Eating our own *UPDATED*

I caught a minute of Mike Gallagher today, and he was talking about the fact that Republicans are more critical of Republican candidates than Democrats are critical of Democratic candidates. It occurred to me that, at least in this election cycle, that may be because there are real, substantive differences between the Republican candidates. We’ve got Ron Paul, who is a pure libertarian and possible white supremacist; John McCain, who is strong on defense, but weak on free speech, and spineless to environmental extremists; Mitt Romney, who has positioned himself as a traditional conservative who is for strong borders, a strong national defense, pro-life, etc., with a sound grasp of economic issues; Mike Huckabee, who is loudly Christian, a social conservative, and a big government liberal; and Rudy Giuliani, who is a social liberal and a hawk. With the exception of Ron Paul, all have had leadership experience, but of a very different type: McCain was in the military; Romney ran businesses and the Massachusetts government; Huckabee governed Arkansas; and Giuliani ran huge criminal prosecutions and New York. So, just as there are differences in their approach to conservative politics (and all are more conservative than not), there are also significant differences in their practical experience. Republicans have a real choice, and real choice begets real debate.

It’s different with the Dems. For one thing, none of them have any managerial experience. They’ve all been Senators, which means working with a group of 99 other people. None have them has taken the lead in the Senate, so they can’t even point to leadership experience in those august chambers. John Edwards has a bit more private sector experience than the other two but I can tell you that even the most successful lawyer cannot be compared to a manager. Managing a case is not the same as manager a system — whether that system is a business or a government. Obama was an academic, which is the antithesis of management, and Hillary was, well, Hillary managed Bill, I guess. They’re all good at manipulating people, Edwards because he’s a trial lawyer, and Obama and Hillary because they’re Alinsky disciples, but that’s not leadership or management. So, they’re pretty much the same looked at from that point of view.

In terms of politics, they’re peas in a pod: they want out of Iraq, they deny that Islamists pose a threat to America, they like open borders, and they want more government involvement in everything (parenting, health care, education, managing people’s money, controlling businesses, etc), which means more taxes on people they decide are “rich.”

The fact that Edwards, Obama and Hillary are virtually indistinguishable on paper may explain why identity politics has become so important. It’s not just Hillary’s dirty politics and it’s not just that the “identity politics” chickens are coming home to roost. The preeminence of racial or sexual identity in this race has become the only way you can tell one Democratic candidate from another. And poor Edwards, distinguished by being white and male, is precluded by political correctness from trumpeting that fact. In other words, identity, by being the only difference between the candidates, is also the only area of debate left for the Democrats. And it’s no surprise that it is in this area — the substance-free area that will have absolutely nothing to do with the way in which a Democrat, if victorious, will govern — that the Democratic debate has become most heated.

So, I guess I’m happy that Republicans are focused on substance, and using their free speech rights to hammer out important issues that will have a lasting effect on America (if a Republican wins). And I’m desperately sad that the cookie-cutter Democrats, in order to have a debate and distinguish themselves in the eyes of the voters, have almost completely backed off from any substantive issues (as to which they have no meaningful differences), and devolved into childish racial and gender name calling. If Americans elect one of them, the Country will deserve what it gets.

UPDATE: Regarding the enthusiasm gap the media professes to find between Dems and Republicans, if one does indeed exist, I suspect that has more to do with the enthusiasm Democratic voters have for a shot at the White House than with anything else. That is, I think that, even more than feeling excitement about their own candidates, Democrats are simply excited about a possible chance to defeat Republicans.

UPDATE II: For another reason why there might be an “enthusiasm gap,” keep in mind that, while Bush’s presidency is almost over, Bush Derangement Syndrome continues in full force. Indeed, with the inevitable end of his presidency drawing near, Bush haters seem to be drawing on after burners for some new energy.

Hitchens is almost right

Christopher Hitchens is totally right when he notes that Mike Huckabee’s defense of the Confederate flag harmonizes perfectly with racist views.  That is, a person could argue that the defense of the flag is all about States’ rights, but the fact is that the Confederate flag is so inextricably intertwined with the KKK and Jim Crow that such an argument is stupid or disingenuous at best, and fraudulent at worst.  Hitchens is also right that the press gave Huckabee a pass for this nasty remark.  Assuming that the pass was deliberate, and that the Huckabee story didn’t simply get swamped by the infinitely more fascinating fight between Clinton and Obama, one has to ask why the press was so passive.  Hitchens thinks it’s because it was afraid of offending racist Southern rednecks:

But when real political racism rears its head, our easily upset media falls oddly silent. Can you guess why? Of course you can. Gov. Huckabee is the self-anointed candidate of the simple and traditional Christian folk who hate smart-ass, educated, big-city types, and if you dare to attack him for his vulgarity and stupidity and bigotry, he will accuse you of prejudice in return. What he hopes is that his neo-Confederate sickness will become subsumed into easy chatter about his recipes for fried squirrel and his other folksy populist themes. (By the way, you owe it to yourselves to watch the exciting revelations about his squirrel-grilling past; and do examine his family Christmas card while you’re at it.) But this drivel, it turns out, is all a slick cover for racist incitement, and it ought not to be given a free pass.

I actually don’t think that’s the case.  Just as I’d prefer Hillary to win the Democratic primaries because I think she’ll be easier to beat than Obama, the press would prefer that Huckabee win the Republican primaries, because they know he’ll go down in flames in the Presidential election.  That’s why they’ve handled him with something approaching TLC — he’s their favored candidate because he’ll lose.

Speaking of different press approaches to the different parties and their candidates, Patrick, my favorite Paragraph Farmer, has an elegantly written article up at the American Spectator examining the way in which reporters delve deep into Romney’s and Huckabee’s theological beliefs (something that may be fair game because their beliefs stand out), while treating with kid gloves rather unusual theological revelations from candidates on the left.  Even if one pulls back from specific theological peculiarities, there is no doubt that the press has carefully ignored Hillary’s politically activist Methodism, which has more to do with socialism than God, and Obama’s truly unfortunate, and very strong, ties to a black supremacist church.  Likewise, a speech from a pulpit is non-news if you’re on the Left, and a threat to the separation of church and state if you’re on the right.  Double standards, anybody?

When she’s right, she’s right

The MSM is self-admittedly liberal leaning, usually far leaning. So Ann Coulter is right to say the following:

Dear Republicans: Please do one-tenth as much research before casting a vote in a presidential election as you do before buying a new car.

One clue that Romney is our strongest candidate is the fact that Democrats keep viciously attacking him while expressing their deep respect for Mike Huckabee and John McCain.

This point was already extensively covered in Chapter 1 of “How To Talk to a Liberal (If You Must)”: Never take advice from your political enemies.

Turn on any cable news show right now, and you will see Democratic pundits attacking Romney, calling him a “flip-flopper,” and heaping praise on McCain and Huckleberry — almost as if they were reading some sort of “talking points.”

Doesn’t that raise the tiniest suspicions in any of you? Are you too busy boning up on Consumer Reports’ reviews of microwave ovens to spend one day thinking about who should be the next leader of the free world? Are you familiar with our “no exchange/no return” policy on presidential candidates? Voting for McCain because he was a POW a quarter-century ago or Huckabee because he was a Baptist preacher is like buying a new car because you like the color.

The candidate Republicans should be clamoring for is the one liberals are feverishly denouncing. That is Mitt Romney by a landslide.

New York Times columnist Frank Rich says Romney “is trying to sell himself as a leader,” but he “is actually a follower and a panderer, as confirmed by his flip-flops on nearly every issue.”

But Rich is in a swoon over Huckabee. I haven’t seen Rich this excited since they announced “Hairspray” was coming to Broadway.

Rich has continued to hyperventilate over “populist” charmer Huckabee even after it came to light that Huckabee had called homosexuality an “abomination.” Normally, any aspersions on sodomy or any favorable mentions of Christianity would lead to at least a dozen hysterical columns by Frank Rich.

Rich treated Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of the Christ” as if it were a Leni Riefenstahl Nazi propaganda film. (On a whim, I checked to see if Rich had actually compared Gibson to Riefenstahl in one of his many “Passion” reviews and yes, of course he had.)

Curiously, however, Huckabee’s Christianity doesn’t bother Rich. In column after column, Rich hails Huckabee as the only legitimate leader of the Republican Party. This is like a girl in high school who hates you telling you your hair looks great.

Liberals claim to be enraged at Romney for being a “flip-flopper.” I’ve looked and looked, and the only issue I can find that Romney has “flipped” on is abortion. When running for office in Massachusetts — or, for short, “the Soviet Union” — Romney said that Massachusetts was a pro-choice state and that he would not seek to change laws on abortion.  (Emphasis mine.)

Read the rest here.

The ugly populist attacks on Mitt Romney

I’m not a fan of populism in politics, since I think it usually boils down to an ugly appeal to people’s baser instincts, with the sole benefit accruing to the demagogue making the statements.  Huck is emerging as precisely that kind of populist, as Jay Nordlinger demonstrates by discussing Huck’s new attacks on Mitt.  Now that he’s finished with his attacks on Mitt’s religion, he’s going after Mitt’s social status:

I don’t intend to comment much about presidential politics in today’s column, but let me say this: I find the ganging up on Romney a little unseemly. I mean, not the fact of it, because this is politics, and we’re all grownups (allegedly). I’m talking about the manner and tone. There seems to be some envy about — to go with some other ugly qualities.

I know that a lot of people — anti-Romneyites — are fired up by that line of Huckabee’s: “People are looking for a presidential candidate who reminds them more of the guy they work with rather than the guy that laid them off.” Apparently, he was alluding to Romney. And I find Huckabee’s one of the most depressing lines I have heard in ages — depressing from every point of view.

First, grammatical: They say Bush can’t talk? I thought Huckabee was supposed to be silver-tongued.

Second, philosophical, or political, if you like: Huckabee expressed low populism, or “sheer demagoguery,” as Ronald Reagan used to say. Huckabee’s line could have come out of the mouth of John Edwards, or John Sweeney, or David Bonior. Is this what we want in the Republican party now? Why not have just one big Democratic party?

And third — oh, call it moral: It seems we’re now campaigning on the basis of what the other guy looks like. What do we say about how Huckabee looks? Frankly, I think I would have liked him better when he was fat — he might have been humbler.

If I were a Romney spokesman, I might have responded roughly as follows: “To me, Mitt looks like a guy who can create jobs, create businesses, and create wealth — who can make the economy go, so that people like Mike Huckabee can spend their lives preachin’, gettin’ votes, and taxing people.”

It seems that there is a fair amount of resentment of Romney — for his wealth, success, etc. For the whole package he represents. And is there a worse human trait than resentment or envy? I also might note that I hear a fair amount of denigration of Romney’s business background — I mean, from Republicans. Which is terribly odd and dispiriting.

Romney has his faults, heaven knows — for one thing, his shifts in position are disquieting, smacking of opportunism as they do. (Of course, he also might have just changed his mind about some things.) But Republicans should welcome Romney at the highest levels of our politics. Are we so petty and crabbed and hidebound that we can’t make room for someone like him?

Years ago, Thomas Sowell wrote a column that I have never forgotten. He said that liberals field their A team, while conservatives field their B team. What did he mean by that? He meant that the “best and the brightest” of the liberals slaver to enter politics, or journalism, in order to control other people’s lives. But our best and brightest — the Right’s elite — are in the economy, inventing things, establishing businesses, and making the country grow.

Well, here is Romney, a clear member of our A team, who segued from business into politics, and succeeded. He is a mixture of private-sector accomplishment and political accomplishment. So boo, hiss, right? Wouldn’t we rather have our old, familiar pols, who have been in politics for about 8,000 years? When did John McCain start running for president? 1928?

I was reading an AP story yesterday — here — and saw something quite surprising: “millionaire Mitt Romney.” Here is the full sentence: “Among those listening to the affable Arkansas governor were evangelical Christians, who on Thursday night helped propel Huckabee past millionaire Mitt Romney to win the race’s first test of strength, the Iowa caucuses.”

So that’s how he’s to be described now? “Millionaire Romney,” as though he were merely some rich boy, running on his trust fund — to hell with the Olympics, to hell with Bain Capital, to hell with the governorship of Massachusetts? Was the 2004 Democratic nominee ever described as “millionaire John Kerry”? How about the other candidates this time? How much does Fred Thompson have? Will we ever read “millionaire Fred Thompson”?

Things might get interesting if Huck actually challenged Mitt’s policies, but to do so might expose Huck to more substantive anslysis than he can afford.

Why are home schoolers for Huck?

Rational self-interest is a great concept, but it’s amazing how often people deviate from it and behave completely irrationally. A case in point is the “Home schoolers for Huck” trend we’re seeing right now. Huck’s political policies and pronouncements are completely antithetical to home schooling. He wants the federal government to encroach more and more on public school and, during his time in Arkansas, oversaw laws restricting home schooling rights. The NEA loves him, which tells you way more than you want to know about the man’s politics. Home schoolers ought to be running as far away from his candidacy as they can, but they’re not. Instead, the Home School Legal Defense Program is supporting him. One can only assume that they are so thrilled that a Pastor will take the White House that they are blind to their own self-interest. And speaking of self-interest, I’m also willing to bet that many home schoolers would be opposed to a whole bunch of Huck’s other stands, which are detailed here. (Hat tip: W”B”S.)

I think a lot of Evangelical Christians have to sit down and ask themselves a serious question: Am I willing to put in the White House a man who espouses political policies that go against my self-interest as a Christian merely because he himself is a vocal Christian? As for me, I would be much more interested in measuring Huck by his acts than by his words. And his acts have all the impetus and effects of a liberal Democrat. (By the way, if you have any doubt that a devout Evangelical Christian can also be an ultra liberal Democrat, just put yourself in the way back machine to the years 1976-1980, when this Country was headed by a vocal Christian who was not only a liberal Democrat, but also one of the worst presidents ever.)

Christians are also being short-sighted if they think that Huck’s expanding the federal government will Christianize it. Next time the administration changes into Democratic hands, or next time the Democrats finally take effective control over Congress, these same Democratic political leaders will take the federal government that Huck so thoughtfully expanded for them and use that new power for very Progressive (read: Leftist) ends.

And yet more reasons for concern about a Huckabee candidacy

If you haven’t yet seen this Kimberly Strassel article, make the time to read it. Here’s a taste:

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.

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?

I’ve made clear my distaste with Huckabee.  Even for those who like him, though, they have to understand that there is almost no likelihood of his winning.  Despite the current excitement about him, his liberal stands on government spending, education, tax and foreign policy are going to alienate a large swath of conservatives and, despite those positions, his outspoken Christianity is going to repel most Democrats.  When the election finally rolls around, he’s be nowhere.

I want to win.  I hate the thought of a Democrat in the White House and think that we have a large number of completely excellent conservative candidates to sell to the American people:  Romney, Giuliani, Thompson and McCain.  It would be ludicrous if Huckabee, who is a liberal as regards everything but abortion and creationism, would front the Republican party.  November 2008 would be a lose/lose proposition since (a) he’d lose outright or (b) if he won, we’d have a repeat of either the Carter or the Clinton years.

Peggy Noonan hits Huckabee the nail on the head

Not only does Peggy Noonan, herself a very religious woman, get what was wrong with Huckabee’s Christmas ad, her description of the scene’s careful staging puts the lie to Mike’s assertion that the whole cross image was just a fortuitous accident (kind of like seeing Christ in a tortilla, I guess):

I didn’t see the famous floating cross. What I saw when I watched Mike Huckabee’s Christmas commercial was a nice man in a sweater sitting next to a brightly lit tree. He had easy warmth and big brown puppy-dog eyes, and he talked about taking a break from politics to remember the peace and joy of the season. Sounds good to me.

Only on second look did I see the white lines of the warmly lit bookcase, which formed a glowing cross. Someone had bothered to remove the books from that bookcase, or bothered not to put them in. Maybe they would have dulled the lines.

Is there a word for “This is nice” and “This is creepy”? For that is what I felt. This is so sweet-appalling.

I love the cross. The sight of it, the fact of it, saves me, literally and figuratively. But there is a kind of democratic politesse in America, and it has served us well, in which we are happy to profess our faith but don’t really hit people over the head with its symbols in an explicitly political setting, such as a campaign commercial, which is what Mr. Huckabee’s ad was.

I wound up thinking this: That guy is using the cross so I’ll like him. That doesn’t tell me what he thinks of Jesus, but it does tell me what he thinks of me. He thinks I’m dim. He thinks I will associate my savior with his candidacy. Bleh.

The ad was shrewd. The caucus is coming, the TV is on, people are home putting up the tree, and the other candidates are all over the tube advancing themselves and attacking someone else. Mr. Huckabee thinks, I’ll break through the clutter by being the guy who reminds us of the reason for the season, in a way that helps underscore that I’m the Christian candidate and those other fellas aren’t. As a break from the nattering argument, as a message that highlights something bigger than politics, it was refreshing.

Was the cross an accident? Please. It was as accidental as Mr. Huckabee’s witty response, when he accused those of questioning the ad of paranoia, was spontaneous. “Actually I will confess this, if you play this spot backwards it says ‘Paul is dead, Paul is dead, Paul is dead,’ ” he said. As Bill Safire used to say of clever moves, “That’s good stuff!”

Read the rest here.