ARC's 1st Law: As a "progressive" online discussion grows longer, the probability of a nefarious reference to Karl Rove approaches one

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Steyn On Huck

I read this Mark Steyn article over at the New York Sun and have to say that I agree:

You Feelin' Hucky?
January 7, 2008

Confronted by Preacher Huckabee standing astride the Iowa caucus smirking, "Are you feelin' Hucky, punk?" many of my conservative pals are inclined to respond, "Shoot me now."

But, if that seems a little dramatic, let's try and rustle up an alternative. In response to the evangelical tide from the west, New Hampshire primary voters have figured, "Any old crusty, cranky, craggy coot in a storm," and re-embraced John McCain. After all, Granite State conservatism is not known for its religious fervor: it prefers small government, low taxes, minimal regulation, the freedom to be left alone by the state. So they're voting for a guy who opposed the Bush tax cuts, and imposed on the nation the most explicit restriction in political speech in years. Better yet, after a freezing first week of January and the snowiest December in a century, New Hampshire conservatives are googoo for a fellow who believes in the scariest of global-warming scenarios and all the big-government solutions necessary to avert them.

Well, okay, maybe we can rustle up an alternative to the alternative. Rudy Giuliani's team are betting than after a Huck/McCain seesaw through the early states, by January 29th Florida voters will be ready to unite their party behind a less divisive figure, if by "less divisive figure" you mean a pro-abortion gun-grabbing cross-dresser. I can't see things playing out quite like that. The principal rationale for Rudy's candidacy is that he's the national-security toughie who can beat Hillary. But it's hard to conclude after Iowa that this is shaping up as a Code Orange election. And, as for Senator Clinton, her Thursday night third-place was the nearest Bill and Hill have come to a Ceausescu balcony moment. In a world where even John Edwards can beat Hillary, who needs Rudy?

Way back a gazillion years ago, when Mrs. Clinton was first exploring the exploration of exploring the possibility of an exploratory committee, some wily GOPers were suggesting the Republicans trump her history-making first-woman-President card by drafting Condi Rice. It turns out we dead white males on the right-wing were worrying unnecessarily: The Democrats trumped themselves. Liberal voters want desperately to cast a history-making vote and, if that's your priority, Barack Obama is a much more appealing way to cast it than Hillary. Don't worry about this "Change You Can Believe In" shtick. He doesn't believe in it, and neither should you. He's a fresh face on the same-old-same-old — which is the only change Democrats are looking for.

As for Huckabee, the thinking on the right is that the mainstream media are boosting him up because he's the Republican who'll be easiest to beat. It's undoubtedly true that they see him as the designated pushover, but in that they're wrong. If Iowa's choice becomes the nation's and it's Huckabee vs Obama this November, I'd bet on Huck. As governor, as preacher and even as discjockey, he's spent his entire life in professions that depend on connecting with an audience and he's very good at it. His gag on "The Tonight Show" — "People are looking for a presidential candidate who reminds them more of the guy they work with rather than the guy that laid them off" — had a kind of brilliance: True, it is, at one level, cornball (imagine John Edwards doing it with all his smarmy sanctimoniousness) but it also devastatingly cuts to the nub of the difference between him and Romney. It's a disc-jockey line: the morning man on the radio is a guy doing a tricky job — he's a celebrity trying to pass himself off as a regular joe — which is pretty much what the presidential candidate has to do, too. Huckabee's good at that.

I don't know whether the Jay Leno shtick was written for him by a professional, but, if so, by the time it came out of his mouth it sounded like him. When Huck's campaign honcho, Ed Rollins, revealed the other day that he wanted to punch Romney in the teeth, Mitt had a good comeback: "I have just one thing to say to Mr. Rollins," he began. "Please, don't touch the hair." Funny line — but it sounds like a line, like something written by a professional and then put in his mouth.

This is the Huckabee advantage. On stage, he's quick-witted and thinks on his feet. He's not paralyzed by consultants and trimmers and triangulators. Put him in a Presidential debate and he'll have sharper ripostes and funnier throwaways and more plausible self-deprecating quips than anyone on the other side. He'll be a great campaigner. The problems begin when he stops campaigning and starts governing.

In The Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan observed of Huck that, "his great power, the thing really pushing his supporters, is that they believe that what ails America and threatens its continued existence is not economic collapse or jihad, it is our culture."

She's right. It's not the economy, stupid. The economy's fine. It's gangbusters. Indeed, despite John Edwards' dinner-theatre Dickens routine about coatless girls shivering through the night because daddy's been laid off at the mill, the sub-text of both Democrat and Republican messages is essentially that this country is so rich it can afford to be stupid — it can afford to pork up the federal budget; it can afford to put middle-class families on government health care; it can afford to surrender its borders.

There is a potentially huge segment of the population that thinks homo economicus is missing the point. They're tired of the artificial and, indeed, creepily coercive secular multiculti pseudo-religion imposed on American grade schools. I'm sympathetic to this pitch myself. Unlike Miss Noonan, I think it's actually connected to the jihad, in the sense that radical Islamism is an opportunist enemy which has arisen in the wake of the western world's one-way multiculturalism. In the long run, the relativist mush peddled in our grade schools is a national security threat. But, even in the short term, it's a form of child abuse that cuts off America's next generation from the glories of their inheritance.

Where I part company with Huck's supporters is in believing he's any kind of solution. He's friendlier to the teachers' unions than any other so-called "cultural conservative" — which is why in New Hampshire he's the first Republican to be endorsed by the NEA. His healthcare pitch is Attack Of The Fifty Foot Nanny, beginning with his nationwide smoking ban. This is, as Jonah Goldberg put it, compassionate conservatism on steroids — big paternalistic government that can only enervate even further "our culture." So Iowa chose to reward, on the Democrat side, a proponent of the conventional secular left, and, on the Republican side, a proponent of a new Christian left. If that's the choice, this is going to be a long election year.
I commented to several co-conspirators a week or so ago that Huck would be great in the debates and would run circles around whoever the Dem nominee is. But, as Steyn points out, the problem is when he starts to govern.

I don't doubt Huck's nanny-state inclinations and this is one of my biggest concerns with his candidacy, second only to his apparent reticence towards free trade. Why is an understanding of free trade a key issue for me? Because opposition to free trade not only would be a death knell for our economy, but also because is indicative of a larger tendency to think that the government is obliged to reduce or eliminate change.

How different is it for the Protectionist to enact legislation that favors the continued production of a product that is lacking (in terms quality, innovative features, or price) when compared to a competing foreign product (purely based on nationality, race, geography, language, domestic politics, etc) than it is for the Environmentalist to attempt to hold the current temperature globally (through a reduction in human or economic activity)?

In both cases, there is a misconception that the current state of the economy or the temperature is the perfect state and that it's the government's role to freeze us in that state.

Does Huckabee really think that layoffs are unnecessary? That businesses should not cut costs if they're seeing red on the balance sheet or if they see an opportunity for improved profitability through some new innovative business practice? Does he really think that people should remain in their jobs, regardless of the economic realities? (Should all of the mortgage brokers who are no longer needed thanks to the credit crunch still be sitting at their desk, waiting for the phones to ring?)

Certainly, Huck is no John Edwards (or Obama or Hillary) when it comes to being anti-business and anti-free trade. But hearing softer, but similar, rhetoric from a Republican candidate is alarming. I just hope that his rhetoric is purely used for tactical primary politics and won't result in actual government policy.

I suppose that I would support Huckabee over any Dem that is nominated, primarily because of the larger problems that a Democratic presidency would present. By the way, I did like Huckabee when he took over for Jim Guy Tucker (and was 100lbs heavier). Hopefully, the time between the nomination process and the election could be used to limit some of Huck's Nanny State tendencies.

If Huckabee does get the nomination, the likely result would be a very vocal Conservative/Libertarian faction within the Republican party that may threaten to create a separate party. Huckabee's election could make the Republican party into an American version of the Lib-Dems in the UK.

Unfortunately, given the nature of the US electoral system, it would be difficult for the factions to remain separate for very long.

Your Co-Conspirator,
ARC: St Wendeler

Comments (5)
Monterey John said...

Well... I'm not sure. (Write that down!)

There are conservative folks who are frankly giving Huck a bad rap.

His tax situation in Arkanasas comes to mind. He did support raising taxes FOR ROADS. (Anyone who drove in Arkansas in the 90's knew had badly that was needed.) As I understand it, the increase in the gas tax to pay for those roads was a huge part of that net tax increase.

I'm not sure why Huckabee does not defend himself with that simple fact, maybe it does not lend itself to 30 second sound bites. What I do know is that what he did was defensible.

Increase taxes to improve Arkansas education. P-U-H-L-E-A-S-E! If any state, other than Mississippi, needed improvement more, I'd like to know which one. Even the NEA can be on the right side of an issue once in awhile.

Ban smoking? Probably not doable, but the product should be illegal. Were tobacco to come on the market today, it would never make it past the regulators. I'm not sure having it grandfathered in is in our best interests.

Is that "Nanny State?"

I do not think so.

Trade protectionism... now there is one I have not been paying enough attention to. I will. It is a very serious matter.

I really don't think Huckabee is going to be a serious factor. I don't see how he can survive February 5th. The money required is just astounding.

But hey, look what MJ thought about Obama going into New Hampshire :)

Jason said...

"Probably not doable, but the product should be illegal. Were tobacco to come on the market today, it would never make it past the regulators."

I hate cigarettes. I really enjoy the effects of anti-smoking laws. However, a complete ban is the ultimate Nanny State prohibition. We've come to rely on "regulators" to make important decisions that we should make ourselves. I believe that's an unhealthy reliance.

Granted, tobacco is the most preventable cause of death in the US, but if you empower the government to ok/restrict activities, they'll quickly go down the list to much more benign issues (transfat already seem to be a target). That's giving up freedom. We should be responsible enough to decide whether or not to smoke, or eat doughnuts. If we're not, why can we still vote?

St Wendeler said...

I agree that Huck's record on taxes (related to roads and education) are being blown out of proportion.

However, his endorsement from the NEA is primarily based on his unwillingness to promote choice in education.

I enjoyed the smoking ban in NYC when I traveled there regularly. Do I think it should be replicated everywhere? No. Do I think the city of New York had the right to enact such a ban? You betcha. Does the federal government have the authority to legislate such a ban nationwide? Not based on anything in the Constitution (not that that seems to matter anymore these days).

Wouldn't it be ironic if state efforts to legalize marijuana had some success (with support of justices like Clarence Thomas) at the same time that a President is banning tobacco nationwide?

One of the reasons I'm so opposed to government intervention into healthcare is because it leads directly to the federal government regulating lifestyles in order to reduce costs.

RE Huck, I think he does have a shot... but there is a lot of time between now and the GOP's brokered convention.


Monterey John said...

Well, Jason, they've been saying that since Teddy Roosevelt's day.

Heroin is illegal. Cocaine is illegal. Are you suggesting we should rely on people's good sense with regard to those?

There is a valid argument for just that. The Libertarians make it all the time. I think they are wrong.

There are things that are inherently dangerous. They should not be allowed on the market. Tobacco is among those things.

Question is, where do you draw the line.

If the rumors are right, the incandescent lightbulb has made it to that list under the recently signed energy bill.

Now THAT is going too far.

Common sense needs to prevail.

But as someone once said, common sense is the most uncommon commodity.

Jason said...

"Are you suggesting we should rely on people's good sense with regard to those?" I would say it usually comes down to that or a Federal bureaucracy and even when it may seem crazy, I'm going to side with the former.

On efficiency ground, yes, in an ideal world, the country would be better off if people didn't use illegal drugs, but it'd also be better off if people didn't eat some many burgers and fries. In addition, the Federal governments reaction to the problem can make the problem even worse or simply be ineffective and costly.

I guess I've gone OT. As for Huckabee, I'm not a fan of the "Fair Tax" and most of his rhetoric. In interviews, he seems like a decent guy, but I haven't found any topics on which I agree with him.