Columns » Max Brantley

Brantley: Missing Mike Huckabee

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  • Brian Chilson

Who'd have dreamed I'd write a column nostalgic for Mike Huckabee, the Florida talk show host who once occupied a big office on the second floor of the Arkansas Capitol?

But here I go again, giving him credit where due.

Perhaps because he survived and thrived during a time of Democratic political dominance in Arkansas, Huckabee developed some politically pragmatic ways.

He also always displayed a streak of populism — compassion even. ARKids, the expanded health insurance coverage for children of working poor, was a project he championed. Before he was done, he'd also backed tax increases to make the education system equitable, a decision for which he continues to pay in political opposition from the Club for Growth.

Compassion? Huckabee's commutation policies weren't always rational and his judgment frequently unsound. But I do think he was motivated, at least in part, by the bedrock Christian principle of redemption.

And here I go again with something positive to say.

Mike Huckabee has become an outlier in the current federal hostage crisis. The Republican Party has decided to hold the budget and perhaps the entire country's credit, hostage to the Tea Party's desire to strangle the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) in its crib.

There's a legitimate point to argue here. Universal health care will cost more money. But if education and defense should be a birthright of citizenship, shouldn't health coverage be as well? The rest of the developed world thinks so. I'm with them.

Mike Huckabee is no fan of Obamacare or the president himself. But he's a political realist. He knows and acknowledges the facts. President Obama has been elected* twice. The second election was a referendum on his health care law, as much as anything else. The law was passed by the House and Senate. It was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. It has begun taking effect, with many widely reported positive benefits (particularly insurance for people previously denied it on account of poor health). The Republicans don't have the votes in both houses of Congress to repeal or neuter the law. They have only an extremist-run House, threatening disaster to get their way.

Huckabee has used his TV and radio shows to interview some of the small number of Republicans who think this is a poor course. On his TV show last Sunday, he went even further. He commented:

"This week, most of the Republican callers to my radio show supported the shutdown and the showdown. One of them said it best. He said, 'We sent those guys to Washington to take a stand.' That's when I realized, Houston, we've got a problem.

"Because, no, we didn't send those guys to Washington to 'take a stand.' We sent them to govern. You see, it's really easy to take a stand. Heck, you don't even have to go to the trouble of running for office or serving as an elected official. On radio and TV, I take a stand every day. You can take a stand by raising your voice on the Capitol steps but to make a real change, you've got to get inside that building and have a vote.

"I can raise Cain as a talk show host. But to raise up test scores, create jobs, or build roads and reform prisons, I had to govern. And unless the numbers are all on your side, you are not going to get everything you want."

Could somebody get Mike Huckabee to call Tom Cotton, Rick Crawford and Tim Griffin?

*A previous version of this column said President Obama had been re-elected twice.

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