Columns » Max Brantley

Together at last

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What a week for presidential politics.

Mike Huckabee's praises were sung by progressive columnists, from Gail Collins of the New York Times to Jonathan Alter of Newsweek.

The writing was reminiscent of nothing so much as of the coverage of the early days of Huckmania in Arkansas. He's a good speaker. He can be pleasant until criticized. He's a tireless quipster, though given more to barnyard humor than dry wit. He famously called columnist John Brummett “constipated” when he uttered an early criticism.

Huckabee is also a rigid religious conservative. He denied federally required abortion funding for a retarded teen raped by her stepfather. The “pro-life” governor readily signed death warrants. He suppressed condom use. He never met a gun he didn't like. Until this campaign, he was an anti-environmentalist wacko, excoriating environmentalists as tree huggers who worshipped the things God made rather than God. He exercised lamentably bad judgment in the granting of executive clemency and worked tirelessly, without talking to the victim first, to free the serial killer and rapist Wayne Dumond. He expanded government with tax increases, when he wasn't governing by gimmicks like the Tax Me More Fund. He demagogued the original school funding decision as the end of local control, but became a convert to consolidated schools and higher standards and spending. He's an enemy of the public's right to know. He ran a secret administration, particularly when his leaders got caught in boondoggles. (The boondoggles were numerous, including multi-million-dollar mismanagement of computer services and multi-million-dollar favoritism toward the shady operator of religion-infected mental health services for kids.) He shredded computer hard drives. He denied publicly financed press services to critics such as the Arkansas Times and KUAR, the public radio station.

And somehow, the national story line is this: Mike Huckabee — fresh face, funny, nice guy. Since he's called me, among others, a junkyard journalist and the Kevorkian of Arkansas journalism and once reportedly daydreamed aloud about the demise of me and my family in a Godfather-style massacre, note my exception to the “nice” part.

But, funny thing. I have company in my reluctance to see the ethically challenged Huckster rise to president or vice president. And what a posse! John Fund of the Wall Street Journal. Charles Krauthammer. The Christian Broadcasting Network. The American Spectator. The Club for Growth. The National Review.

Closer to home, my old Arkansas Week sparring partner and former Arkansas Business columnist Blant Hurt, former mad-dog Republican state Rep. Randy Minton and the Eagle Forum's Betsy Hagan, along with the majority of the Republicans in the legislature, have been among those telling one and all about Huckabee's unfitness to serve as president.

Such allies are certainly cause for reconsideration on my part. But my reasons to fear a Huckabee administration are unchanged. How long do you think it would take his overloaded lip to provoke an international incident with a quip about a nuclear-equipped Third World zany? Or judge a world crisis with the acuity he brought to Wayne Dumond?

Now that Huckabee has gained ground — thanks to free press from unlikely sources — pushback from Republican opponents has begun. Unfortunately for Huckabee, he's in the wrong party to run as a populist. If national reporters ever get beyond their lazy narrative, they'll also find a record unacceptable to most Democrats, not to mention many swing voters. With the George Bush experience in 2000 as a guide, however, that's a mighty big “if.”

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