By George Neumayr
Against an immutable standard of conservatism, Mike Huckabee is hardly impeccable. I find some of what he says silly and unpersuasive (for example, his support for Global Warming theory). But the explosion of snide remarks directed at him from many in the conservative movement strikes me as churlish and baldly hypocritical. How is it that the bar of conservative entry for a presidential nominee lowers for the Romneys and McCains, then rises for the Huckabees?
Okay, he is a heterodox Republican on some issues. So what? Who isn’t amongst the leading contenders in this primary race? A few years back I recall these anti-Huckabee purists lecturing California conservatives on the need to support Arnold Schwarzenegger over Tom McClintock. Now that McCain has won in New Hampshire, we will soon see this very flexible definition of GOP conservatism resurface and be told that electability trumps all.
Much of the contempt for Huckabee is confusing, alternating between descriptions of him as a socialist pansy and social reactionary. Which is it? Is he too liberal for the GOP or too conservative?
I suspect that the essential problem for some in the conservative movement (as it was for establishment conservatives pitted against Pat Buchanan in his race with Bob Dole in 1996) isn’t that Huckabee takes this or that heterodox position on issues of economics/trade/foreign policy; it is that he’s a transparent Christian conservative. That they just can’t abide, even as some of these pundits tell conservatives to ignore religion with respect to Mormonism.
Romney attended Planned Parenthood events, used to support state financing of abortion and elements of the homosexual agenda; McCain has derided in the past the Religious Right and taken any number of fashionable liberal stances. But all of this can be quickly excused. Woe to the Christian Republican, however, who talks about the culture war, or — brace yourself — rejects Darwinism.
Whatever one thinks of that highly technical debate, that the Wall Street Journal and GOP consultants like Mike Murphy set up adherence to Darwinism as a litmus test for an “acceptable” Republican nominee exposes the degree to which political correctness has crept into the conservative movement. I don’t blame rank-and-file conservatives for increasingly ignoring the snobbish sniffings of the George Wills.
Who cares what they think? How conservative are they? What new liberal social innovation won’t they soft-pedal? A “conservatism” that involves a lot of pretentious throat-clearing and maybe the recitation of a classical tag or two before coming to some PC conclusion (that feminism is a net-gain for society, that Darwin had it right, that gay civil unions aren’t such a big deal, take your pick) isn’t worth much.
Run for the hills, Huckabee talked about Christ during Christmas! Well, good for him. One of the reasons for our flailing in the global war against the jihadists is that we have become de-Christianized cowards. Does America need not one but two wholly secularized parties?
HUCKABEE IS A Christian socialist, some say. Really? If he is a Christian socialist, he is surely the first one to call for the abolition of the Internal Revenue Service. Again, it is not at all clear why rank-and-file conservatives are supposed to nod vigorously whenever a McCain or Romney supporter calls Huckabee an “economic liberal.” At least he talks about eliminating income taxes and capital gains taxes. Do they?
Romney’s support for semi-socialized health care in Massachusetts (which is almost indistinguishable from Obama’s scheme for the entire nation) is scarier to me than anything Huckabee uncorked in Arkansas. And then there is John McCain’s opposition to Bush’s tax cuts. Does that make him an unacceptable economic liberal?
But Huckabee doesn’t talk about Wall Street enough, some warn. Good; Wall Street already sups at the government trough. If he cuts off corporate welfare, I would be happy. It is about time somebody talks about getting the ravenous, regulatory Leviathan state off the backs of small businessmen, gun owners, and homeschooling families, rather than waste time on Wall Street talking to fat cats who vote for the Dems anyways.
But won’t Huckabee shatter the conservative coalition? That would be a little more persuasive if those saying this hadn’t shattered it themselves. The relative success of Ron Paul and Huckabee is not a cause of the coalition’s collapse but a reflection of it. An excessively Wilsonian foreign policy has divided defense conservatives; years of big spending has divided economic conservatives; and a tepid, stalling social conservatism has alienated moral ones.
Perhaps Huckabee can’t rebuild this coalition. But he isn’t likely to weaken it any more than have his critics, and he may even bring some long-disenchanted middle Americans into it.
George Neumayr is editor of Catholic World Report and press critic for California Political Review.
Note from Laura: This guy doesn’t even agree with Huckabee, and it’s perhaps the most fair and honest analysis of his campaign that I’ve seen. If this doesn’t energize you again, I don’t know what will!