Friday, January 04, 2008

And The Professor Says

John J. Pitney's comments on what Huckabee means for conservatism. Short answer: nothing good.

Huckabee’s victory highlights a populist strain in the GOP. Populism has a long history and variety of features, but we can roughly define it as the union of traditional moral values and “little guy” economics. It’s God vs. Gomorrah in the bedroom, David v. Goliath in the boardroom.

Thursday night was hardly the first time that populism had left its mark on a GOP nomination contest. In 1988, Pat Robertson placed second in the Iowa caucuses, ahead of George H. W. Bush. Four years later, Pat Buchanan won a surprising 40 percent in the New Hampshire primary. In 1996, Buchanan came close to Bob Dole in Iowa and actually beat him in New Hampshire.

Robertson and Buchanan faded quickly, in part because of their demeanors. Robertson seemed weird, while Buchanan looked mean. Huckabee could last longer because he comes across as sane and nice.

More than mere image, Robertson and Buchanan suffered from limited appeal to orthodox conservatives. According to the Club for Growth, Huckabee takes “profoundly anti-growth positions on taxes, spending, and government regulation.” For Huckabee to succeed where Robertson and Buchanan failed, one of two things must happen. Either he must mislead GOP voters into thinking that he is an economic conservative, or those voters must stop caring. Either way, a Huckabee victory would be very bad news for conservatism as we know it.
Reading all of the collected blurbs on the Huckabee Implication has me wondering: for all their concern over the fate of conservatism, do these conservative experts exist in a Bush-free vacuum? Has Bush truly been better for conservatism? I can appreciate the importance of evaluating Huckabee as Huckabee and not as a comparison point, but if you're going to use historical comparison ("shades of 1998" has been the theme so far), then how can you ignore the very recent, still going down history of the Bush era?

Daniel Casse frames Huckabee against the Democrats' hopes:

I don’t know what Huckabee means for conservatism. But it promises a helluva party for the angry Left. Since Thanksgiving, the New York Times has been positively giddy about the possibility that the GOP was firmly in the hands of a genuine Bible-thumper. “They’re arguing about Jesus again,” was the plain meaning of the half dozen front-page “news analyses” the paper feverishly put together on the Huckabee surge. People for the American Way appears to have an entire team posting news about Huck’s progress, including a story crowing “We Like Mike.” And why not? They are scripting the fundraising video, likely set to the music from Jaws, as we sit here. Ditto the American Civil Liberties Union, where they are probably studying his “Silent Night” ad in Iowa as if it were the Zapruder film. Can you imagine the gleeful warnings about Huckabee’s American that you will be hearing on the Air America Guatemala cruise in February? Liberal interest groups haven’t had such an enviable fundraising opportunity since George W. Bush raised the arsenic level in kids’ drinking water. The Democratic direct-mail barons are doing handsprings. “I Like Mike,” they are shouting. School prayer. Back-alley abortions. Supreme Court nominees. Christian Nation. For them, happy days are here again.
Hell, I'm even more for him now, in that case.

And somehow John Hood concludes that the big winner in the Huckabee win is . . . Rudy Giuliani. God help us.

Oh, and one of the pundits in the piece DID mention the small matter of the supposedly conservative party's supposedly conservative leader being kinda freakin' liberal, saying:

Most expected Huckabee to win Iowa, but his actual victory is somewhat sobering. I believe a Huckabee nomination would be a major step backward for conservatism, given his liberalism, apart from social issues. It’s true that George Bush isn’t completely conservative either (e.g. spending and immigration), but he has strong conservative credentials on the “big three”: taxes, national security and social issues (judges). Huckabee is weak on immigration and only a sure thing on one of the big three.
Perhaps the best part about post-caucus analysis is that most media outlets and pundits - those that have spent the last year building up Iowa as a telling and predictive battle, a stage on which all of 2008 could be fought quickly and ahead of schedule - now have the chance to dismiss Iowa because of its peculiar system and idiosyncratic residents. But NEW HAMPSHIRE, yes, New Hampshire, now THAT's a real test . . . .

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