Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Daily Bulletin - "The Case For Mike Huckabee"

The case for Mike Huckabee

By Chris Weinkopf, Editorial Page Editor

IN making the case for Mike Huckabee's campaign for the presidency, circumstances require that I start with a declaration: I am not now, nor have I ever been, an Evangelical Christian.

It's important to get that disclaimer out of the way, because Huckabee has regrettably been pigeonholed as the "Evangelical candidate" - a swell guy, but off-limits to anyone without a fish decal on the back of the family truckster.

And that's a shame, because Huckabee's appeal could - and, indeed, should - transcend religious or cultural affiliations.

Unlike most other Republicans past and present, this folksy, up-by-the-bootstraps former governor of a heavily Democratic state has a message capable of reaching far beyond the GOP faithful. It's one with a natural resonance for the middle class, for Latinos, for African-Americans, for believers of all kinds - indeed for anyone.

If only that message could get a full hearing.

That it doesn't is in no small part Huckabee's own doing. He has directed much of his energy toward rallying his base, and that's fed all too easily into the media's narrow image of Huck as the smooth-talking itinerant preacher.

Which he is, but he is also so much more.

Given that Huckabee is the only viable candidate consistently committed to protecting unborn human life, it's natural that he would be the favorite of conservative Christians. But for Huckabee, this is more than pandering. It's part of a broader


philosophy that's led to a number of efforts not typical for a GOP presidential contender.

Start with his strong actions in behalf of racial equality, which date back to the early 1980s, when Huckabee single-handedly took on the unpopular task of integrating an all-white Arkansas church. Later as governor, he worked to end racial disparities in drug-sentencing laws, and appointed numerous African-Americans to prominent positions in his administration while pushing an agenda of racial reconciliation.

Then there's Huckabee's decision to allow the children of illegal immigrants to get in-state tuition at Arkansas' public universities - a decision that irks plenty of GOP stalwarts. But Huck's Gospel doesn't punish children for the sins of their parents. His commitment is to the dignity of the human person - not to party politics.

So Huck bucks the GOP establishment in other ways, too.

Though favoring a strong approach to the War on Terror, he has fairly criticized Bush foreign policy for being, at times, "arrogant." Likewise - here comes that commitment to human dignity again - he rejects the use of torture on suspected terrorists.

On taxes, Huckabee supports reductions that favor middle-class families, not high-end earners or corporations. On trade, he calls for America's partners to stop manipulating currencies and import controls to gain an unfair advantage. On the environment, he's rightly concerned about the dangers of global warming. And on health care, he's serious about extending coverage to poor children, combating smoking and dealing with the obesity crisis.

For these deviations from party orthodoxy, members of the GOP establishment have maligned Huckabee as some sort of crypto left-winger. But these are unconservative positions only if one thinks that conservatism demands rejecting any concern raised by a liberal, no matter how valid, and an adamant belief that the market can do no wrong.

Huckabee, however, harkens back to a more traditional brand of conservatism, one that sees the family, the middle class, social stability and the environment as goods worth conserving.

Perhaps it's because, as a preacher, he spent many years ministering to average Americans personally, gaining a real sense of the issues that concern them - health insurance, economic uncertainty, family breakdown. Huckabee brings a practical approach to politics that's directed toward making people's lives better, not making people's lives conform to some ideological template.

Call his political philosophy whatever you want, but it has the potential to obliterate the tiresome blue-red binary of American politics. Huckabee also has a sense of humor and doesn't take himself too seriously - a refreshing change in modern politics.

Evangelicals are right to like Mike. They shouldn't be the only ones.

Chris Weinkopf, the Daily News' editorial-page editor, blogs at Write to him by e-mail at

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