Huckabee's Counterproductive Sweet Talk
By Dick Armey
With a definitive win in last week's
Mike Huckabee abandoned conservative governance long ago. As governor of
By now, these facts are well known. Fiscal conservatives have spilled gallons of ink decrying his record, and for good reason. Yet the social conservatives who support him should be concerned as well, for Huckabee undermines the GOP's longstanding unity between its traditional and economic wings, a coalition built to serve the goals of social as well fiscal conservatives.
This coalition, solidified in the Reagan years, rests on the principle that freedom--individual and economic--is not in conflict with virtue, but rather is the key to it. Social conservatives are served by promoting economic freedom, and vice-versa. Moreover, the alignment of these interests is the foundation for the GOP's electoral successes, no small thing in the realm of politics. The enthusiasm for Huckabee from the party's socially conservative wing is not just misplaced; it's counterproductive.
Indeed, Huckabee explicitly seems to want to destroy the longstanding partnership that has defined the Right. Ed Rollins, Huckabee's campaign manager, recently dismissed the Reagan coalition as "gone," saying "it doesn't mean a whole lot to people anymore." That's quite the claim, but perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise. Huckabee has every incentive to distance himself from the GOP coalition; his nomination rests on its demise.
With his jokes and folksy patter, he presents himself as affable and friendly, but only by sowing discontent and disunity can he hope to split off enough of the party's base to win the nomination. Yes, despite the sunny rhetoric, Huckabee's act is little more than another strategic political ploy.
Thus, he has worked to make his small-minded populism a credit by pitting his socially conservative supporters against the GOP's business wing. One of his favorite lines is that he represents the interests of "
Of course, his genial demeanor and willingness to overlook both principle and fact is indicative of a distinct and disturbing trend in American politics. Huckabee seemed to come from nowhere in the race, but he is not just a lonely, surprise candidate, but a symbol of the new wave of feel-good conservatism, which seeks not to deal in policy that works so much as policy and rhetoric that provide emotional gratification.
Huckabee comes off as the self-esteem candidate, in which merely feeling good is the core of the message. He's not the only Republican making a practice of peddling cotton-candy bromides. As FreedomWorks president Matt Kibbe recently pointed out, former Bush speechwriter and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson has been pushing a similarly foolish agenda: inspiring, heartfelt--and utterly ineffective.
More than ever, we need to remember that freedom, prosperity, and opportunity are at the center of the limited government vision for
Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey is chairman of FreedomWorks http://www.freedomworks.org/ in