Mike Huckabee came to Washington on Wednesday to promote his new book A SImple Christmas. This was part of a book tour that will encampass 64 cities.
Along with maybe 15 to 20 journalists, I met Huckabee at an event hosted by the American Spectator. The question on most of our minds was whether he intends to run for president in 2012. Huckabee claimed he “has no idea,” and will make up his mind after the 2010 elections.
The 64 city book tour – like the book itself — is a nice vehicle for promoting whatever presidential ambitions Huckabee may have. And attending Wednesday’s session gave me the opportunity to think about what kind of candidate, and president, Huckabee would make.
As to his candidacy, I believe it might well be formidable. Huckabee is as good as I’ve seen in explaining his positions in easy to understand but compelling terms. Consider this explanation (which I’ll quote from memory) of the inter-generational theft inherent in much of President Obama’s program:
As parents we all wish we could absorb the pain our children experience. If our child breaks an arm, we’d be happy to break both of our arms in exchange for him not having to endure the pain. But what we’re doing now by running up huge deficits is the opposite. We’re saying don’t break our arms, break our childrens’ arms.
It’s easy in retrospect to see why Huckabee ran so far ahead of expectations in 2008.
Once he emerged as a serious candidate, however, it became clear to some — and certainly to me — that he might not make much of a president, especially in the realm of foreign policy and national security policy. Some of the problem appeared to be a product of provincialism. For example, Huckabee’s advocacy of trading with Cuba had its origins in his desire, as governor of Arkansas, to find a new market for Arkansas agricultural goods. These sorts of positions were ones that Huckabee presumably will outgrow.
Other positions, though, seemed like the product of bad instincts. This is what I had in mind when I described Huckabee’s “Sunday School Foreign Policy”:
Huckabee proposes to restore our standing in the world “by showing the kind of respect that other nations would want and deserve.” Huckabee explained that “you treat others the way you’d like to be treated; to me the fundamental issue that has to be re-established in our dealings with other countries.”
So there you have it; treat Iran, Syria, and North Korea with the same respect with which we want to be treated and experience the joys of international fellowship and good will. I don’t recall even President Carter being that naive [though President Obama is turning out to be].
Huckabee also argued that we should close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay:
For a long time I felt Guantanamo should be kept open. And I have been to GITMO. I have seen up close and personal, having visited there, the treatment of our detainees. And even to this day, I think the detainees are being treated humanely and responsibly. But I have also come to understand that from a perspective of the way the world looks at us, GITMO has become a symbol of what a lot of people are angry about, and whatever value it has, it’s being lost by the ill-will that it has generated. So rather than continuing something that is doing us more harm than good, there are other places to keep these detainees. I want to make clear. Closing Guantanamo is not letting these detainees loose. It’s simply putting them in a different location and not allowing this symbol, which has become a part of Guantanamo, to further damage the prestige of the United States.
As I said at the time, I can imagine President Carter letting world opinion dictate our policies, but I can’t imagine Carter believing that merely shuffling detainees to another location where they will receive the same treatment (remember that Huckabee has no quarrel with the treatment at Gitmo) would have any meaningful influence on world opinion.
On Wednesday, I was listening to hear whether Huckabee has picked up the music and some of the lyrics to a more reality-based, Republican-sounding foreign policy. After all, he’s now been a controversialist on the national stage for two years. At first the signs were positive. Asked about Afghanistan, he called President Obama’s performance “disappointing,” and added that Obama should listen to General McChrystal. Huckabee also emphasized that our decision about troop levels should not depend on our view of the Afghan government.
But then Huckabee began a riff about the pressure a sustained commitment to winning in Afghanistan would place on our military. In typical, empathetic Huckabee fashion, he focused on the strain on our military families, as soldiers take on their fifth or sixth tour of duty. Huckabee concluded that there are limits on how long we can continue to fight in Afghanistan.
Huckabee’s concern is certainly not insignificant. But it left me wondering why he said he was disappointed in Obama. Military “over-stretch” presumably is one of the considerations that’s keeping the president from “pulling the trigger” on the surge. Obama’s critics think that we need to win this war even though it will place a significan burden on our military. Does Huckabee? I couldn’t really tell, but it didn’t sound that way.
In the 2008 cycle, many of Huckabee’s critics — pointing to his Carteresque foreign policy pronouncements and the tax hikes he imposed as governor — argued that Huckabee isn’t really a conservative. I never shared that view. Huckabee’s a conservative, all right; the question is: what kind? The answer is: he’s a Mike Huckabee conservative.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. In fact, I think it’s admirable that Huckabee marches to his own tune, not a more orthodox one.
It’s just that I’m not a Mike Huckabee conservative.