Leader Blues

Monday, July 09, 2007

EDITORIALS>>Huckabee does NEA

The good but politically unfortunate thing about Mike Huckabee’s campaign for president is that he does not have a Karl Rove to keep the campaign on a single message. Most days Huckabee is an extreme right-winger, bragging about slashing taxes and government spending and promising to defend to the death all the social causes of religious conservatives, which makes him a stranger to Arkansas voters but is supposed to appeal to the celebrated but vanishing Republican base.

But on other days he is the sensible defender of pragmatic government, which is how Arkansans came to know him in a dozen years of public officeholding. Thursday was one of those days. Huckabee was the lone Republican candidate for president of the five invited to address the National Education Association, the teachers’ professional association and sometimes union.

One news account said he was the first Republican candidate for president in history to address the NEA, which sounds implausible. Every Democratic candidate accepted the invitation and Huckabee followed Sen. Barack Obama to the lectern. While an NEA official warned the delegates in advance of Huckabee’s appearance that it was not good form to boo or hiss, it was recorded that the crowd actually gave Huckabee four standing ovations.

While we do not have a transcript of the governor’s speech, the NEA press release and the news accounts made no mention of his usual campaign mantra — that he would never raise taxes and that he had slashed taxes “94 times” as Arkansas governor, a record that was kept secret from Arkansas taxpayers. He could not very well say it in that forum because there were 60 delegates — the Arkansas contingent — and probably many more who knew that Huckabee had raised taxes repeatedly as governor, the largest share of them to improve the public schools and higher education. No governor in Arkansas history raised taxes so much and so often or raised government spending and debt to such heights.

Huckabee noted that the other Republican candidates for president all dwelled on national-security issues but that there were other threats to the nation’s security besides terrorism. Poor education was first among them. Every now and again Huckabee cannot subdue the impulse to talk about such things — compassion for immigrants, the case for religious people and for government to tend to children’s needs after they are born, the need for government not to turn a haughty back to the manifest suffering of people.

The speech was a calculated gamble for Huckabee, whose bon mots in the debates seem to have elevated him a little above the rest of the second-tier candidates. Conservative Web sites like that of the Club for Growth said it proved that Huckabee was no real conservative.

On the other hand, lots of teachers — a third of NEA members — are Republicans, and when your poll numbers never exceed 2 percent you take support anywhere you can find it. If it is true, as the other Republican candidates apparently calculated, that you cannot hope to win Republican primary votes in the year of our Lord 2007 if you talk to a union or a congregation of teachers, the nomination may not be worth having. But we think they do miscalculate, and Huckabee would do better to run honestly on his record and not on a fable.