Friday, December 21, 2007

Elmer Gantry is not "our guy"

From The Wall Street Journal:

As pigs in pokes go, the Democratic Party bought itself a big one in 1988. Michael Dukakis was relatively unknown, but he was also the last man standing. Only too late did his party, along with the rest of the country, realize Mr. Dukakis was a typecast liberal--a furlougher of felons, and a guy who looked mighty awkward in a tank.

This is what happens when a party takes a flyer, and it could be Republicans' turn with Mike Huckabee. The former Baptist minister and governor of Arkansas is surging in Iowa, and is tied with Rudy Giuliani in national polls. He's selling his party on a simple message: He's not those other guys, with their flip-flops and different faiths, and dicey social positions. As to what Mr. Huckabee is--that's as unknown to most voters as the Almighty himself.

Mr. Huckabee is starting to get a look-see by the press, though whether the nation will have time to absorb the findings before the primaries is just as unknown. The small amount that has been unearthed so far ought to have primary voters nervous. It isn't just that Mr. Huckabee is far from a traditional conservative; he's a potential ethical time bomb.

On policy, Mr. Huckabee's tenure in Arkansas has shown him to be ambivalent about tax increases, variously supporting sales tax hikes, cigarette and gasoline taxes and Internet taxes. Spending increased 65% from 1996 to 2004, three times the rate of inflation.
He's so lackluster on education reform that he recently received an endorsement from the New Hampshire affiliate of the National Education Association--the first ever of a GOP candidate. The union cited Mr. Huckabee's opposition to school vouchers. Mr. Huckabee is a fan of greater subsidies for farmers and "clean energy." He's proven himself a political neophyte on foreign policy, joining Democrats to skewer President Bush and glorify the "diplomacy, diplomacy, diplomacy" line.

Most of this is out there, thoroughly documented, and even now slowly filtering its way to voters. Of more concern is what has not yet been discovered about Mr. Huckabee's time as Arkansas lieutenant governor and governor, in particular on ethical issues.
There are signs that Mr. Huckabee's background--borne of the same Arkansas establishment that produced Bill Clinton--is ripe to provide the sort of pop-up political scandal that could derail a general election campaign.

In Arkansas,
Mr. Huckabee was investigated by the state ethics committee at least 14 times. Most of the complaints centered on what appears to be a serial disregard for government rules about gifts and outside financial compensation. He reported $112,000 worth of gifts in one year alone, nearly double his $67,000 salary.

Five of the 14 investigations resulted in admonishments: Two for failing to report gifts (one was later overturned), the other three for some $80,000 that Mr. Huckabee and his wife received but failed to initially report. One of these admonishments involved a $23,500 payment to Mr. Huckabee from an opaque organization called Action America that he helped found in 1994 while lieutenant governor, and that was designed to coordinate his speeches and supplement his income.

Mr. Huckabee caused an uproar when he used a $60,000 account intended to maintain the governor's mansion for personal expenses, including restaurant meals, dry cleaning and boat supplies. He also faced a lawsuit over his assertion that $70,000 worth of furniture donated to the mansion was his to keep. Sprinkled among all this are complaints about the misuse of state planes and campaign funds, mistakes on financial disclosure forms, and fights over documents related to ethics investigations.

Any one of these episodes individually may appear penny ante, but they add up to a disturbing pattern. People I've spoken with who worked with Mr. Huckabee in Arkansas dispute the idea that he is "corrupt." They instead ascribe his ethical mishaps to a "blind spot" rooted in his beginnings as a Baptist minister and a Southern culture of gift-giving; they suggest he never made the mental transition to public office.

Some will also argue Mr. Huckabee is no more ethically challenged than Mr. Giuliani, who is getting pounded with questions about Judith Nathan's security detail and Giuliani Partner clients. The difference is that Hizzoner is a celebrity whose past bones were long ago picked clean by the media crows. Even the Nathan flap is an extension of news that made the rounds five years ago.

Do we really want to hand the party's chances in 2008 of a candidate whose only recomendation is that he is more ethical than Julie Annie?

The obscure governor from Arkansas is, in contrast, a deep sea for media diving. Most recent have been stories about his pardons and commutations, as well as the news that R.J. Reynolds contributed to Action America. Mr. Huckabee--who now wants a national smoking ban in public places--responded that he never knew he accepted tobacco money, which has inspired a former adviser to claim Mr. Huckabee is being "less than truthful." What's next?

Elmer pardoned more convicted felons than all the governors of all the surronding states combined. He gave all the signs of someone who wanted to play God by handing out mercy from his throne.

The GOP is still reeling from its financial scandals, which helped Democrats tag the party with a "culture of corruption" in last year's congressional races. A Huckabee nomination would also neutralize one of the biggest weapons against nominee Hillary Clinton--her own ethically tortured past. If the subject came up at all, it would be a race to the Arkansas bottom. A matchup with Barack Obama could be worse, since the "politics of hope" senator has so far avoided scandal and could bludgeon Mr. Huckabee on his past.

Democrats know it. Here's an interesting statistic: Since the beginning of 2007, the Democratic National Committee has released 102 direct attacks on Mitt Romney. Rudy Giuliani has warranted 78; John McCain 68; Fred Thompson 21. Mike Huckabee? Four. The most recent of these landed back in March. GOP voters may not have examined Mr. Huckabee's record, but the left has--and they love what they see.

So far, GOP voters do, too. Most appear attracted to Mr. Huckabee's image as a "sincere" and "genuine" guy. The former governor may be both of those, but he's also got a past. Voters are going to want to look before they leap.

Huckabee is not a true conservative. In fact he isn't really a good fake conservative. He holds conservative positions on a few issues like abortion and homosexual marriage but he is a liberal in all other areas. Just like Giuliani is conservative on tax and national security but is liberal on everything else. Neither of them would make a good nominee for the party and both should be rejected.