Mike Huckabee, whether or not he's running for president, has decided the path ahead for him is demagoguery. The former Republican governor of Arkansas, who kind of finished second in the 2008 GOP presidential contest (it's complicated), is mulling another run, and in the meantime he has produced the obligatory campaign book. Titled "A Simple Government," this book is an assault on thinking.
Let's start with Huckabee's big beef against President Barack Obama, for, as a campaign book, it's raison d'etre -- oh, sorry about the French -- must be to make the case that the author ought to be where Obama is now. Huckabee writes,
My biggest problem with President Obama isn't his insistent partisanship; it's his reliance on advice from people who don't understand the real world that you and I live in. Obama has overloaded his administration with policy wonks and Ivy League professors because he speaks their language. Virtually no one on his team has had experience running anything; they probably couldn't even run a lemonade stand.
Cheap shot -- slamming government officials with graduate degrees. But let's look at the Obama Cabinet. It includes four governors. Didn't these people used to run things? (They did so as much as Huckabee ever did.) Before this administration, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates ran . . . the Pentagon. Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist (yeah, that's a bad thing), was director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory before Obama picked him to steer the Energy Department. (Whom did President George W. Bush place in that slot? A defeated Republican senator named Spencer Abraham.) Arne Duncan, the head of the Education Department, oversaw the Chicago public school systems. Shaun Donovan, the secretary of housing, ran the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Attorney General Eric Holder once upon a time managed the U.S. attorney's office in Washington. Retired Gen. Eric Shinseki, secretary of veterans affairs, used to run a little outfit called the U.S. Army. And Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was boss of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
All told, this is a lot of running things. This isn't to say that all these appointees have gotten all the calls right. But it's absurd for Huckabee to claim that the problem with Obama's administration is a lack of experience.
Huckabee is playing to the crowd
. And here's his bumper sticker: "We need a simple government."
Simple government? Is it simple
to devise rules that can prevent a financial meltdown? (Quickly, Governor, describe a credit default swap to us.) Is finding the right course in Afghanistan simple
? What's a simple
way of dealing with the private insurance companies that control the delivery of health care in this country? Was going to the moon simple
? Is keeping the food supply chain safe a simple
endeavor? By the way, Huckabee in 2007 supported cap-and-trade climate change legislation
-- which would have created a highly complicated system of carbon counting and swapping -- but this past December he claimed (falsely) that he never had. Apparently, it's real simple
for a politician to lie.
Huckabee tries to cover his backside by saying, "Don't get me wrong: I know that many of the nation's problems are highly complex. But I also know that the governing principles that can solve them, if we work together, are simple. Justice, integrity, freedom -- the basic notions upon which America was founded -- are simple." The values may be simple, but the application of them to real-world problems is often not so easy. Stem cells, anyone?
Huckabee is pandering. I know; you're shocked. He's playing that ol' blast-the-elites card: "I'm not trying to win a Pulitzer Prize or impress the folks at Harvard, Yale or Stanford. . . . I'm writing for people who aren't ashamed to eat hot dogs and hamburgers (in moderation!) and probably think that a meal of snails is better suited to birds and fish than to humans." Yes, that is indeed the great cultural Rubicon in the United States: escargot, oui or non?
His shtick is not harmless. Huckabee is more worried about a fancy-eating Yale professor than a economy-destroying Wall Street crook. ("Wall Street" is not listed in the index of this book.) He decries the recent loss of millions of jobs, but his book has precious little to say about the financial implosion that caused the economy to tank.
Moreover, this aw-gosh, let's-just-do-what-us-simple-folks-know-is-best belies Huckabee's own past as a politician. As has been well documented
, when he was active in Arkansas politics, he was snared in a series of ethics slip-ups. In a 1992 failed Senate campaign, he used campaign funds to pay himself as his own media consultant and to pay a family babysitter. In a successful run for lieutenant governor, he set up a nonprofit that allowed him to accept money for speeches from backers without disclosing their identities. When governor, as Salon reported
he raked in tens of thousands of dollars in gifts, including gifts from people he later appointed to prestigious state commissions. . . . [H]e converted a governor's mansion operating account into a personal expense account, claiming public money for a doghouse, dry-cleaning bills, panty hose and meals at Taco Bell. He tried to claim $70,000 in furnishings provided by a wealthy cotton grower for the private part of the residence as his own, until he learned ethics rules prevented it. . . . Inauguration funds were used to buy clothing for his wife.
Huckabee mounted one scheme after another. And they weren't all simple.
One simple bromide Huckabee serves up in his book is predictable: "Raising Taxes Is Not the Answer." Unless you're Huckabee. During the 2008 campaign, Huckabee often declared that he had cut taxes "almost 94 times" while governor of Arkansas. Factcheck.org found
that was misleading, noting that Huckabee "leaves out the 21 taxes raised during his tenure. In the end, he presided over a net tax increase." He did so to close large gaps in the state budget so Arkansas, as Huckabee at the time declared in a speech to the state legislature, could continue to "provide an adequate level of service" to its citizens. State government spending also increased by 50 percent while he was governor. And guess what? The state, under Huckabee, moved from a $200 million shortfall to a $884 million surplus.
So tax hikes can work. What a simple idea.
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