Leader Blues

Monday, June 11, 2007

EDITORIALS>>Huckabee has a bad week

What a week this was going to be for Mike Huckabee, our native presidential aspirant: Another televised national debate that would allow him to demonstrate his charm and wit against the grim Republican field, a big speech at the National Press Club, another big Washington fund-raiser with national lobbying interests that would fatten his anemic campaign cupboard.

But this also was not to be the former governor’s break-out week. His opening words to his first question in the New Hampshire debate, about Iraq — that it was Ronald Reagan’s birthday — were dead wrong, and the Washington Post described his miscue as “the gaffe of the night.” And then he was pretty much ignored for the rest of the evening except for efforts to pin him down on evolution. The governor placed himself squarely on both sides of that infernal debate. Then he complained afterward about the slights from the moderator and about getting improper questions.

They canceled his National Press Club appearance Thursday because of lack of interest. Only about 25 people made reservations, fewer than a fourth of the number required to keep the show. His Washington benefactors — Rep. Don Young of Alaska, Rep. John Boozman of Arkansas and former Sen. Tim Hutchinson — threw another party for him Wednesday at the American Gas Association’s headquarters (no report yet on the money raised), but it was overshadowed by another scandal involving Young’s vast largesse with taxpayers’ money to help big financial benefactors. Then Preacher Huckabee’s congressional chairman, the same Don Young, made an obscene gesture at a reporter who tried to question him about his amazing abuse of congressional earmarks.

Another round of national polls showed Huckabee still hovering at 1 to 2 percent, and the avuncular old actor, Fred Thompson of neighboring Tennessee, stepped tentatively into the ring with seven or eight times Huckabee’s support. Huckabee can take solace in the knowledge that Bill Clinton had much, much worse weeks than this in the early going in 1992. But Clinton was flying high at the time and he survived the slings and arrows of Gennifer Flowers and his caviling ROTC letter with barely a flutter. That is the difference with Huckabee. He cannot reach the point where people take much notice of what happens to him except to snigger at one of his boners.

His harmless slip on Reagan’s birthday (it was the anniversary of the former president’s death) was hardly the gaffe of the night. That ought to have belonged to the suave Mitt Romney, who repeated George W. Bush’s famous lie of three years ago that he had attacked Iraq because Saddam Hussein would not let UN weapons inspectors into the country. The inspectors had been in the country for months and were finding no weapons and no programs at the sites identified by the administration when President Bush ordered them to leave so that the bombing could begin. No one faulted Romney for an epic and truly consequential lie, but the media poked fun at Huckabee’s innocent stupidity. If he were not from Arkansas would the media have made anything of the blooper? It’s the stereotype. See, we’re getting paranoid, too. Who can blame Mike Huckabee?
Should we be understanding about the governor’s unsavory political associates, in this case his congressional chairman and chief fundraiser? After all, beggars can’t be choosers. Huckabee announced proudly early this year that Rep. Young, who was chair of the House Appropriations Committee before the Republicans lost control of the House, would run his congressional effort along with the ineffectual homer, John Boozman.

Young was already known as the prince of pork, having rammed through billions of dollars for dubious highway and bridge programs in his rural Alaska district: $223 million to start construction of a bridge comparable to the Golden Gate and Brooklyn bridges to connect the town of Ketchikan (pop 8,900) to an airport on a tiny island with 50 residents, $200 million for the famous “bridge to nowhere” from Anchorage to an island with one permanent resident, a project that eventually will cost us all upwards of $1.5 billion. Remember them every time you’re at the gas pump.

On Wednesday, the day of his most recent fundraiser for Huckabee, The New York Times carried a story about how Young had sneaked through a $10 million appropriation for a short highway and interchange in Florida that would connect to the freeway system the property of several big developers and financial supporters, including one Daniel J. Aronoff of Michigan, vastly enhancing their property. Aronoff produced $40,000 for Young’s political slush fund a few days before Young’s earmark. Local residents and the transportation authorities opposed the road, but Young arranged for the area to be told that if it did not take the taxpayers’ money and build the road, then south Florida should expect to get no more federal money for anything.

When a reporter approached Young about it Thursday outside the House chamber, the congressman flashed the finger gesture. But it was nothing new. Stories about Young’s payoff to his financial contributors around the country keep cropping up.

Should Huckabee repudiate him? Scold him for the dirty gesture, like a good Christian should? He said Tuesday night that his faith guided all his public impulses. We leave those moral reflections to him. But we think it would help his standing as a conservative of unwavering principle if he vowed that such shenanigans would have no place in a Huckabee administration even if Young still held a position of influence in Congress.

Huckabee could even compare it with the massive pork boondoggles of the Arkansas legislature that he occasionally opposed. When you’re reaching for 2 percent in the polls, you make the best of every opportunity, even if it is adversity. Especially if it is adversity.