Monday, January 7, 2008

Just Another Ordinary Guy

William Kristol boots off his stint as the new columnist by touting Mike Huckabee for president.

Mr. Kristol starts off his column with a thanks to Barack Obama for crippling the Clinton campaign and doing the country a great favor by saving us from “the Clinton Restoration.” (For that, Mr. Kristol is consistent; his hatred of anything Clinton is as sure as the sneer on Bill O’Reilly’s lips.) But he’s still freaked out by the possibility of a liberal Democrat in the White House, and so he grabs on to the only spark of life left in the moribund corpus of the Bush GOP.

I was watching the debate at the home of a savvy, moderately conservative New Hampshire Republican. It was at this moment that he turned to me and said: “You know, I’ve been a huge skeptic about Huckabee. I’m still not voting for him Tuesday. But I’ve got to say — I like him. And I wonder — could he be our strongest nominee?”

He could be. After the last two elections, featuring the well-born George Bush and Al Gore and John Kerry, Americans — even Republicans! — are ready for a likable regular guy. Huckabee seems to be that. He came up from modest origins. He served as governor of Arkansas for more than a decade. He fought a successful battle against being overweight. These may not be utterly compelling qualifications for the presidency. I’m certainly not ready to sign up.

Not a ringing endorsement, to be sure, but you can hear the hesitant acceptance as he reviews the campaign style of the former Arkansas governor and says, in so many words, that Mr. Huckabee is the best that the GOP has…much the same way the Democrats did with Mike Dukakis in 1988.

Now it’s true that many conservatives have serious doubts about Huckabee’s positions, especially on foreign policy, and his record, particularly on taxes. The conservative establishment is strikingly hostile to Huckabee — for both good and bad reasons. But voters seem to be enjoying making up their own minds this year. And Huckabee is a talented politician.

His campaigning in New Hampshire has been impressive. At a Friday night event at New England College in Henniker, he played bass with a local rock band, Mama Kicks. One secular New Hampshire Republican’s reaction: “Gee, he’s not some kind of crazy Christian. He’s an ordinary American.”

Therein lies the problem. Mr. Kristol, of all people, is glad that Mr. Huckabee fills the bill as an “ordinary American,” as if the job description of President of the United States is so easy and doesn’t require any other ability that it can’t be done by guy off the street. Give him a big office, a lot of staffers, a cool plane, and anybody could do this job.

If the last seven years have proven anything, that is surely not the case. I will grant you that on the surface Mr. Huckabee certainly seems far more aware of his surroundings than does George W. Bush, but then again, so does Snowball, my stuffed cat. Mr. Huckabee has the smooth and reasonable answers down pat for when he’s speaking in a national debate and the charm and folksiness when he’s chatting with Tim Russert, and he knows when to pull out the dog whistles when he’s talking to a crowd of evangelicals. That makes him a great salesman, but that’s not the top requirement in being a president, either; the guy down the street selling insurance knows how to pitch to the right audience at the right time, and he may even spend his off-hours playing rock guitar with a bunch of boomers who are still trying to recapture the magic of The Kingsmen and “Louie Louie” in their garage. That makes him a candidate for American Idol, not the Oval Office.

Mr. Kristol concludes by warning the Democrats not to misunderestimate Mr. Huckabee:

Some Democrats are licking their chops at the prospect of a Huckabee nomination. They shouldn’t be. For one thing, Michael Bloomberg would be tempted to run in the event of an Obama-Huckabee race — and he would most likely take votes primarily from Obama. But whatever Bloomberg does, the fact is that the Republican establishment spent 2007 underestimating Mike Huckabee. If Huckabee does win the nomination, it would be amusing if Democrats made the same mistake in 2008.

Mr. Kristol’s track record for predicting the future is secure. In the last seven years alone he has been so spectacularly wrong on everything from the war in Iraq, going to war against Iran, and just about anything else he’s talked about, including the economy and hurricane recovery, that the bookies in Vegas listen to him with intense interest, bet the opposite way, and clean up. But then again, this is a man who has set his standards high enough that George W. Bush will be viewed as a great president and civil libertarian. He also has shown his scruples; he has a record of bashing the New York Times to the point that he once accused the editors of treason, yet he has no problem taking their money and filling up their column inches. (When the appointment was announced several weeks ago, a lot of lefties were aghast. I thought it was telling, however; for all his alleged moral piety that he showed so well during the Clinton impeachment, it showed that William Kristol could be bought by the highest bidder, which makes him just another ordinary pundit.)

Mr. Kristol sounds like someone who is trying to convince himself and his fellow Republicans of something he doesn’t quite believe himself; that Mike Huckabee is the best of a very bad lot and the best chance they have of winning the election (as opposed to the Democrats, who are more concerned about actually running the country once the election is over). This is his way of saying to his fellow wingers, who up until now have been savaging Mr. Huckabee, that just another ordinary guy may not be all that bad. But then again, any winger who would write for the New York Times can’t be expected to have high standards anyway.