Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Huckabee You Don't Know

The New York Times this a.m. published the most in-depth, comprehensive account we've seen anywhere of Mike Huckabee's formative years as Arkansas governor. There's much here to digest, and the article helps us sort out why sometimes we're strangely attracted. (I said strangely.)

1. He's a preacher, goddamnit. Which means he feels compassion for the least among us. That's good. But he's also shockingly gullible about people's motives when they proclaim they've found Christ, which is what got him into consistent trouble as governor in granting clemency to violent criminals: they said they'd found God; the governor believed them and shed his mercy upon them; and then they promptly went out and raped and killed again. There's something touching about Huckabee's belief in people's sincerity. Also something dumb.

Another major by-product of his vocation as preacher is his expectation of "tribute," gifts and cash from admirers. Apparently, there's a thick binder of ethics complaints against Huckabee during his dozen years as Arkansas governor for receiving all sorts of baksheesh, from gift certificates at Hardee's to new clothing to a $500 canoe. The point is: As a career pastor, he expected such gifts and in fact depended on them for his livelihood and his family's comfort (and to be fair, the salary for Arkansas governors is barely above poverty wages).

Point is: can a man of honor be influenced by such generosity? You bet. My own childhood pastor, who hated TV and preached that you were going to hell if you watched it, laid off that topic noticeably after my family gave him a half-beef for Christmas.

2. He's a class warrior. Good. He was poor (a Republican "of humble background"), and unlike Virginia Foxx, he's never gotten rich, so he's avoided her learned attitude that the poor have only themselves to blame. Apparently, when he and his family moved into the governor's mansion in Little Rock in 1996, he was considered something of a hillbilly: "Mr. Huckabee's touchiness over perceived slights was to become a byword in succeeding years." Huckabee wrote in his memoir, "Dozens of hate-filled letters proclaimed that we lacked the 'class' to live in such a fine and stately home." Such class sensitivity explains Huckabee's willingness to do battle with Wall Street and his simultaneous willingness to take gifts. He's owed.

His family reminds us of Bill Clinton's family ... working class, plain, ordinary, warts and all. Much fun has been made of the photograph reproduced above, the Huckabees wishing a merry Christmas several years ago ... a decided contrast to the svelte Romneys with their million-dollar wardrobes and grooming.

3. He's intolerant of people who disagree with him, and he freezes them out. Uh-oh. Not Christ-like. But pretty much like all the rest of us, who ain't so Christ-like either. But intolerant ... plus those doctrinal views ... is a brew we dread sipping.

4. He's got a liberal streak which has led him to work with Democrats. He proposed raising state taxes several times to supply roads and various strands to the Arkansas safety net. In 1997 he pushed through the Arkansas legislature, with overwhelming support from the Democrats, a major expansion of health insurance for children of the working poor whose families did not qualify for Medicaid. Then what happened? "He sought the electoral defeat of Republicans who opposed him, according to some in the party" (see # 3 above).

5. He moved to close small rural school districts in Arkansas as a cost-cutting reform of state education. He had very good reasons for doing so, but it's the last thing we'd ever praise a politician for doing. Local schools are the heart and soul of rural communities. Don't be driving stakes through the heart of rural America! Just don't.

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