Please do not dismiss Mike Huckabee as nobody more than the newest in a line of GOP born-again hope-to-bes. The religious dimension of Pastor Huckabee, while irritating, is not what makes the former Arkansas governor a man to worry about.
What makes him so is his ability to reach ordinary working people. He vibrates on the same frequency with all those two-job, frazzled families who live sleep-deprived, overworked existences. This is not a big-bucks GOP candidate. As he says, “I’m not a Wall Street Republican, I’m a Main Street Republican.” According to The Politico, “He recently told reporters that if the GOP represented ‘the people who are getting $100 million bonuses and not the people losing their jobs because of it,’ the party would be on the losing side of the ballot.”
Huckabee is a classic “friend of the little guy” candidate, whom you do not often find in the Republican Party. He says things like, “If it was all about the money…then we might as well put the presidency up on eBay” and “People really are more important than the purse, and what a great lesson for America to learn.” Huckabee draws his audiences by likening the ideal GOP candidate to the guy who hired you rather than the guy who laid you off.
When he talks, people, both churched and unchurched, listen. The man penetrates, he gets through, and if he gets a loud enough microphone he will get through to many millions. He has that mixture of the patriotism and meat-and-potatoes talk that convinces: “When we start outsourcing everything and we are in that kind of a trade deficit, then just remember, who feeds us, who fuels us and who helps us to fight–that’s to whom we are enslaved. So if we can’t do those three things, our national security is very much at risk.”
Funny, fast on his feet, likable, inspirational, a man who is your friendly equal yet steely and tough and somehow above you, Huckabee has all the signs of becoming a compelling, not-too-democratic leader, the kind of leader his followers worship and about whom they will not believe a negative word.
And there is much to like. Little Rock, Arkansas, journalist Max Brantley, writing in Salon, and a man who detests Huckabee, says, “The Bush administration would have done well to emulate Mike Huckabee’s speedy and successful relief effort for Hurricane Katrina refugees. He raised taxes for schools, highways and children’s health.” He also did his damnedest to stop Medicaid from paying for an abortion for a teenage girl who had been raped by her stepfather.
When it comes to the use of public office to enrich oneself, the Huckabee take on ethics rules is that they do not exist–at least not for him. You can fill pages with the stories of Huckabee trying to enrich himself in forbidden ways.
Huckabee’s authoritarian personality was on full display in his use of the gubernatorial pardoning power. His real role in the freeing of rapist Wayne DuMond–who, once freed, would go on to rape and murder again–is not enough understood. Huckabee went ahead and let this man loose against warnings and pleadings from all sides, but as a man with a God complex, he knew better. He could tell that DuMond was a changed man when nobody else was able to discern a miraculous transformation.
In 2004, while Huckabee was still in office, the Arkansas Leader had this to say about his abuse of the pardoning power:
If you’re wondering how Gov. Huckabee’s hundreds of clemencies compare with neighboring states, get ready for a shocker. Huckabee leads the pack. He has issued more commutations and pardons than all of the six neighboring states combined.
Governors seldom reduce sentences in other states–and almost never for murderers serving life without parole or for rapists or for habitual drunk drivers, while in Arkansas it’s a regular habit with Huckabee…. Here are the figures for neighboring states since 1996, when Huckabee took office (and keep in mind the population of these states is nearly 20 times ours):
Texas–98 (includes 36 inmates released because they were convicted on drug charges with planted evidence).
Total: 624 vs. Huckabee’s 703.
As some stick-in-the-mud conservatives have recognized, both in what he says and in what he did in Arkansas, Mike Huckabee is a faux Republican. Yes, he’s against abortion and he is a Second Amendment man, but so are a lot of Democrats. He is also a wild swinger: he may observe all the personal-conduct rules that Christianity imposes on its members, but in government and politics Huckabee has exhibited the disordered, boundary-less mind of a political thinker who has no first principles.
Like a sweeter, more polished version of Huey Long, the populist Kingfish of 1930s Louisiana Depression politics, Mike Huckabee has the markings of a man willing to try anything. Some of the anythings may be good, just as some of Hugo Chávez’s populist reforms may be beneficial, but when you have authoritarian personalities who think themselves above the law, watch out.
As of now, there is one thing preventing Huckabee from grabbing the Republican nomination from his moribund, superannuated competition–money. Let’s pray that a few of the GOP’s titanically rich people do not decide to back Huckabee on the presumption that they will not be able to control him. It takes no special discernment to see that Huckabee will take their money, all right, and he’ll do what he wants.
Huckabee is the only Republican candidate who can give Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama a race. Let us hope that the guitar-strumming preacher with the fast and funny quip does not get the chance.