I guiltily admit that I haven’t paid too much attention to Mike Huckabee, not because I disagree with his politics, but because I’ve been focusing on the Republican front runners. With a lot of front runners, even if one falls, there are so many more to take his place, it still seems likely to me that one of them will ultimately be the name on the ballot in 2008.
But for those who have followed Mr. Huckabee as he has traveled across the country these past six months, he has distinguished himself in another way: as a candidate of considerable humor who stands apart in this oh-so-serious field of presidential contenders (think Mr. Giuliani talking about the threat of terrorist attacks). Mr. Huckabee uses humor as a way to court voters, soften rivals, make political arguments and seamlessly slice an opponent.“I was the first governor in America to have a concealed handgun permit — so don’t mess with me!” Mr. Huckabee told a conservative convention in Washington.
Or consider this, as he invited Republicans to join in “a Q. and A.” with him in West Des Moines. “What it really stands for is questions and avoidance,” he explained. “I do my best not to say anything that would end my political career.”
Or this, talking about what Mr. Huckabee has described as frequent accusations of political corruption in the state: “It got to be where the five most feared words for an Arkansas politician were, ‘Will the defendant please rise’.”
Mr. Huckabee’s use of humor amounts to a style of politicking that many audiences have found engaging, and that stands out in an era of bloggers and journalists recording a candidate’s slightest slip.
To me, this kind of wit is always a sign of (a) intelligence and (b) self-awareness. I’ve suddenly become interested. Of course, it ultimately may not lead anywhere. While wit worked for John F. Kennedy, it did nothing for Adlai Stevenson who, because of his wit, was my father’s favorite candidate.
UPDATE: Here’s a Weekly Standard report with some meat to back up that humor:
Huckabee is offering what might be called “results conservatism.” The conservative part is fundamental because it identifies where governing, for him, must be grounded, in terms of philosophy and ideas. And as he makes his campaign stops, Huckabee takes care to assert his conservatism. He explains how, growing up in a very blue county, he became a conservative “by conviction” when he was a teenager. He states his preferences for “less government, not more” and “lower taxes, not higher.” He insists on understanding marriage in traditional terms, as the union of a male and a female. He stresses the sanctity of human life and calls for protecting it from the moment of conception. He criticizes Roe v. Wade as having “imposed an unconstitutional concept of privacy” upon the country. He cites the Tenth Amendment as a bulwark against an overweening federal government. And he underscores that the “first job” of the president “is to protect the American people,” which, he emphasizes, means protecting the country against “fanatic jihadists” who are waging “a theological war” against us. Huckabee’s results conservatism is not to be confused with President Bush’s compassionate conservatism. In fact, Huckabee rejects the latter term on the ground, as he told me, that compassion isn’t a matter of political ideology but is related to “your spirit and heart.”
On specific issues, Huckabee says that the immigration bill failed because it didn’t “take care of the first test of a real immigration policy, which is having a secure border.” On energy, he declares that we need “to produce our own energy sources” and quit our dependence on foreign sources. On the No Child Left Behind law, he states his agreement with its general thrust and would make only minor changes. On health care, he argues that the country needs to shift from an intervention-based system to one based on prevention. On judges, he says he would appoint judicial conservatives like Antonin Scalia, whom he calls “the gold standard” for judging. And on the question of the Supreme Court’s overruling Roe, he’s emphatically for it.
On Iraq–a subject that generates only one or two questions at each event–Huckabee supports the surge, and opposes any timetable for pulling troops out, and he accuses Democrats of playing politics. On the war on terrorism more broadly, he says we have to be in it for the long run: “What people don’t understand is what we’re up against. . . . We’re fighting people who don’t care if it takes a thousand years. They’ve been at it for longer than that. A few hundred more years won’t matter.”
The one big idea Huckabee advances on the stump is the fair tax. Huckabee told me he became a fair-tax proponent after first being attracted to the flat tax. “But then I realized that the flat tax . . . was a tax on productivity, which is not the way you stimulate entrepreneurial activity.” During his early campaigning in Iowa, he says, people asked him about the fair tax. “But I wasn’t familiar with it.” So he bought The Fair Tax Book: Saying Goodbye to the Income Tax and the IRS by Rep. John Lindner of Georgia and Neal Boortz, the Atlanta talk-show host. Huckabee says he read it twice and was persuaded. As he explains the concept in his speeches, the fair tax would replace all current taxes on productivity with a consumption tax of 23 percent on all goods and services (education being the lone exception). It would be so simple to administer, he says, that “a seven-year-old running a lemonade stand would be able to figure it out.” We could eliminate the IRS, he adds, since the government no longer would collect taxes. “And”–an applause line–“April 15 would be just another spring day in America.”
So, he sounds not only witty, but intelligent. Hmmmm….