Moderately awful — that’s the only way to describe Huckabee’s bland (yet wrong) defense of farm subsidies, new taxes that would no doubt end up imposed atop the old (albeit framed in anti-tax rhetoric), intelligent design (albeit without banishing evolution from classrooms), and near-meaningless invocations of “vertical” (as opposed to left-right) politics.
Unfortunately, he is the only prominent GOP candidate from the whole southeast/Deep South area right now, which means that any likely GOP nominee other than Tennessee’s Fred Thompson may feel he “needs” Huckabee to shore up that vital Republican region. A vote for Huckabee might as well be — well, a vote for some other Arkansas governor. Just enough centrism to govern, not enough principle to make a difference. Huckabee is the sort of politician that makes one fear that mass democracy, after enough decades of refinement, will almost always produce de facto committees in the form of individuals. Yet Giuliani, Thompson, McCain, my man Paul — even doubletalking Romney — all have more personality and spirit than Huckabee. And I find myself suddenly not minding so much which of the others get onto the ticket — just please don’t resort to Huckabee, GOP (regional-strategy-wise, there’s still Thompson, remember — yes, he’s turned out to be a bit boring, but he could stop moving altogether and still be more inspiring than Huckabee [“Hey, isn't that a TV actor slumped next to the podium over there? I hear he's a Reaganite!”]).
In the extremely annoying movie whose title, inverted, inspired the title of this entry, the audience was offered a false choice between embracing environmentalism and embracing amoral — yet capitalist — nihilism (with the characters little more than mouthpieces for these opposing philosophies) — but at least both of those positions have more meaning than “verticalism.” Huckabee is to political philosophy what the accounts receivable manager of your local civic center is to culture.
Perhaps it’s time for Obama, who is also gaining in Iowa polls as I type this, to start pushing a new philosophy called “purplism,” a natural outgrowth of the fine, unity-emphasizing neither-red-nor-blue convention speech that first put him on the map. It’d make as much sense as “verticalism,” and I don’t for a minute blame Americans for wanting some way out of the right-left pincers — but some escape routes don’t lead very far at all.
Don’t get me wrong — I am delighted to talk about politics that transcends the usual linear right-left spectrum (I’m very slowly writing a book proposal about it). Libertarians sometimes model politics with an up and down dimension added to the spectrum that puts across-the-board liberty at the top and across-the-board authoritarianism at the bottom — and Reagan rightly said that the important thing is not right or left but moving upward toward individual freedom. But Huckabee does not — because he cannot — explain exactly what it is that he wants us to move vertically toward. “Upward to freedom” makes sense. “Upward to totalitarianism” even makes sense, bad idea though it may be. “Upward to a grab bag of focus-grouped ideas, some left, some right, none daring, that might play well in a Midwestern state like Iowa and get me on the ticket later as a southerner” is hollow. Don’t fall for this Rorschach approach to politics, America. We already have one Clinton in the race.