Leader Blues

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

EDITORIALS>>Huckabee still standing

Mike Huckabee would not have been our first nominee to be engineer of the Straight Talk Express, but among the Republican presidential candidates that is what he unmistakably is.

Except for the dour libertarian, Ron Paul, Huckabee alone among the nine gray eminences dares to challenge party orthodoxy.

Whether it is conviction or a calculated attempt to bring some attention to his laggard campaign we cannot say, but at the moment we are sort of proud of the second boy from Hope.

Back in 2000 it was Sen. John McCain who separated himself from the field by insisting on a cold dose of reality when the rest of the field never strayed from the party hymnal.

His Straight Talk Express was derailed in South Carolina when the Bush campaign spread rumors about him, including a tale that he had fathered a child by a black woman. McCain never recovered.

Now McCain is a caricature of the party automaton, the most unstinting supporter of war in Iraq or any other country that President Bush and Dick Cheney care to invade. Except for some mistakes in conducting the war — not nearly enough troops, in his mind — the Bush administration has been flawless at home and abroad.

Mike Huckabee has been a reliable cheerleader for the administration, too, and like each of the others he claims to be the only unswerving champion of conservatism in the field.

As we have had occasion to observe, that is not exactly his record as governor of Arkansas. He shepherded greater tax hikes into law than any governor in Arkansas history — all for worthy causes, we think — and expanded government services for the poor. If it is a proud record, it is not one that is commonly associated with Republicans, at least not since the Rockefeller wing of the party went to its grave.

From time to time, most often in New Hampshire, Huckabee has betrayed some of the progressive compassion that marked the old liberal camp of the Republican Party, a faint touch of Eisenhower, Javits and Chafee. At the end of September there he was in Washington making a speech condemning the Bush administration’s “bunker mentality” at home and abroad.

He said Bush and Cheney had enraged allies and turned world sentiment against the United States. He was particularly critical of the administration’s relations with Iran, which had assisted the United States in Afghanistan after Sept. 11 and wanted better relations.

Instead, the former governor said, Bush then made Iran a part of his Axis of Evil “and everything went downhill from there.” He questioned whether Bush was actually in charge of his own foreign policy, noting that the defense secretary, not Bush, made the decision to call off an attack on al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan two years ago.

There the governor was Tuesday night straying from the script in the latest Republican debate, chastising the party for a shortage of compassion for the poor and American workers who have not imbibed the heady elixir that the party’s billionaire backers have enjoyed the past three or four years.

All the others were boasting about the fantastic economy — the best story untold as Fred Thompson described it.

Huckabee has been climbing glacially in the polls and doing quite well in Iowa, but it is impossible to tell whether the governor’s better measure of candor or his humor and affability account for it. Anyway, he pays some price for it, too.

The Club for Growth, a rich man’s Republican club, has been attacking him as a liberal Democrat. Then this week Ann Coulter, the conservative Harpie, lambasted him for his compassion for immigrants and workers and his occasional dalliance with Bill Clinton.

“I just realized why Mike Huckabee can’t run for president as a Democrat — they’ve already got Mike Gravel,” she jeered. Gravel is the iconoclastic lefty from Nebraska who brings up the rear in the Democratic field.

In a saner world, a candidate for president from either party would celebrate an attack from the Club for Growth and Ann Coulter as a measure that he was on the right course. Our man may know his party better than we do. We hope so.