August 11, 2006
The real man from Hope
We met the real man from Hope when Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas came by for an editorial board yesterday. Huckabee, a Republican whose first career was as a Southern Baptist pastor, is considering running for president.
President Bill Clinton left Hope, Ark., as a young boy and grew up in Hot Springs. Huckabee, who is nine years younger than Clinton, was born and raised in Hope.
Huckabee made a joke about this that he has no doubt told a hundred times during his political career. Clinton, Huckabee said, used the line “I believe in a place called Hope” because it sounded so much better than “I believe in a place called Hot Springs.”
As I listened to Huckabee, I heard a politician comfortable in his skin as an Arkansan who was trying to figure out what from this repertory would work on the national stage and what he would have to invent. Although he and I are far apart in our thinking on many issues, I liked him.
For one thing, Huckabee is a governor. Governors who want to be president are usually far more down to earth than senators who want to be president. As a governor, you have to deal with real people and real issues. You have to get things done. The meaningless prattle of Washington does not pollute your speech.
Huckabee’s most appealing quality is humanity. When he said that his first reaction in dealing with Katrina refugees in Arkansas was to feed and house them and worry about the cost and the paperwork later, he was totally believable. When he spoke with passion and urgency about health care, you could see how his own heroic conversion from an obese man to a trim one had led him to look outside himself. Certainly one of his most practiced answers was his take on why his background as a pastor is not a political liability but an important qualification.
“There is not a social pathology in this world that I couldn’t put a name and face to,” he began. Soon he was detailing the human misery – alcohol problems, money problems, marital problems, unwanted pregnancies – that he regularly dealt with as a preacher. This experience, he said, led him to be more understanding of the human condition.
“If faith is real, it does affect what you do” as an elected official, he said. Asked to name his party’s biggest flaw, he said that while Republicans had been keen on seeing that their policies helped those at the top, it had not been sensitive to people on the bottom. When he began to analyze the growing gap between the rich and the poor and the difficulties of the middle class, he sounded like a Democrat.
Huckabee is one of a large cast of characters whom New Hampshire and Iowa voters will see a great deal of during the next year and a half. He has a lot to learn. Although I came away with a good first impression, he was fuzzy on the war in Iraq and unresponsive on Social Security.
If he decides to run, he will profit greatly from grassroots campaigning in New Hampshire. He will have a good touch for it, too, shaping his positions by what he hears from voters.
Posted by Mike Pride at August 11, 2006 03:34 PM