Leader Blues

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

EDITORIAL >>Huck: Our happy warrior

The merriest man in America beyond a doubt is Mike Huckabee. Sure, John McCain climbed to almost a mathematical cinch on the Republican presidential nomination in the three Potomac primaries yesterday, but why should Huckabee worry? He knew on Feb. 6, the day after the Super Tuesday primaries, that his long-shot ambition was hopeless like that of all the better-known candidates who have halted their campaigns in the face of the obvious.

No one blames Huckabee for continuing to run when he has no chance as they would if Rudy Giuliani or Mitt Romney had kept hammering away. Giuliani and Romney would be fracturing party unity and weakening the party’s chance of winning in November. Huckabee and Ron Paul, the upstarts who never had a chance, do no harm to unity and are collegial foils for McCain’s final lap toward nomination.

Huckabee now basks in attention such as he has never enjoyed, and the sheer joy of his circumstance is evident every day. Rested and beaming, he is on the front pages of the major newspapers every day and shares time on every television news show and commentary, happily delivering the bon mots he has perfected over 15 years of public life and crafting fresh ones. He is a cinch, they say, for a national talk show when the campaign is over. He is a national figure. He is the little engine that could.

When they started voting yesterday morning in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia, Huckabee breakfasted with Washington journalists in a popular ritual hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. A captivated New York Times blogger recorded a bunch of his quotable one-liners.

Is he going to go back to Arkansas next month when the presidential race is officially finished for him and file for the United States Senate against Sen. Mark Pryor?

“It’s more likely I’ll dye my hair green, get a bunch of tattoos and go on tour with Amy Winehouse,” Huckabee chortled.
Why shouldn’t he enjoy the presidential race? Compared to the “savagery” of the campaigns against him when he ran in Arkansas, he told the journalists, running for president is a piece of cake. That rebuke might be mystifying to Arkansans, who may barely remember the milquetoast campaigns against him by Nate Coulter, Charlie Cole Chaffin, Bill Bristow and Jimmie Lou Fisher. The charges leveled against him were that he took credit for tax cuts drafted and passed by the Democratic legislative caucus and that he collected gifts from groups beseeching rewards from the government. As we recall, Huckabee answered quite sensibly that whoever was governor got to take credit for whatever happened that people liked and that he was entitled to all the gifts people wanted to lavish on him.

The Times recorded that when he was asked why he would be a better bet to win in November than John McCain, the former governor explained: “Moderate Republicans lose. Conservative Republicans win.”

It was a good line, if not necessarily true. Based simply on their records, not their campaign rhetoric, Huckabee was the most liberal Republican in the race from the start, McCain the most conservative if you discount the weird but principled little Texas congressman, Ron Paul. Huckabee raised more taxes, generated more government spending, enlarged government more and ballooned the taxpayers’ debt more than any governor in his state’s history. In a quarter-century in Congress, McCain was the leading foe of government spending, enraging members of his own party along the way. The leading pork-barreler on the Republican side, the Alaska congressman who got mammoth federal appropriations for the “bridge to nowhere,” which McCain bitterly opposed, is Huckabee’s congressional chairman, or was until he became the subject of a criminal investigation.

But Huckabee’s remark raised no rejoinder from the assembled reporters. That is why our man is going all the way to the top — not to the White House but to the wide, wonderful world of broadcasting. Anything he says is to be believed. He’s proved that he’s that good. Move over, Bill O’Reilly.