I was in high school in the early 1990s when the Religious Right was perhaps at its loudest and most ascendant. Ralph Reed, Pat Robertson, and Jerry Falwell and talked about how they were taking control of the Republican Party and were reveling in their political power. As a result, as I was awakening to my own political philosophy, I considered myself a Democrat.
Fortunately, I was too young to vote in that election, and as such, any guilt I would now feel had I been a few years older is assuaged. Still, though, I carry some of those same feelings of distrust for the political evangelicals. It’s the same thing that makes me a Conservative, ironically enough. It’s me not wanting government to tell me what to do – for whatever motive.
And that brings me to Iowa and Mike Huckabee’s win there tonight.
First, I think it’s important to note that Iowa matters less now than it ever has. The other primaries are closer and earlier, with some states (Michigan and Florida) in open rebellion against Iowa’s presumption of Kingmaker. That’s a good thing. I frankly don’t want a few thousand Iowans making decisions for me, even if I happen to agree with them on a few. And I think Iowa has always been overblown in importance anyway – just ask Pat Buchanan, Pat Robertson, and George H. W. Bush circa 1980. But that’s not to say it doesn’t matter at all.
The most important issues to me are killing Jihadists, nominating correct judges, and cutting the size and reach of the federal government (including taxing and spending), in that order. Immigration is probably a close 4th. And while I care about cultural issues and think they matter, it’s the judges that matter there, not nearly so much the personal preferences of the POTUS.
Will He Kill Bad Guys?
The only think I know about Mike Huckabee’s foreign policy is that he sounds like a Daily Kos writer when criticizing President Bush’s. On his website’s list of issues, the War on Terror/Iraq comes in 11th, after such critical issues as “The Arts” and a “Veteran’s Bill of Rights”. (As a veteran, I care more about winning wars than political pandering, and I somehow doubt that his plan will leave the VA quaking in its boots.) He wants more diplomacy, but what that means is anyone’s guess. He says he doesn’t want to leave Iraq, but with it such a low priority to him, will he stick with it as President Bush has when the polls get sour? And the War on Terror in general ranks only 12th, with nothing but amorphous platitudes about keeping America safe.
You can’t exercise your rights to self determination if you’re dead from a Jihadist nuke. And it’s not enough to “stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night” as he so charmingly quipped – give me someone who’s at least given it some thought. A detailed look at his foreign policy pronouncements reveals that it’s at best naively cheery and at worst Jimmy Carter level negligent.
Nowhere on his list does he mention the judiciary or the Supreme Court. Federal judges are probably the most lasting legacy any president has. For those of us who think that the founding fathers did a pretty damn good job in keeping the power of the federal government limited, judges who will honor that document as it was meant to be honored are of critical importance. For Huckabee to ignore this issue so completely is all by itself scary.
But Mike Huckabee doesn’t understand this. On his website, he “applaud[s] the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Gonzales v. Carhart forbidding the gruesome practice of partial birth abortion[.]” I also applaud Carhart, but that’s not what that ruling said. It merely said (correctly) that a law banning the procedure passed by Congress was not unconstitutional.
This sounds like parsing, but it’s important. Huckabee’s view is one of a crusading court of unelected policy makers that hands down pronouncements and prohibitions from on high. The Court’s opinion in Carhart is one of deference to both the language of the Constitution and the will of the people as expressed through their elected representatives. Huckabee’s view is not conservative, because it doesn’t respect the sovereignty of the individual, but instead wants “our betters” in government to tell us how to live. Even though I agree with him that partial-birth abortion is immoral and should be illegal (babies also have God-given rights to life that can’t legitimately be abrogated by the government), I can’t agree with his view of the government’s role in preventing it.
Beyond that, there is nothing. He’s not a lawyer or even a political theorist. Ronald Reagan spent decades thinking, writing, and talking about the nature of government and what its role should be in our lives, and even then he flubbed 2 of his 3 Supreme Court nominations (2 of 4, if you count Judge Bork). I don’t want Republican judicial activists any more than I want liberal ones, and from what little Huckabee has said about this issue, I can’t come to any other conclusion than that’s who his nominees will be.
Ironically, for a candidate who has made social conservatism his hallmark, he doesn’t understand the strongest and longest lasting cultural weapon any president has. ACLU judges nominated by Jimmy Carter have more impact on cultural issues than laws signed by President Reagan. And a judge who would “interpret” the Constitution to allow the federal government to set decency standards, local school curricula, and uniform marriage standards is not a conservative judge. Alas, I think those are the kinds of judges President Huckabee would bring to the bench.
This is where Huckabee terrifies me. He sounds good on it, although “Taxes/Economy” comes in at only 7th on his list (again, after “The Arts”). He wants to eliminate the IRS and go to the Fair Tax. That’s all well and good, but we need to cut the size of the federal government first, and beyond simply saying he’ll do it, I have no idea what his plan is to accomplish that reduction.
And when you look at his record, it’s hard to escape the fact that government spending in Arkansas increased by 65.3% and state jobs increased by 20% between 1996 and 2004 when he was Governor. Sales taxes were 37% higher when he left than when he was elected, and the average Arkansan’s tax burden was 47% higher.
And there are plenty of other ways his big government tendencies frighten me. He wants a federal smoking ban. His solution to our health care system is to “get serious about preventive health care,” which sounds way too much like government mandated exercise programs and regular checkups. He’s a protectionist, thinks the feds should set local education policies, and thinks we have a moral obligation to combat CO2 emissions just in case Global Warming is actually happening. His record is as a big government statist, not as a conservative who believes that the government should leave people alone.
No thanks. At least the Democrats are honest about their love for the nanny state. What makes Huckabee scary is that he thinks God loves the nanny state, too. Hey – it’s for our own good, after all.
“Social Conservatives” aren’t all conservatives. The Conservative ones are the ones who want government to leave them alone, because they know most people will choose to live in a culture of civility and morality, and even if they don’t, at least they will be free to do so. They also know that you can’t be forced into either and still live in a free society. But people who want to use the power of government to force our culture into a more Christian mold, and I believe Huckabee is one of those people, have far more in common with Jimmy Carter than Ronald Reagan.
And that brings me back to why I thought I was a Democrat in 1992. I didn’t like the religious right because I percieved them to be in the business of passing laws to tell me how to live my life. My mistake then was not understanding that the Democrats’ penchant for doing that in ALL aspects of life via taxes and regulation was far, far more impactful on me personally than the worst GOP offender.
Huckabee has the worst of both worlds – the “government knows better than you” statism of Democrats stirred up with the “church knows better than you” of the Christian Coalition. It’s as un-conservative as you can get. As NRO’s Mark Hemingway puts it, “The only people I know who are excited about a Huckabee victory are friends who are rigidly pro-life Democrats. That about sums it up.”
Indeed it does.
And If That’s Not Enough…
On immigration, his record is abysmal. His flatly dishonest meme about not being the negative campaigner while his campaign chairman talks about knocking out Mitt Romney’s teeth reeks of the worst kind of political hypocrisy, not to mention the “I’m morally above running this negative ad I’m about to show the members of the press” stunt. He lied about having a theology degree. His attacks on Mormonism were bigoted and smarmy.
As the New Man From Hope himself puts it, “If a person will become president by being dishonest, just remember, if he becomes president, he likely will not be honest on the job.”
And even if I liked him, I just don’t think he’s electable. If the race is between him and Obama, I don’t think I would vote for Obama, but I don’t know that I’m scared enough of him to vote for Huckabee. (At least a President Obama would leave Congressional Republicans free from fighting with a liberal president from their own party.) I certainly wouldn’t carry any water for him. How many other more libertarian leaning Republicans feel the same way? I don’t think I’m alone.
Fortunately, Iowa winners don’t have a stellar track record of victory. George W. Bush is the only Iowa winner to win the presidency since it became the nation’s first in 1972, not counting Jimmy Carter’s “win” in 1976 where some guy named “Not Committed” out-caucused the southern evangelical.
If that history repeats itself, then the light hasn’t gone out of the conservative movement in 2008.