- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 25, 2008

REVIEWED BY CLAUDE R. MARX

Given the disarray of the modern-day Republican Party, it’s not surprising that many people are offering prescriptions for the party’s woes. Some of them contend they are uniquely qualified to lead the party of Lincoln into the political promised land.

Former (and probably future) presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is convinced that he has the right ideological recipe and persona to rise to the occasion. His latest book, “Do the Right Thing: Inside the Movement That’s Bringing Common Sense Back to America,” is part of his effort to woo Republicans and conservative-leaning independents into his camp.

The book is partially a summary of his policy positions, mostly on domestic issues, and a memoir of his unsuccessful effort to win the Republican presidential nomination this year. His conversational writing style - he would be a delightful person to have coffee with - makes the book appealing, although it is not especially profound. After reading President-elect Barack Obama’s books (to say nothing of the writings of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt) one becomes spoiled; unfortunately, the other works of politicians often come up short.

Mr. Huckabee recounts the joys and frustrations of being the underdog in the race and describes how he built the organization that resulted in his finishing with more delegates than some better-financed opponents. If the great director Frank Capra were still alive, he certainly would be temped to buy the movie rights and cast Philip Seymour Hoffman as the lead.

Some of the stories are amusing and others inspirational (one woman gave him her wedding ring in lieu of a financial contribution), yet one is reminded of the kid with his nose against the store window whose mother tells him he can’t have that nice toy he wants.

Although the former Arkansas governor is anything but mean-spirited, he seems to dislike the wealthy. He is especially obsessed with Mitt Romney. According to a blogger for Politico who counted, Mr. Romney’s name appears on at least 25 pages. Many of those references are attempts at score settling.

In the book’s acknowledgements, Mr. Huckabee even unfavorably compares the former Massachusetts governor to a dog.

“We needed another dog about as much as we needed Mitt Romney to spend another $100 million, but he turned out to be a real blessing (Toby, that is),” Mr. Huckabee writes.

It is not just the size of Mr. Romney’s checkbook that bothers the author, however. He is especially irked by his former opponent’s ideological flexibility and willingness to take liberal positions on social issues when it suits his political needs. The former Bay State governor is part of a group of Republicans whom Mr. Huckabee derisively calls “faux cons.”

He is especially irked by their tendency to be ideologically pure on economic policy and to care more about Wall Street than Main Street.

Mr. Huckabee glibly describes their worldview as “purity of politics first; people are on their own.” By contrast, he notes his own preference is for a “people first, politics next, sort of approach.”

When discussing his own views on the issues, he tends to restate the same themes he addressed in the campaign and breaks little new ground. His most interesting idea is the “fair tax,” which is a politically more palatable way of describing a consumption tax. It would eliminate the Internal Revenue Service and payroll taxes in favor of taxing people only when they buy a good or service and therefore is more appealing than the more regressive approach of the old Republican warhorse, the flat tax.

Mr. Huckabee’s economic populism could make him appealing to moderate Democrats and independents, which is not a bad place to start when running for president. Though he is strongly conservative, he can express many of his views in a way that appeals to some of the people who supported Mr. Obama earlier this month.

The author has a broader definition of “pro-life” than some of his ideological soul mates. He believes it should encompass not only a strong opposition to abortion, but also strong support for programs to help children when they are born. Rep. Barney Frank’s famous adage that the Republican Party believes “life begins at conception, but ends at birth,” does not apply to Mr. Huckabee.

Those looking to help the Republican Party get out of its doldrums will find “Do the Right Thing: Inside the Movement That’s Bringing Common Sense Back to America” full of suggestions. Fortunately, the book’s engaging approach will make the soul-searching process a more enjoyable exercise.

Claude R. Marx, an award-winning journalist, is the author of a chapter on media and politics in “The Sixth-Year Itch,” edited by Larry Sabato.

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