Candidate Evaluations: Mike Huckabee
by Benjamin Studebaker
Recently, Mike Huckabee decided to run for president. This means another entry in the Candidate Evaluations series–where we examine a US presidential candidate’s background, policy history, and explicit statements in an attempt to figure out whether the candidate would actually be any good at being president, rather than focusing on electability or likeability, as is common in the mainstream press. There have been quite a few of these, and if the rumor mill holds any truth, there will be quite a few more before the race is over. Previously, we’ve covered:
This is Mike Huckabee:
Huckabee is a pastor by training–he got his BA in religion from Ouachita Baptist University. He did not complete graduate school. He was a pastor from 1980 to 1992, and he was president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention for two years during that span. He became Lieutenant Governor of Arkansas in 1993, and was governor from 1996-2007.
As governor, Huckabee was pretty centrist on economic issues. He occasionally passed tax increases and used the money to fund improvements to infrastructure, education, and healthcare, focusing particularly on children at the lower end of the income distribution. By the end of his time as governor, he even earned the hatred of the hard right-wing Cato Institute, hatred that Cato maintains 8 years later. Arkansas’ per capita income was 78% of the national average in 1996, and by 2007 it had risen to 79%–a small improvement, but at least they weren’t falling further behind:
Huckabee had a larger success with the poverty rate. The national average was 70% of Arkansas’ in the early 00’s, but by the end of Huckabee’s governorship, the national was up to 83% of Arkansas’ rate:
Unlike many republicans who pay lip service to Christian moral principles, Huckabee does seem to have been genuinely committed to helping the poor while he was governor. He denounced legislation that would have denied government benefits to undocumented immigrants, calling it “un-Christian” and “anti-life”. In the past, he has supported a path to citizenship. In 2007, he even got behind cap and trade legislation to combat global warming:
But in recent years, Huckabee’s public statements have shifted sharply to the right. He flip-flopped on climate change, and his rhetoric on immigration has grown much more bellicose–he now says he wants all undocumented workers to “self-deport”. He’s also come out against Obamacare, and he proposes to replace federal income and capital gains tax with a sales tax. This is a really regressive move that would shift the tax burden dramatically onto America’s poor, and the plan has also been presented disingenuously–it’s estimated that this new sales tax would need to be 57% to remain revenue-neutral, not the 23% Huckabee claims. He’s even come out for a balanced budget amendment, which would dramatically restrict the government’s ability to respond to economic or military crises that hurt the poorest and most vulnerable the most.
In the meantime, Huckabee’s religious beliefs have led him to hold a variety of reactionary social stances–he wants to pass a constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriage, and he’s against permitting gay couples to adopt. He also wants a constitutional amendment barring abortion except when the mother’s life is at risk, even in cases of rape or incest. If there’s anything that distinguishes Huckabee here, it’s his willingness to use federal power to enforce his religious beliefs. While most GOP candidates want the courts to leave gay marriage to the states, Huckabee wants a constitutional amendment to stop gay marriage nationwide, even in the states where it’s deeply popular with the public.
So what does all of this add up to? Huckabee knows that he’s too centrist on economic issues to attract political support from republicans in a presidential primary in 2016, so he’s acting more right-wing than he probably is. Even so, it’s still disappointing to see his lack of integrity, his willingness to abandon with his rhetoric the very vulnerable people he once protected with his actions. And on social and foreign policy issues, there’s little that differentiates him from the rest of the GOP field.
It’s the same old problem with outwardly religious republican candidates. They have a tendency to place a bizarre priority on standing up for a small list of relatively obscure Christian teachings at the expense of the rest of the corpus. Why does Huckabee think it’s okay to bend on serving the poor for political purposes but not okay to bend on stopping gay people from getting married? Unlike many other GOP candidates, Huckabee has a degree in religion and has served as a clergyman. He is intimately familiar with the teachings of Jesus.
He knows that the line in Leviticus about homosexuality is in the same old testament book that requires a variety of things that contemporary Christians don’t care a whit about. Take Leviticus 19:23, which invalidates our entire system of compensating employees:
Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight.
Or Leviticus 19:19, which bans the mixing of clothing materials:
Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.
Or Leviticus 19:27, which bans beard-trimming:
Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.
There’s also a whole series of weird things about selling property that nobody follows:
The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers. Throughout the land that you hold as a possession, you must provide for the redemption of the land.
If one of your fellow Israelites becomes poor and sells some of their property, their nearest relative is to come and redeem what they have sold. If, however, there is no one to redeem it for them but later on they prosper and acquire sufficient means to redeem it themselves, they are to determine the value for the years since they sold it and refund the balance to the one to whom they sold it; they can then go back to their own property. But if they do not acquire the means to repay, what was sold will remain in the possession of the buyer until the Year of Jubilee. It will be returned in the Jubilee, and they can then go back to their property.
Anyone who sells a house in a walled city retains the right of redemption a full year after its sale. During that time the seller may redeem it. If it is not redeemed before a full year has passed, the house in the walled city shall belong permanently to the buyer and the buyer’s descendants. It is not to be returned in the Jubilee. But houses in villages without walls around them are to be considered as belonging to the open country. They can be redeemed, and they are to be returned in the Jubilee.
And let’s not forget the bit about charging poor people interest–this alone would destroy the global economy:
If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and are unable to support themselves among you, help them as you would a foreigner and stranger, so they can continue to live among you. Do not take interest or any profit from them, but fear your God, so that they may continue to live among you. You must not lend them money at interest or sell them food at a profit.
Yet the line in Leviticus about homosexuality seems to take rhetorical precedence over the extensive exhortations by Jesus himself that Christians ought to serve the poor.
How do we explain this? Either Huckabee is not a very good clergyman or he is very cynical about his use of religion, appealing to it only when it is politically convenient to do so. In a republican primary, hostility to gay marriage still scores points, while demands that the state help the poor are the fastest way to chase off the donors republican candidates need. Maybe Huckabee aims to be something of a Trojan horse. Maybe if he becomes president he’ll run the federal government more or less the same way he ran Arkansas. We can’t be sure. We just don’t know where he really stands.
Everything about Huckabee that was interesting he has since gone out of his way to renounce, but the fact that he had a decent run as governor of Arkansas counts in his favor. Even so, I don’t like his social or foreign policy positions one bit. He’s the best republican in the field so far (beating out Carly Fiorina, my previous GOP favorite), but I still can’t back him for president.