsman Web page.)

Here are some obvious sources:

There are at least three steps into his personal Web site, That link opens on "the daily video." (Today it shows him at a quick-draw shooting range. Given his positions on "God, guns and gays," it's about his only opportunity to rally some Republican support.) Click "skip" and you're on the U.S. map of his Facebook followers: That gives you the choice to "Connect with Facebook" or "Sign up without Facebook." Scroll to the very bottom and you can click on "Skip Sign Up." Click on that (the URL will change from day to day) and you've reached what amounts to the opening Web page.

The Web resources are certainly up to today's voters' technological expectations. He has the "daily videos," a daily Twitter comment, Facebook discussions, blog, speeches, press Web page, background information about his positions on issues and career. (Wikipedia offers a summary: "Jon Huntsman, Jr.,"

We don't really have a training program, or conventional career track, for presidents, similar to that in parliamentary systems (i.e., member, minister, prime minister). The closest we come is former governors (e.g., Carter, Reagan, Clinton, and Bush). Goodness knows, time as a governor -- managing multiple departments, balancing budgets, partisanship and special interests -- is helpful. But the presidency requires so much more -- an understanding of diverse cultures and the resulting international relations, creating and overseeing the world's largest (and most expensive) military (with bases in 150 countries and multiple wars), personal familiarity with the inner workings of the House and Senate, federal-state relations, the life and role of cabinet officers. The list goes on.

Governor Bill Richardson had the most thorough resume among the Democratic Party candidates in 2007-08, but in the end the significance of his experience (e.g., member of Congress; governor; UN Ambassador; cabinet officer) never registered with the voters.

Among the electorate are some who seem to be judging candidates more on their race and religion, appearance and hair style, whether they'd be a good person to drink beer with, or their position on gay marriage, than on their relevant knowledge, experience, record of accomplishment, and ability to govern our nation. Thus, Huntsman's qualifications may be of no more relevance than were those of Richardson.

Jon Huntsman (he's a "Jr.," and there's now a Jon III) came from great wealth. But it seems to have inspired a life more focused on public service than that of a playboy (though he's kept his high school keyboarding talent) -- in the spirit of the Rockefeller and Kennedy children. Huntsman started early, from Eagle Scout, to his two-year missionary tour in Taiwan, to working for Senator Orin Hatch, and then President Reagan, by the time he was 22. At 32 he had already held three presidential appointments: Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Trade Development Bureau of the Commerce Department; Deputy Assistant Secretary of commerce for East Asia and the Pacific; and U.S. ambassador to Singapore (the youngest head of a U.S. diplomatic mission in a century).

His knowledge of China (including fluency in Mandarin) is a major asset for any U.S. president in the 21st Century.

And his comment that "I can't say I am overly religious. I get satisfaction from many different types of religions and philosophies," obviously appeals to the Unitarian in me -- given that the Unitarians provide extra points, rather than excommunication, for visiting other churches. Statement quoted in, Kirk Johnson, "Two G.O.P. Hopefuls Divide the Voters in Deep-Pocketed Utah," New York Times, June 26, 2011, p. 17.

He has had substantive experience running the family business, including its international expansion. There are reasons why the Pew Center on the States ranked Utah as the best-managed state in the nation, and why he was re-elected in 2008 with 78% of the vote (including -- understandably, it's not now on his Web site -- 36% of those registered as Democrats).

Clearly, his major hurdle will be getting the support of his Party's ultra-conservatives and religious right. (Business, the wealthy, and professionals who are Republicans should flock to him.)

If the Republicans were smart enough to give him the nomination, and the economy continues to stagnate or worse, he could very well win the election against Obama. But, as Matt Bai notes in today's [June 26] New York Times Magazine ("'Is It Always Like This?'", p. MM36) "Of those [Republican voters] who said they had heard of him, 36 percent said there was no chance he'd win their vote." (If you're interested in Huntsman, that piece also has some insightful information you'll want to know about one of Huntsman's top political advisers, John Weaver.)

Bai asserts that "Huntsman believes in the science of climate change, and he favors civil unions for gay couples and leniency for the children of illegal immigrants." I would support other things he's done, and positions he's taken (though of course not all), but I'm especially attracted to Bai's report that Huntsman "refused, bizarrely, to describe himself as a conservative. Huntsman said he didn’t like political labels, but if he had to pick one, he considered himself a 'pragmatic problem-solver.'" It's the ideologues who seem to be creating the roadblocks to progress in Washington (and Des Moines). We could do with more "pragmatic problem-solvers."

Clearly, as a conservative, Huntsman shares Huckabee's feeling that "he's just not angry about it."

There has already been a lot written by others about Huntsman. There will be much more. It will inevitably at least revise some of the particulars in my judgments about Huntsman. But based on what I now know, and the current field of Reublican candidates for their Party's presidential nomination, he's this Democrat's favorite Republican for 2011 and 2012.

And see Stanley Fish's comparable conclusions the next day, "Handicapping Huntsman," Opinionator/New York Times, June 27, 2011, 8:30 p.m.

# # #

Here, for the record, are the results of my analysis four years ago:

In 2008 my choice from among the Republicans was Mike Huckabee. "It's Huckabee; My Republican Pick: Governor Mike Huckabee," July 24, 2007.

Needless to say, I didn't pick him for his positions on the issues or his religious convictions. We would have disagreed about virtually everything -- up to and including evolution and the origins of the universe. What I liked was his experience (and record) as a governor, what seemed to be a kind of basic decency, and a sense of humor.

What first caught my ear was his rejoinder to being questioned about his conservative credentials. He responded something like, "Oh, I'm a conservative all right, I'm just not angry about it."

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."

When I first met him 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, Huckabee's comment demonstrated a comprehension of how social programs have to be packaged to be sold; at best, it provided a clue as to what he'd really like to see government do.

He said we need both a global perspective and a focus on our internal needs, using as an analogy 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 feelings about Huckabee were similar to my feelings about the last Pope. John Paul was Catholic. I was not. We disagreed about a number of issues -- including the role of women in the church, contraception, and the propriety of government mandated laws prohibiting abortion. But he was just about the only world leader then speaking out on issues of war, peace and poverty. It seemed to me you had to give him credit for that.

There was a soft side to Huckabee. He met people easily. He came across as friendly, comfortable, relaxed and genuine -- as well as often genuinely funny.

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."

He can use self-deprecating humor: "I'm leading in New Hampshire," he said. "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.

So that was some of what led me to Huckabee four years ago -- while working to get Obama nominated and elected.

# # #


Baxter Freese said...

I am in complete agreement with you on Jon Huntsman. He is the type of Republican whose philosophy I can relate too. I am a "Bob Ray" type republican, those of us that remain, who are overshadowed by the vocal Christian Right.
I would like to relate my personal observation of the Huntsman family. We spend our summers in Driggs, Idaho, just across the Tetons from Jackson Hole. The Huntsman Family have a major multi-million dollar housing development under construction in Driggs, with the East side of the development almost touching the maim street of Driggs. The structures run the gamut from Condos or Apartments for the very wealthy to homes for the working class. All other attempts to provide low rent housing for the working class from Jackson Hole in the past have ended up being owned by retirees who were looking for cheap housing and pushing the working class out of the market The Huntsman have put restriction on the purchase of these cheaper structures, which I understand, restricts the sale to only working class people. These structures are in the same development as the large homes and are on the same golf course. They have also donated and built a new court house for the farmers of the Teton Valley, which is located in one corner of their development. They built a large golf course in the wet lands on the edge of town and maintained the integrity
of the wet land, including a people railroad through some of the more sensitive areas.
All being done with a sense of permanency and pride in the area.
If I were to back a Republican over Obama, Huntsman would be the only man I would work for. In fact, at this stage in the Political scene I do not believe I would back Obama over Huntsman.
And I have not even touched on his other qualifications which you covered very well.

Greg Johnson - Political Resource Group said...

I enjoyed reading about Huntsman and did some more research of my own. Your article makes a really important point! Regardless of our party affiliation, or lack of, we need to support politicians on both sides to ensure that the best get elected. I still support Kucinich, even though he doesn't formally represent Iowa, he does represent my interests, concerns, and values. It's a smart move to look for Republicans who are the lesser of other evils -- in the same way Democrats talk about the lesser of other evils. The point is to fill the field with the best people to choose from. That will ultimately impact what we all end up with. People unwisely conclude that being involved in "the other party's candidates" is irrelevant or a waste of time. It definitely isn't. Consider yourself like a huge corporation. They certainly interact with both parties and all candidates simple to support those who support their issues and interests. Let the cream of the crop rise to the top regardless of party.