Huckabee’s gamble

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has formed an exploratory committee to consider running for president. Careful readers of his latest book, “From Hope to Higher Ground: 12 STOPs to Restoring America’s Greatness,” will wonder if that’s really the office he wants to win.

The intro and conclusion bookend 12 chapters. Each chapter details one broad problem that Americans should address — including “STOP Being Cynical” and “STOP the Loss of Good Jobs and the Erosion of Agriculture” — and ends with a list of 12 “Action Steps” for how you, the reader, can make a difference.

For those keeping score, that makes it a 12-STOP, 144-step book. A few of the steps are sensible but obvious (“Keep receipts for tax-deductible items”), others would tend to work against each other (read fewer letters to the editor and also write letters to the editor), several encourage public spiritedness and some are just baffling and silly.

Steps readers can take to STOP being cynical include “Watch classic films made before 1968,” “Practice… ‘Random Acts of Kindness’ ” and “Watch TV Land and Nick at Nite more; network TV less” (Nick at Nite’s current schedule includes such classics as “Designing Women,” “Murphy Brown” and “Rosanne”).

Like most campaign books, this one includes the author’s potted bio. Mr. Huckabee married at 19, fathered three children and served as a Baptist minister before entering politics. He failed to unseat Sen. Dale Bumpers in 1992, but he did well enough that when the lieutenant governorship came open the next year, he ran in the special election and won in an upset.

Then-Gov. Jim Guy Tucker was forced to resign over a felony conviction from the Whitewater scandal in 1996 and Mr. Huckabee began his tenure of more than 10 years as the state’s chief executive. As governor he cut taxes, signed pro-life legislation, quarreled with the legislature over education funding, installed wheelchair ramps in the governor’s mansion, raised taxes, lost more than 100 pounds and ran four marathons.

Mr. Huckabee was broadly popular as governor because of his populist policies and his unique style. His past as a Baptist minister helped in ways great and small. It didn’t hurt to belong to the largest denomination in a Southern state. He also seems to have learned that St. Paul’s advice to be “all things to all people” is good politics.

On the one hand, Mr. Huckabee labels himself a “conservative, pro-life, pro-family evangelical who believes in God, lower taxes, less government, personal empowerment, personal ownership, and personal responsibility.”

On the other, he insists that he is not angry, nor is he any kind of right-wing nut. In chapter three, “STOP Cheating Our Children,” he tells the story of a town meeting in which one woman stood up and said her children were done with school and she was sick of spending money for public education.

Writes Mr. Huckabee, “While not politically correct, I challenged her that it should matter what kind of schools we have.” Yes, how very un-PC of him to declare education important.

His policy proposals on most issues are a mix of conservative rhetoric and liberal hand-wringing. On education, he proposes testing and administrative reforms, promotes charter schools and insists that states should fully fund arts and music programs. School choice is conspicuous by its absence.

On Social Security, he wants to convince Baby Boomers to work longer and continue paying into the system. Those who can afford it should be given the option to will a tax-free deferred payout to their children or grandchildren. No mention is made of private accounts for those grandchildren.

On the environment he writes, “Al Gore wasn’t entirely wrong when he spoke of ‘earth in the balance.’ Balance is exactly what we need.”

Mr. Huckabee’s approach to health care is to declare war on ill health, which he takes to be caused by fat, sugar, salt and sloth. As with seatbelts, drunk driving and cigarettes, he advocates that the government and civic society should first work to change attitudes toward these things and then “having shifted public opinion, we can solidify the attitude and atmospheric changes with government actions to statutorily define the will of the majority.”

The former governor wants to position himself as someone who is “right” on the issues important to conservative activists (abortion, God, taxes, guns) but who won’t turn off non-ideological voters. In other words, he’s running for vice president.

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