05 November 2007

Can't Vote for the Guy, But I Sure Like Him

I've liked Mike Huckabee since I saw him pushing his book and his fledgling presidential campaign early this spring on The Daily Show.* Then he made the best poke at John Edwards at an early Repub debate and continued to quietly charm his way beneath the media vortex surrounding the incredibly stiff and disingenuous Republican front runners.

I like the guy even though he's pro-life and believes in creationism. (Better to say he's anti-choice. I'm pro-life, after all, I just also happen to believe a woman gets to decide what ultimately happens to her body.) I don't believe I could ever vote for him, because he believes unequivocally that Roe v. Wade should be overturned, and because he would rally for a Constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman, but it's refreshing to hear some intelligent dialogue on the campaign trail. And I still haven't heard him say creationism or intelligent design should be taught in schools, though a little more research needs to go into this.

So when I read in Slate that Huckabee is surging in Iowa, I say good for him. He deserves it. Except for Ron Paul, he's the only Republican candidate I've heard who consistently stays on message and doesn't change that message simply to pander to his crowd.** That said, I don't get invited to a whole lot of Republican fundraisers, so what do I know?

Here's an exchange between Slate's John Dickerson and the candidate:

Slate: Are you going to use this moment to confront your GOP opponents more?

Huckabee: What I've got to do is to show people why I've got to be president, and people are smart enough to draw their own conclusions about the differences between us. It's not that I mind bringing out contrasts, but to relentlessly attack an opponent—I'm not sure that's what people are looking for. I think they're looking for someone who can manage the government, not necessarily disable their opponents.

Yup. Emphasis mine. That's what I'm looking for, and I'm not limiting myself to voting for the major Democratic contenders, though I think I could get behind any of the Big 3, and even maybe Bill Richardson or Chris Dodd too. The point is that when I check my options for presidential candidates I'm looking for someone who is level headed and smart (I think we're all ready for a breath of intellect again at the highest levels of government), and who surrounds him or herself with good, smart, thoughtful people. People with proven track records in their fields, unlike so many current and recent upper-level appointees. I'll give extra credence to any candidate who can elevate the level of discourse surrounding national politics in this country (and especially in the Republican Party, which tends too often toward the vituperative just to keep things cycling on Fox News). The dumbification of presidential campaigning has proven a supreme failure for the legacy of our country. We didn't merely elect ("elect") a president who exudes folksy charm and therefore polls well (or did at one time, anyway), we got a know-nothing whose active embrace of anti-curiosity he wears as a coat of arms. It's time to bring thoughtfulness back to the Oval Office.

Also, though I loathe and take issue with the term "Islamofascists," I'm relieved to hear a candidate talk sensibly about the threat faced by Americans both at home and abroad:

Osama Bin Laden was largely influenced by the writings of Sayyid Qutb, executed in Egypt in 1966, a true radical Islamic cleric who helped to further the most radical notion of the theocracy that the Islamofacists would love to install. Because of their sense of fervor and the fact that they have completely married government and religion, there is no negotiation with an organization that is not a nation-state, it's an ideology. They have no timeline in which they have to accomplish it. Where we want our wars to be finished in a thousand days, they're quite willing for this to go a thousand years. It's not about obtaining a particular border or boundary, and once they obtain it, they'll be satisfied. They really believe they have to destroy everyone who does not help them bring about the purity of what they believe is their version of Islam.

Emphasis mine. As a culture we've been entirely too short-sighted about the challenges presented since 9/11--the day the notion of an America as everybody's darling (a notion held only by Americans, by the way, and dwindling numbers of us at that) was shattered. I still don't think most Americans get this key point mentioned above. Remember "Mission Accomplished," when George Bush put on a flight suit and a codpiece for a photo op on a Navy aircraft carrier? If for no other reason than that which Huckabee points out, that our enemies who happen to be Islamic extremists will a) die for what they believe is holy and right and b) inculcate in future generations a thousand years' war ideology, it is both immature and inane to believe that we can "win" this war.

The best we can hope for militarily is to contain outbursts of radicalism that threaten our citizens and our state. Beyond that we have to go to diplomacy and be willing to make some compromises. While there will always be radical, fanatical fringe elements, and while there will always be some level at which they will be able to operate, we have already proven that we can work with governments whose ideology differs from ours (not necessarily for the best: Pakistan ringing any bells right now?) I get the impression Mike Huckabee gets all this, and, if he and I don't exactly agree on the solutions, I like the feeling that at least we agree on what the threats are, where they come from, and what's behind them.

Here's another thing I like about Mike Huckabee: he's on about schools. I have no idea if he's prepared to put his money where his mouth is, but I like what I'm hearing so far.

Slate: You talk about the need for arts education in school. Why? And how have you benefited from being a musician?

Huckabee: The discipline that one learns from it is important, but also the stimulation and creativity. If an education system is only left-brain and it does not properly stimulate the right brain, then it's no small wonder why students are bored to the point of quitting. We lose 6,000 kids a day to drop-out. A third of students in our public schools will drop out of school. It's not because these kids are dumb. They are bored. What music and the arts do is make sure that those who are right-brain oriented have their lives touched as much as kids who are logic-centered. It's our creativity that becomes our cultural vehicle and gives us continuity between one generation and the next. Without that continuity, we not only lose some songs or artwork, we lose our capacity to transmit our culture.

I think a lot of politicians play the education card when it suits them, and I don't suspect Huckabee is any different. All I'm saying is his concerns, his emphasis and his attitude resonate with me. Plus he goes on to mention his affinity for John Mellencamp. Now, I can take the Cougar or leave him, but at least the governor didn't go goo-goo over the Rolling Stones.

At the end of the day, Mike Huckabee leaves me feeling, well, optimistic. He used to weigh 300 pounds and now he's a marathon runner. He's been married to the same woman, his first (only) wife, for 33 years. He's got experience running a state that's already produced at least one affable, charismatic politician who, overall, I can still get excited about. The only thing sticking in my craw is the anti-choice platform on which he locates himself, and another uber-conservative addition to the Supreme Court would be all it takes. So no, I can't vote for him, no I'm not ready to see him as President (though of any of the Republican pack, he's our best-case scenario), and at the same time I'm grateful for what he brings to the race.

*This link goes right to the clip but I can't get it to play. If it works for you, or if you find another way to watch, please let me know.

**Except possibly for Tom Tancredo, but I can't bring myself to even discuss that man's campaign.