In his new book, “Do the Right Thing” (Sentinel/Penguin Books, $25.95, hardcover) former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee presents a simple fix for all of America's problems, from higher taxes to big government to drug abuse to crime: Do the right thing.
Though the book goes on to talk about everything from the “Fair Tax” to health care, the idea of less government through personal morality is really the idea the entire book is built around, the rack on which Huck hangs all his pelts. In chapter two, subtitled “The Best Government of All,” Huckabee proposes two towns, called “Hucktown” and “Yourtown.” Each has 1,000 citizens, but the difference is that one is a utopia, while the other is an absolute rathole (given the author, you can probably guess which is which).
In Hucktown, Huckabee tells us, no one drinks, uses drugs, gets divorced or runs stop signs. All the kids are obedient, do their chores, and work hard in school. All the parents are happily married, and nobody lies, cheats or steals.
Huckabee's Yourtown, meanwhile, is awash in drugs, drunks, Internet porno and crime. The divorce rate is through the roof. Taxes are high to pay for extra police and jails. People lack job skills, and the town is full of graffiti and litter. Because of immoral behavior in Yourtown, the whole city suffers. If only people there would exhibit some self-control, Huckabee tells us, everything would be better, and they wouldn't need so much outside government.
“When self-government works, it's about the only government one needs,” Huckabee writes. “ It's efficient, effective, and incredibly inexpensive. … If we are really serious about wanting less government, lower taxes, and more limited government, it doesn't start with lowering taxes – it starts with raising better kids who will contribute to society rather than financially drain the rest of us.” In other words: If folks would just man up and get right with God, all of America could be Hucktown — a clean, safe, cheap place to live.
Taken at face value, Huckabee's dream of idyllic “Hucktown” exhibits, at best, a profound delusion about the forces that drive people to lie, cheat, steal, take drugs, hit their children and kite checks, often in spite of good parenting, Christian faith, a solid marriage and sound moral guidance from their peers. Does Mike Huckabee really believe this baloney?
While I'll admit that he had me going there for awhile, the answer — I believe — is no. Mike is nobody's fool. As a former pastor, he probably knows better than most that people are almost infinitely complicated in their motives, with the inevitable result that you can't fix the world with a Coke and a smile. Even Jesus, surely an even bigger authority on human nature than Huckabee, didn't believe that. “The poor will always be with you,” remember? Also: the drunks, the thieves, the liars, the wife beaters and all the other plain old no good sumbitches.
What with that, you have to believe that Huckabee's straight-faced suggestion that big-S Society can override lust and greed and poor parenting just by force of personal willpower and moral fiber isn't so much a personal creed as a smokescreen. I'd submit that Huckabee's Big Idea is, in fact, an attempt to strum a chord that's irresistible to the kind of fundie-Christian readers who literally believe that all things are possible through Christ, and that prayer is the ultimate solution to all of America's problems.
Phase two of Huckabee's plan is a bit harder: to tear down anyone who might challenge him for the title of Grand Poobah of the Republican Party, currently wandering in the wilderness. Much ink has been spilled in the press over Huckabee's wholesale bashing of Mitt Romney in “Do The Right Thing.” Romney does take a hell of a lot of abuse from Huckabee in the book (if you took a drink every time Huckabee firebombs Romney, you'd be fairly blotto before chapter 3), but I'd note that Huckabee also takes time to go after all his former opponents, from Rudy Guiliani to John McCain to Fred Thompson.
It's no coincidence that these are the folks who stand in the way of Huckabee's leadership of the GOP in coming years. (One notable who isn't mentioned is former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, who apparently rose to prominence after “Do the Right Thing” went to press. That's no problem, however, as Huckabee vigorously walloped Palin during press appearances following her ascendancy to the national stage, moaning that the only thing she could do that he couldn't was look good in a skirt.) Huckabee uses the 2008 election as a springboard to bash his spiritual rivals as well. While genuflecting to the religi-warriors of yore like Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell, Huckabee claws away at preachers like John Hagee, Pat Robertson and Dr. Bob Jones III (he of Bob Jones University) for endorsing Republicans other than himself – those candidates Huckabee sees as insufficiently anti-abortion or anti-gay. It ain't pretty.
While Huckabee's slaps at his opponents come across as petty at times (especially when he openly covets Mitt Romney's fat bankroll – including one instance in which he goes on for half a page about how, while campaigning for the Iowa straw poll on the campus of Iowa State University, Romney's people rented 40 golf carts and “dominated all the parking places, which were supposed to be shared by all the candidates”), he's a man with a plan. Though many reviewers have dismissed “Do the Right Thing” as simply an exercise in campaign-trail score settling, the truth is it's a bit more devious that that. Huckabee's latest tome is designed to make a play at uniting the Right Wing Title Belts; to be simultaneously the King and Bishop to faith-based voters. And while Huckabee's answer to the ills of society might seem a bit childish, he's shrewd enough to know that it'll be sweet as candy to the folks he's after.
In short, it's an idea that completely and wholly represents one of the hidden but central truths of far right conservatism: that, as much as guys like Rush Limbaugh like to talk about bleeding heart liberals who think we should all be eating tofu and driving three-wheeled cars powered by rainbows, conservatives are this country's true head-in-the-clouds idealists. They're the ones who believe that if all government regulation disappeared tomorrow – all except for one department to build the bridges, and another to handle hangings on the courthouse square – America would soon be an Eden instead of “Lord of the Flies.”
Thanks, but I'd rather take my chances here in Yourtown.