Iowa City Press-Citizen

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Huckabee is the true 'compassionate conservative'
 
When we asked Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama which of the Republican presidential candidates represented the sections of the party with whom he could more easily find common ground, the junior senator from Illinois said:

"I think there is a reason why Mike Huckabee is doing well. Because although he is very conservative on social issues and (although) some of his polices ... don't sound fully thought out, the tone that he's taken -- that you can disagree without being disagreeable -- I find to be compatible with the approach I take to politics. And I think that is part of what people are looking for."

We agree with Obama's assessment of why voters throughout Iowa and the nation are taking a much closer look at this newest darkhorse governor from Hope, Ark. And we find much to endorse in Huckabee's record, vision and style of politics -- though we also have some serious reservations about his candidacy. And we think that the political tone set by an Obama-Huckabee race -- as opposed to the tone that would be set by a Clinton-Giuliani race, for example -- would benefit the country in the build up to Election Day 2008.

Commendations

We commend Huckabee first for being willing to meet with the Press-Citizen Editorial Board. Invitations were extended to every presidential hopeful visiting Johnson County for an in-person or conference-call interview with the board. We know that Johnson County is not known as a Republican stronghold, but we were disappointed that, of the Republican candidates, only Huckabee and Texas Rep. Ron Paul met with us.

We commend Huckabee for producing the best and most comprehensive education plan of all the Republican candidates. Perhaps because his own parents struggled financially during his childhood, Huckabee seems to understand intuitively the need for high quality, accessible education. As he criticizes No Child Left Behind, he offers workable alternatives to ensure high standards for quality schools. Besides a welcome emphasis on how music and the arts are essential to produce a new generation who can maintain America's competitive edge, he has a gubernatorial record of starting intensive math and reading programs and raising test scores.

We commend Huckabee for the ambitious nature of his energy plan. Calling for energy independence in the next 10 years, Huckabee has spoken in favor of a bi-partisan bill to establish a cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions 65 percent by 2050. His plan outlines the need to increase fuel-economy standards and to develop alternative fuels. Of the Republican candidates, only Arizona Sen. John McCain comes closer to addressing the scientific consensus that global greenhouse gasses need to be reduced 80 percent by 2050.

And we commend Huckabee for living out much of his message. Since losing more than 100 pounds, for example, he has focused on the economic impact of chronic disease and stressed how the U.S. will never be able to fix its health care system if the rates of obesity and its related conditions continue to skyrocket. His proposed market-based health plan doesn't go far enough to ensure that system privileges prevention over intervention, but he is focused in the right direction.

Reservations

Despite many positive qualities in Huckabee's favor, we can't give him an unconditional endorsement. Besides concerns about his views on foreign policy and the tax system, Huckabee's record includes several examples that cause us to worry that his religious views might harm his ability to lead our country forward. For example,

When answering an Associated Press questionnaire during his unsuccessful 1992 senatorial run, Huckabee described AIDS as a "plague" and wrote that those suffering from HIV/AIDS need to be quarantined from the rest of the population. Huckabee recently said he stood by the comment -- although he would have changed the wording. That either means Huckabee, a Baptist minister, was pandering to his base voters, or he disregarded several years of research and a U.S. Surgeon General report that showed AIDS could not be spread by casual contact.

Huckabee was one of several Republican candidates who raised his hand when a debate moderator asked which of the candidates did not believe in evolution. Huckabee has defended this view as a matter of religious choice that won't affect his presidency because he won't have direct control over education curriculum. But given his statement about AIDS in 1992, it does make voters wonder to what degree he is willing to make policy decisions -- even to the point of quarantining populations -- based on wildly out-of-date scientific data.

What makes Huckabee still an attractive choice to us is that he has a fairly pragmatic record during his years governing Arkansas. Despite his earlier ideological statements, he proved willing to work with the opposition party -- a necessary decision in a state in which 85 percent of all the elected officials are Democrat -- and proved to be a "compassionate conservative" in word as well as deed.

It's for that reason that we're endorsing Huckabee as opposed to Paul -- who, despite his consistent devotion to the U.S. Constitution, hasn't demonstrated the type of executive experience or potential for cooperation necessary to function as the nation's chief executive.

Other candidates

We are left wishing more Republican candidates had been willing to make time for local editorial boards -- and for Johnson County in general. Particularly, we wish that Arizona Sen. John McCain had taken us up on our offer for at least a conference call. Viewing McCain from afar, we find him to be the Republican candidate with the most moral authority and foreign policy experience to lead the nation. Democratic candidate and Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, during his editorial board interview, went as far as to say, "That's why, on the Republican side, even though I strongly disagree with him, I hope to hell it's McCain. Because none of the rest of them knows anything about foreign policy."

But we think many of the other presidential candidates -- as well as the current president -- could learn much from the humility and sensitivity that has catapulted Huckabee from third-tier to frontrunner.
 

Copyright © 2007 Iowa City Press-Citizen.  All rights reserved.  Reprinted by permission.  (Jeff Charis-Carlson, opinion editor, Dec. 19, 2007 e-mail).
 
 

NOTES:
Opinion editor Jeff Charis-Carlson provided the following overview of the endorsement process:

Our editorial board at present consists of:
Jim Lewers, managing editor
Jeff Charis-Carlson, opinion editor
Daniel W. Brown, audience development director
Tricia DeWall, assistant managing editor
Nick Arnold, digital media specialist
Lucille Hernandez Gregory, community member

We invited any presidential candidate coming to the Iowa City area to meet with the board and said we would be endorsing in both races.  Emails were sent with follow up calls to the candidates' Iowa offices.  We also made it clear to the county party chairs that we wanted to sit down with every candidate.  At that time, we decided abide our our longstanding practice of only endorsing those candidates who come for an interview.  Sometime in the last month, we did extend the option of a conference call (which none of the candidates took us up on).

Soon after each candidate appeared, I (as the opinion editor) published a profile/analysis column.  These include:

"Richardson has the résumé," Dec. 18
"Edwards: Just itchin' for a fight," Dec. 15
"Does Obama have what it takes to be chief?" Dec. 8
"Biden answers 'Then what?'" Nov. 28
"Clinton knows the office," Nov. 24
"Dodd: Optimistic, determined," Oct. 17
Paul: "Iowa's libertarian streak," Aug. 10
"Huckabee keeps up the faith," July 7

In the meantime, board members kept up on the news, watched the debates and did their own research on the candidates.  Because we had met with all the Democratic candidates except Kucinich and Gravel (Kucinich had been invited, Gravel hadn't because he never came to the area) -- in addition to our individual research -- we felt confident in giving an "enthusiastic" endorsement to Sen. Obama.

When it became clear that we would not have a representative sampling of the Republican candidates, we decided to make another attempt to get at least phone interviews with the key candidates, and then decided to abide by our own rules.  Given the choice between Huckabee and Paul, we chose to endorse Huckabee conditionally -- raising some of our reservations about his candidacy.