Politics & Policy

Reconsidering Huck

Membership issues.


DATE: December 20, 2007

TO: Mike Huckabee

FROM: The Conservative Movement

RE: Membership Renewal Application

Mike: It’s your old buddies in the conservative movement here. We know the Iowa caucuses are only two weeks away but we’ve got to talk. We know you’ve endured the slings and arrows of some establishment folks and to a certain extent the piling on hasn’t been terribly fair. Many of your critics — George Will comes to mind — seem far more comfortable with the idea of Rudy Giuliani as president despite the fact that he’s pro-choice, and has an overall troubling record on social issues that seems about as bad as your fiscal record.

Furthermore, nobody has given you credit for the conservative stands you have taken. As only the fourth Republican elected to statewide office in Arkansas since Reconstruction, you held your head up proudly as a Republican. Certainly that took political courage. Further, it needs to be said that most of your tenure as governor of the state involved having to work with one of the most Democratically lopsided legislatures in the country. Given what you were up against, it’s hard not to admit that you did some good in difficult circumstances.

We were perusing your most recent book, and you even seem to have done a good job of anticipating the complaints that would be leveled against you. “Some of the most hostile things said to (but more often about) me have come from those who claim and proclaim that they are more conservative than I am and their particular and self-proclaimed brand of conservatism is more pure than mine,” you wrote. [emphasis yours]

That said, what is all this poppycock about how you’re not owned by the “Wall Street-to-Washington axis,” and how you really represent the people? Is that really the way to respond to substantive criticism from us?

Of course it’s hard to sort out what criticism is substantive and what is not just the mud that slings in the midst of a political horserace — with people groaning about floating crosses in your ads and all. (By the way, props to you on the “Paul is dead” bit. That was a great response.)

But, bottom line, Mike: We’re concerned about our relationship here. You want to claim the mantle of a conservative, even if you’re vying to be the “anti-establishment” guy. So as part of our review for your application for renewed membership in the conservative movement, we read your two most recent booksCharacter Makes a Difference, and From Hope to Higher Ground: 12 STOPs to Make a Difference. Given that both of these books contain your undiluted personal and religious worldviews, as well as how they impact specific policy prescriptions, we decided to confine our evaluation to them.

We here in the conservative movement are happy to have you, but first we need to try and get a few things straight.

Mike, you have some pretty disturbing views about the role of government. You desperately need to explain yourself here. Anyone who calls himself a conservative should be deeply suspicious of those who wield power or aspire to. As such, true conservatives wouldn’t elect anyone dogcatcher who is capable of writing the following paragraph on page 64 of From Hope to Higher Ground:

There are those who believe that America cannot break or shake its addiction to fried, sugary or over-salted foods. These people believe that we are incapable of shifting our unhealthy culture, which is making us fatter, unhealthier, and more likely to die prematurely. History shows that we can, in fact, help Americans to change, not by force-feeding them government restrictions or requirements but by first changing the attitudes and atmosphere in which we live. Eventually, having shifted public opinion, we can solidify the attitude and atmospheric changes with government actions that define the will of the majority.

Emphasis ours. So just to review here, you think that as a politician it’s your job to 1) determine behavior bad for us, 2) build consensus that it’s bad and 3) once you have a majority, make that bad behavior illegal.

I know that personally you’re not big on coarse language, but are you *&@!’*# kidding us?

It also doesn’t help that you have some serious nanny-state tendencies and your books show you to be disdainful of those who don’t share your moral views. You brag about making the Arkansas governor’s mansion smoke-and-alcohol free; you further crow about making it illegal to smoke in private workplaces in the state; you lament “celebrities like Dean Martin building their routines around the hilarity of being falling down drunk”; and you’re proud that you set up a toll-free line where people can anonymously rat out their fellow citizens for littering (with fines for the offenders to follow).

You’re free to have your opinions about what is unhealthy, Mike. Just don’t pass laws based on them and shove them down our throats, mmkay? Besides — it’s an objective fact that after about seven 7&7’s Dean Martin was hilarious!

Second, you’re just not serious about governance. Mike, you’re GREAT on the big picture. Really, you’ve got some of the best rhetoric around. The Baptist preacher in you can speechify like no other Republican candidate.

Based on your books you do seem to have an excellent grasp on budgetary issues in Arkansas, but come on! You’re playing for keeps now. Trying to get a grasp on the policies of a potential Huckabee administration is nearly impossible. Your book From Hope to Higher Ground is particularly egregious — it’s clearly written for the lowest common denominator, but we expect a bit more. You should probably educate the voter, not try to talk down to him.

In each chapter you take on a particular political issue or (God-forbid) moral abstraction and explain why “stopping” it will help the republic. There is “Chapter 2: STOP Thinking Horizontally.” And, “Chapter 9: STOP the Heat and Turn on the Light for Hot Issues.” Each chapter concludes with “12 Action Steps” for the citizen reading the book to do his part to remedy that particular problem.

Let’s examine some of those steps shall we? In order to “STOP Being Cynical” we should among other things, “Watch TV Land and Nick @ Nite more; network TV less.” In order to “STOP Moving the Landmarks of Liberty” — whatever that means — three of the 12 steps you recommend are “Don’t watch TV during dinner,” “Avoid Reality TV Shows,” and “Watch the History Channel or the Biography Channel Often.”

You watch a lot of TV, don’t you Mike? But the coup de grace has to be in “12 Action Steps to STOP the Loss of America’s Prestige at Home and Abroad.” Number nine is “Eat at the International House of Pancakes (just kidding — wanted to make sure you were really reading the list!)”

Mike, I can assure you that we are reading the list — at least when we’re not, at your recommendation, glued to reruns of Joanie Loves Chachi on the upper reaches of basic cable. And we’re not laughing. As a former governor of a state of only two and half million people, you might want to seize every opportunity to convince us you can handle America’s current foreign-policy challenges.

Your recent article in Foreign Affairs was widely panned, and justifiably so. It is also no surprise. The chapter in your book on restoring “America’s Prestige” may be well-intentioned, but, as you might put it, “Where’s the beef?” The chapter is ten pages long — the word “Iraq” appears on only three of those pages. Meanwhile, you talk about hunting rifles and dish out useless pearls of would-be wisdom such as “A true leader shares his power rather than shows his power.” Get serious, Mike.

And sometimes, Governor, you are just plain baffling.

In chapter 7, “STOP Robbing the Taxpayers,” you approvingly quote Ronald Reagan saying, “The nearest thing to eternal life we will ever see on earth is a government program.” But on page 72, you describe the passage of a new sales tax for management of natural resources in Arkansas as one of your “proudest moments” as the tax “forever dedicates a small but vital revenue stream to the conservation of our state’s vast, valuable, and irreplaceable resources.” Is it a good idea to create any government revenue stream in perpetuity?

In fact, your whole chapter on “Robbing the Taxpayers” devolves into a defense of your record of tax increases as governor, which you blame on court-ordered increases in education spending. “I was not the only governor forced into a corner when it came to tax increases,” you write. Defensive much? Conservatives look to leaders who can fight tax-and-spend liberals, not kowtow to them.

Mike, your gifts as a speaker are not in question. When you talk about education, health care, and the environment you can be really convincing. Your explanation of how you consider yourself a conservationist rather than an environmentalist is compelling and other Republicans would do well to emulate it. You’re also the only Republican articulating a good defense of charter schools.

But far too often you paint your word pictures with very broad strokes and there’s little policy substance behind your demagoguery. If you really care about the poor and disadvantaged — and we’re not convinced you do, despite your pleading — outcomes should matter more than rhetoric. Unless you get serious, you will quickly reach a point where your silver tongue won’t save you.

There’s a lot more, but for the sake of expediency we’ll leave it at that. (We thought it unfair to discuss some visceral objections to the way you invoke religion and your cornpone persona, just know that a pretty significant percentage of the electorate is going to groan in disgust when you say things like “Faith is like a bass boat…”) Your renewal application for membership in the Movement is still pending, awaiting your response to this assessment report. And we can assure you, we will take into account your outstanding track record on social issues before any determination is made.

We really doubt it will come to this, but if we decide to kick you out, remember you signed a nondisclosure agreement when you joined. There are legal penalties if you let anyone in on the secret handshake. (Though I can’t even remember if the scissors come after the fist pound or vice versa.) But if you do get expelled in the meantime, don’t sweat it. Gerson seems to be thriving since we gave him the boot.

Stay warm on the campaign trail — it’s cold in Iowa this time of year.


Your Friends in the Conservative Movement

–Mark Hemingway is an NRO staff reporter.


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