The Huckabee Con

I, like most other Democrats, have a soft spot in our hearts for Mike Huckabee. We get a sense that he represents the movement into the center-stage of Republican politics of some of the more attractive, even social gospel-ish elements of evangelicalism. Which is fine. But it needs to be repeated, over and over again, that a very large number of Huckabee’s ideas are, plain and simple, nuts, and those that aren’t nuts are often just menacing. A few particulars:

a) His tax plan is worse than snake oil. In fact, his supporters can shout to the rooftops about how “populist” he is, but he has by far the most regressive tax plan of any of the Republicans (an achievement!). If, in fact, it was even feasible, which it’s not–even remotely. In fact, Huckabee’s tax plan is probably the most regressive such proposal ever supported by a significant candidate for the presidency since the introduction of the income tax. Until he drops this completely, or changes his proposal radically (for example, by introducing a VAT at around 12-14% and eliminating the income tax for everyone under $100k), anyone who calls him a populist should be ignored or mocked.

b) His positions on public health issues are a menace. He has actually proposed a national smoking ban. State-level bans are bad enough as an infringement on liberty and as an instance of creeping nanny-statism. But what’s the point of even having a Republican party if it can’t be counted on to oppose something that combines the worst instincts of many Democrats (the instinct to regulate everything) with a complete lack of respect for basic principles of federalism? When you eliminate these two things, you’ve got rid of just about everything that’s good about the party. Most everything Huckabee proposes to do about food falls in roughly the same category.

c) His economic policy is best summed up as Mayberry Mercantilism. He believes the US should be independent in both food and energy, and there’s every indication he actually believes it–which would involve dramatic increases in both protection and subsidy. This would be expensive and bad for American consumers, and it would have terrible effects the poor in the developing world, who depend heavily on exports of agricultural goods. It also shows that he has no appreciation of the value of trade, which, admittedly, is a virtue that seems to be rapidly going out of style.

In short, almost everything that sharply distinguishes Huckabee from ordinary Republicans is, in one way or another, a bad idea. Everything that isn’t a bad idea is generally at such a high level of abstraction that it counts as little more than boob bait. It’s great that Republicans have finally put forth a candidate who seems to care about the rise of economic risk. But it’s terrible that when they finally got around to it, they came up with someone so thoroughly and comprehensively analytically illiterate, whose actual proposals would make our problems much worse, while increasing government intervention where it doesn’t belong.

Author: Steven M. Teles

Steven Teles is a Visiting Fellow at the Yale Center for the Study of American Politics. He is the author of Whose Welfare? AFDC and Elite Politics (University Press of Kansas), and co-editor of Ethnicity, Social Mobility and Public Policy (Cambridge). He is currently completing a book on the evolution of the conservative legal movement, co-editing a book on conservatism and American Political Development, and beginning a project on integrating political analysis into policy analysis. He has also written journal articles and book chapters on international free market think tanks, normative issues in policy analysis, pensions and affirmative action policy in Britain, US-China policy and federalism. He has taught at Brandeis, Boston University, Holy Cross, and Hamilton colleges, and been a research fellow at Harvard, Princeton and the University of London.