Mike Huckabee is running: to Fox News studios in New York, to his media center in Arkansas, to his new home in Florida—and back again. While it is not clear if he is running for president, there is nothing in his new book, A Simple Government, to discourage speculation. Neither will his book tour, a grand parade through small-town America, which includes Iowa’s strategic hamlets a year before the presidential caucuses.
Unless you’re Lance Armstrong, the book’s subtitle, Twelve Things We Really Need from Washington (and a Trillion That We Don’t!), is hard to get out in one breath. But its message could not be clearer, beginning with an opening quote from Barry Goldwater: “A government big enough to give you everything you want is also big enough to take away everything you have.” Its 12 chapters (228 pages) are consistent with the title and Goldwater’s warning.
Like Mr. Huckabee himself, his book is unfailingly civil and polite. Barack Obama is never accused of being a closet Muslim, a Kenyan, or an Indonesian—merely a Democrat. While Mr. Huckabee assails Obama’s politics, this Republican attack dog is a gentle and agreeable Irish Setter. “Because as much as I respect President Obama as a human being . . . just about everything he thinks is good for America is actually bad for our present and worse for our future.”
Anyone who has ever watched Mr. Huckabee’s top-rated weekend show on Fox News Channel or heard his daily radio program is already well-acquainted with his folksy, down-to-earth style. His book reads the same way. While it might not impress some media elites, Huck-speak plays well in Middle America, where the ratings and votes are.
Mr. Huckabee’s gift for the vernacular can produce some funny one-liners. During a recent conversation, he described how a politician’s much-touted speech had failed to please his audience: “It reminded me of when two guys went into a restaurant. One ordered a cup of hot coffee while the other asked for a tall glass of iced coffee. But after a while the waitress brought out two cups of lukewarm tea.”
That medium fits his message of home, faith, and family—all under attack from a political structure running dangerously amuck.
With Obamacare’s collective medicine, Mr. Huckabee sees unacceptable costs in both taxes and core values: “Americans believe that society exists to serve the individual, not the other way around.” In education, the problem isn’t the money spent on public schools but the steadily declining levels of student achievement. He approvingly quotes a recent Arkansas study pinning the blame on public schools that surrender their educational responsibilities to promote “the interests of their employees, their union representatives and affiliated politicians.” But not, of course, serving the real interests of the kids.
The bloated red line linking public sector unions, corporate bailouts, and government bureaucracies is debt. One of the two chapters devoted to it, (“You can’t spend what you don’t have”), provides particularly useful graphics. Stacked in hundreds, a billion dollars fits into a decent size U-Haul trailer: But a trillion dollars covers a New York City block six feet deep. Because “servicing” our $13 trillion debt consumes exponential portions of the federal budget, Mr. Huckabee argues that “the party really is over. We have to sober up and pay for our excesses.” His populist agenda would cut entitlements and government spending while also abolishing the IRS, replacing the income tax with a national sales tax on consumption.
Skyrocketing debt and a sluggish recovery helped elect Republicans in 2010, but domestic insecurity may drive elections in 2012. Mr. Huckabee devotes the final third of his book to those issues, aggressively linking immigration reform to defense against terrorism. He would begin by reinforcing a border so porous that it is an open invitation—to the undocumented and the unfortunate as well as to the drug cartels and potential terrorists. “Legal immigration makes our country stronger, while illegal immigration could prove to be our undoing.”
He sees amnesty for illegal aliens (“. . . a carrot not a stick”) as pernicious as filing lawsuits against Arizona for allegedly preempting federal authority. Even while claiming credit for improved border security, the Obama administration erected warning signs on some Arizona roads because of drug-related violence. Such weakness tempts terrorists who should be treated not as criminals but as a deadly persistent foe.
Mr. Huckabee warns that the next 911 (“The warning signs are there”) could be cyber attacks against our data infrastructure or sabotage of nuclear power plants. But his abiding concern is a lack of resolve—most of all by refusing to identify the real adversary as radical Islam. “Our leaders have overestimated the value of political correctness just as they continue to underestimate the nature, motives, tenacity and capabilities of the enemy. The two misevaluations . . . are closely related.”
In the book’s final chapters on defense and foreign policy, Mr. Huckabee cannot resist skewering the Obama administration for a mindset “besotted with its own moral and intellectual superiority.” He particularly relishes the irony of “smart diplomacy” that insults close allies like Britain and Israel while underwhelming hard-eyed adversaries like Russia, North Korea, and, most of all, Iran. It may be Mr. Huckabee’s destiny to suggest solutions endlessly derided as simplistic or, despite his popularity, to be chronically underestimated. He ends with a strong message for proponents and critics alike:
“Their egos couldn’t . . . accept that perhaps their unenlightened predecessors had been right all along and that the simplest maxims really are correct. Freedom is better than oppression . . . You don’t stab your friends in the back. Bullies aren’t impressed by weakness. And oftentimes, the only way to prevent war is to convince your enemies that you are able, ready and willing to fight one.”
Mike Huckabee may not choose to run. But if he does, it will be because such old-fashioned ideas are being refashioned by the hammer-blows of history.
Disclaimer: Reviewer Colonel Ken Allard and Governor Mike Huckabee are personal friends; they share a common bond as committed Christians; and they sometimes collaborate on national security issues, such as a recent op-ed in the New York Post. New York Journal of Books (NYJB) is apolitical, though reviews we publish may, in their editorial content, reflect a spectrum of reviewers' political views and values. NYJB does embrace what we consider certain universally American values such as freedom of speech.