Columns » Warwick Sabin

Huckabees R Us

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Governor Huckabee receives a fair amount of criticism in these pages, and while most of it is motivated by honest disagreements on policy, he would be justified in thinking that sometimes our exuberance translates into the kind of personal attacks we always should try to avoid. In many ways, however, it is difficult to separate the personal from the political, because Huckabee often attempts to literally embody his policies. Even further, sometimes it seems as though he views his personal public actions as actual solutions to difficult statewide problems. Consider, for instance, his approach to two major issues: divorce and obesity. The New York Times reported this week that Arkansas had the nation’s highest divorce rate in 2003, at 12.7 divorces per 1,000 married people. Coincidentally, Huckabee announced that he will upgrade his own marriage to a legally defined “covenant” marriage at a public ceremony with 1,000 other couples on Valentine’s Day next year. Arkansas is one of a handful of states that offer the covenant marriage option, which requires extra education and counseling before the nuptials and, if necessary, before divorce. Our state adopted the provision in 2001, so it is too early to know if it has made a difference, although the 2003 statistics at least show it has not had an immediate positive impact. With or without a covenant marriage, most Arkansans are religious, churchgoing people, which suggests that the likelihood to divorce has little to do with matters of personal faith. The facts actually support the view of William V. D’Antonio, a sociologist at the Catholic University of America, who was quoted in the Times article saying, “The higher the educational level, higher the occupational level, higher the income, the less likely you are to divorce.” With that in mind, and without assailing Huckabee’s intentions, a more effective way of addressing the state’s high divorce rate would be to focus on its root causes. A pious and happily married governor does not translate into a pious and happily married Arkansas, any more than a thinner, healthy governor will make Arkansas thinner and healthier. Which brings us to the issue of obesity. In Huckabee’s defense, he has used his personal experience in shedding over 100 pounds to garner attention for his Healthy Arkansas initiative. However, besides increasing public awareness of the problem, Huckabee has not devoted significant resources toward solving the real causes of obesity. To paraphrase Dr. D’Antonio, the higher the educational level, higher the occupational level, higher the income, the less likely you are to be obese. There is nothing wrong with leading by example, but in Huckabee’s case, the example often is the entirety of the policy. With all of the national publicity he has received for his diet, you would think that Arkansas is thinner, too, but the facts indicate otherwise. And what happens after Valentine’s Day? Will the upgraded sanctity of the Huckabee union affect our state’s overall divorce rate? We will see. The Huckabee approach to public policy amounts to a philosophy of leadership that, upon further reflection, goes hand-in-hand with the ascendancy of “moral issues” in the national consciousness. That is, there is a portion of the electorate that believes the moral constitution of an elected official is more important than his or her record of accomplishment. They want a leader publicly committed to family values and the rights of the unborn, even as he creates deficits that will be passed along to future generations. They want a leader who speaks publicly of his religious devotion, even as the poor and disadvantaged suffer as a result of his policies. They want a leader who speaks plainly and says what he means, even if what he says is ultimately untrue. In an attempt to exert his authority, Louis XIV, the French king, famously said, “L’etat, c’est moi” — I am the state. With better intentions, Huckabee has employed the same concept, believing he can solve the state’s problems by embodying the solutions. It would be better if he devoted more time and resources toward confronting our fundamental challenges in a less glamorous way. Otherwise, Huckabee may find a kinship with another French king, Louis XV, who said, “Apres moi, le deluge.” Translation: After me, the deluge.

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