alien & sedition.
Monday, February 12, 2007
  Huckabee: Conservative or What?

Those looking for evidence of a continuing strain in the libertarian-social conservative alliance would do well to consider the right's decidedly lukewarm reaction to Mike Huckabee. Jennifer Rubin has a good summary of the debate at the National Review.

Rubin suggests that "most Americans know him for his remarkable effort in losing 110 pounds and his success as a marathon runner," which surprises me, as I'm not sure that most Americans know anything about Huckabee at all - if they did, he'd probably be more of a star. At any rate, Rubin goes on to explain the Arkansas governor's appeal to social conservatives:
He says without hesitation: “On the social issues, my political viewpoint is based on my core values and spiritual convictions. While I am deeply pro-life, I also believe that our commitment to life doesn’t stop at birth, but instead to do everything possible to help all children have what they need to realize their full potential.” Maggie Gallagher [last seen 'defending marriage' at the conservative summit - ed.], president of the Institute of Marriage and Public Policy, counts herself as a “fan” of the governor’s efforts to reduce “family fragmentation” and out of wedlock births and unnecessary divorce. He signed bills outlawing same sex marriage, requiring parental consent for abortion, and mandating notification by abortion providers to prospective parents that the unborn baby may feel pain. He also signed one of three state covenant-marriage laws, allowing couples to elect to marry under conditions that permit divorce only after appropriate counseling and when there has been a “total and complete” breach of the relationship.
But on the other side of the fusionist coin: while Governor Huckabee initially looked good to economic conservatives, signing a $70 million tax cut and a "Property Taxpayer's Bill of Rights," things quickly deteriorated.
By the end of his second term he had raised sales taxes 37 percent, fuel taxes 16 percent, and cigarettes taxes 103 percent, leading to a jump in total tax revenues from $3.9 billion to $6.8 billion. The Cato Institute gave him a failing grade of “F” on its fiscal report card for 2006 and an only marginally better but still embarrassing “D” for his entire term. Both as a governor and now as a presidential candidate Huckabee has declined to sign a “no tax” pledge. Recalling that Huckabee has said that he would only raise taxes if his arm were twisted, Grover Norquist of ATR responded: “He has a history of allowing his arm to be twisted and twisting other’s arms.”

He was not the poster child for smaller government. During his tenure, the number of state government workers in Arkansas increased over 20 percent. Under Governor Huckabee’s watch, state spending increased a whopping 65.3 percent from 1996 to 2004, three times the rate of inflation, and the state’s general obligation debt shot up by almost $1 billion. As Grover Norquist quipped, “We like chubby governors and skinny budgets. Not the other way around.” The massive increase in government spending is due in part to the number of new health programs and expansion of existing ones, including ARKids First, a state program to provide health coverage for 70,000 Arkansas children. Spending on ARKids alone increased 69 percent over a five-year period.
All of this, plus Huckabee's promotion of personal health initiatives like one requiring students to have their Body Mass Index measures, has seriously damaged the governor's standing with economic conservatives. Charles Murray - last seen at the conservative summit defending "small government" - put it bluntly:
“They are bad in principle, they’re a waste of money, they are of the same muddle-headed mindset as the Compassionate Conservatism of the Bush administration. That a person who advocates them might be taken seriously as a Republican candidate for the presidency just 20 years after Reagan left office is deeply depressing.”
All of which adds up to a dilemma for the conservative movement, especially considering Huckabee's considerable charm and campaigning skills.

As Darryl Hart recently observed in the latest American Conservative magazine, conservative evangelical leaders are in danger of being outflanked from the left by a new generation of religious activists motivated by issues like poverty, the environment, and health care. W. James Antle III, writing in the American Spectator, suggests that Huckabee, with Sam Brownback, is at work forging a "new religious right," which would take up those same concerns. As such, it would seem like Mike Huckabee represents an opportunity for the religious right to guard its left flank. I suppose Huckabee doesn't need to win a presidential nomination in order to do that, but the fact that a candidate with such potential is essentially being called a non-starter by the economic right suggests, once again, that the fractures in the right's fusionist coalition are real, and have real effects.

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