Campaigns/Elections

Conservatives: Fear Huckabee, Not Paul

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Jonah Goldberg gets it at least half right: true conservatives shouldn't be griping about Ron Paul's consistent constitutionalism and libertarianism; they should be running in fear from Huckabee's big government right-populism. From his LA Times column today:

Huckabee represents compassionate conservatism on steroids. A devout social conservative on issues such as abortion, school prayer, homosexuality and evolution, Huckabee is a populist on economics, a fad-follower on the environment and an all-around do-gooder who believes that the biblical obligation to do "good works" extends to using government—and your tax dollars—to bring us closer to the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.

For example, Huckabee has indicated he would support a nationwide federal ban on public smoking. Why? Because he's on a health kick, thinks smoking is bad and believes the government should do the right thing.

And therein lies the chief difference between Paul and Huckabee. One is a culturally conservative libertarian. The other is a right-wing progressive.

…for Huckabee—as with most politicians, alas—his personal preferences matter enormously because ultimately they're the only thing that can be relied on to constrain him.

In this respect, Huckabee's philosophy is conventionally liberal, or progressive. What he wants to do with government certainly differs in important respects from what Hillary Clinton would do, but the limits he would place on governmental do-goodery are primarily tactical or practical, not philosophical or constitutional….

Indeed, Huckabee represents the latest attempt to make conservatism more popular by jettisoning the unpopular bits. Contrary to the conventional belief that Republicans need to drop their opposition to abortion, gay marriage and the like in order to be popular, Huckabee understands that the unpopular stuff is the economic libertarianism: free trade and smaller government.

The real lesson of the Ron Paul phenomenon might be not, as standard right wingers now seem to think as they rise to attack him, that the country is unexpectedly full of dangerous freaks who are being arbitrarily ordered by the voices they hear in their fillings to venerate this out-of-nowhere madman Ron Paul, but rather that the "smaller government" stuff isn't as unpopular as Goldberg thinks, especially when it is surgically detached from the endless international policing and adventurism that, alas, Goldberg's institutional home of National Review has tried to link with small government rhetoric for the past half century.