The incredible shrinking tent

I like and respect Mike Huckabee, but I don’t support him for president mainly because I think he’s not the candidate best able to lead the U.S. in the war on terror. Still, the shots being directed at Huckabee now that his popularity has increased seem unfair. Specifically, the suggestion that, except on social issues, Huckabee is a populist liberal in the Bill Clinton mode strikes me as far-fetched.
The claim is based mostly on Huckabee’s record as governor of Arkansas on issues of taxation. In addition, John Fund and others have pointed to Huckabee’s criticism of President Bush’s handling of the S-CHIP issue.
Huckabee’s tax record looks like a mixed bag. Fund says that Huckabee raised some taxes and significantly increased state government spending in real dollars. Huckabee responds that he pushed a large tax cut through the Democrat-controlled legislature, indexed the state income tax, doubled the child care tax credit, and eliminated the capital gains tax on the sale of a home. Joe Carter at the Evangelical Outpost offers a fuller defense of Huckabee’s economic record as governor.
I would add only that context is important. Thus, the issue isn’t just the number of taxes a mayor or governor cuts, or even the net change in overall taxation during one’s administration. It’s also necessary to consider the tax structure the mayor or governor inherited, as well as the condition of his jurisdiction’s roads, schools, etc. The more overtaxed a jurisdiction is, the easier it is to cut taxes. I imagine (though don’t know) that the “Tax-a-chusetts” Mitt Romney inherited was relatively more taxed than Arkansas was when Huckabee became governor. So too, I’m speculating, with the New York City David Dinkins left for Giuliani. In addition, I understand that Arkansas’s roads and schools were rated near the bottom in the country. Raising some taxes isn’t necessarily the wrong choice if the alternatives are neglecting bad schools and roads or deficit spending.
Huckabee’s campaign platform this year has much for fiscal conservatives to like. He supports a federal balanced budget, the presidential line-item veto, the elimination of congressional earmarks, and a flat tax structure. Critics point, on the other hand, to his criticism of President Bush’s veto of the S-CHIP expansion issues. But Huckabee insists that he “wasn’t criticizing [the] veto as a matter of policy, but as a matter of politics.” His position is that Bush should have negotiated a compromise and not let the matter reach the point where a veto was needed. Huckabee states, “In no way do I support spending an additional $35 billion, or moving two million children from private insurance to government insurance. . .” One can disagree with Huckabee’s assessment of the situation, but I don’t think it makes him an economic liberal.
Republicans looking for the strongest economic conservative probably won’t find their man in Huckabee, and it’s natural for Huckabee’s rivals (especially Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney) to hammer his lack of purity in these matters now that he’s a legitimate competitor for conservative votes in some states. Others less vested in the horse race might consider taking a more temperate view. Conservatism may be a shrinking tent, but I hope there’s room in it for Mike Huckabee.


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