The Huckabee Hustle

When evangelicals embraced Jimmy Carter during the 1976 presidential campaign, they didn't know he would repudiate the Southern Baptist Convention a generation later.  Today the very same constituency has glommed onto Mike Huckabee, and I can't help but lament how history truly does repeat itself. 

One can see why the man I dubbed "Huck the Huckster" would appeal to evangelicals.  He's a pro-life Southern Baptist minister with charm, wit and a good-ol'-boy, yuck-it-up style.  Yet this resplendent exterior only serves to obscure the stain of liberal sin.

Huck would be a disaster - a disaster - on immigration.  In fact, in 2006 he compared those who would crack down on illegals to antebellum slave masters, saying,

"One of the great challenges facing us is that we do not commit the same mistakes with our growing Hispanic population that we did with African Americans 150 years ago and beyond. We're still paying the price for the pathetic manner in which this country handled that."
Outrageously, it seems Huck can't distinguish between denying citizens the protection of the law and requiring non-citizens to follow it.

According to the president of the immigration reform group NumbersUSA, Roy Beck, this isn't out of character for Huck.  Says Beck,

"He was an absolute disaster on immigration as governor.  Every time there was any enforcement in his state, he took the side of the illegal aliens."
This was evident when Huck condemned Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids on chicken plants in Arkansas.  But his stance was no surprise.  The chicken industry's powerful lobby was said to be a supporter of Huck's, and he and Tyson Foods Chairman John Tyson partnered in pandering when speaking to the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), a group sympathetic to illegal immigration.  While advocating what seemed to be an "open-door policy," Huck espoused the Golden Rule, saying,

"Do unto others as you would have others do unto you."
My response?  Huck, if I were in another country illegally, I would fully expect its citizens to demand I go home.

But I wouldn't prevail on Huck.  This is the man who said that Arkansas needed to cherish diversity in culture and language.  He's the man who opposed a ban on providing state services to illegals and supported in-state college tuition rates for them  He's the man who criticized an Arkansas measure to require proof of citizenship to vote.  Like President Bush, he's a man who would compassionately conserve us into Mexico North. 

But, much like Hillary and the flip-flop over drivers' licenses for illegals, Huck sees the writing on the wall and now preaches holier doctrine.  He has promised to complete a border fence and just released a plan mandating that illegals must return to their native lands to be considered for citizenship (this, too, is a form of amnesty, but Huck's version of accountability).  Yet, in this interview, he is clearly tepid about even the latter and seems to mock the idea of a border wall.  What did he stress instead?

A path to citizenship.

But that is the Church of Huck: Our Lady of Political Expediency.  He is more old-time politics than old-time religion.

Perhaps this is why Huck is sometimes treated more kindly by liberals than traditionalists who really know him.  While left-leaning pundits Jonathan Alter and Gail Collins have praised him, John Fund writes,

"Betsy Hagan, Arkansas director of the conservative Eagle Forum and a key backer of his early runs for office, was once ‘his No. 1 fan.' She was bitterly disappointed with his record. ‘He was pro-life and pro-gun, but otherwise a liberal,' she says. ‘Just like Bill Clinton he will charm you, but don't be surprised if he takes a completely different turn in office.'"
Expanding on the Clinton comparison, Fund also wrote,

"‘He's just like Bill Clinton in that he practices management by news cycle,' a former top Huckabee aide told me. ‘As with Clinton there was no long-term planning, just putting out fires on a daily basis. One thing I'll guarantee is that won't lead to competent conservative governance.'"
The kind of governance it did lead to gave Arkansans a net tax increase of $505 million during Huck's tenure as governor, prompting some to call him "Tax Hike Mike."  It's the kind that caused traditionalist icon Phyllis Schlafly to say,

"He destroyed the conservative movement in Arkansas, and left the Republican Party a shambles . . . ."
Getting back to that pandering speech to LULAC, Huck also said,

"Pretty soon, Southern white guys like me may be in the minority."
If he means Southern white guys exactly like him, I can only hope they already are.  Otherwise, he may just have the votes to capture his party's nomination.  As to this, do we really want a choice in 2008 between a former Arkansas governor's wife and a former Arkansas governor? 

If my evangelical friends can't answer that one, I can only say, forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do.

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