Monday, December 3, 2007

The Rise of Mike Huckabee (and why we should be worried)

(NOTE: This is my first entry that I will cross post at Dailykos, a much much bigger forum. Here is the link if you want to check out how it's received... wish me luck!)

From the earliest stages of the presidential primaries, I have been intrigued by Mike Huckabee's candidacy. However, with him now rising in the polls, and even leading in Iowa, I have become more and more concerned that he could pose a much different, and more dangerous threat than any of the other republican candidates in the 2008 election. In an unfortunate turn of events, the original reason that I began to notice Huckabee's candidacy in the summer has become the issue that makes me fear him in the general election: Populism.

In a move that has placed him in stark contrast with the economic rhetoric of rest of the republican field (and party as a whole), Huckabee has embraced a populist frame on many economic issues.

On the Republican party's traditional economic position:
"I understand that the economy for every American is not just whizzer-bang fantastic," he says. "I'm not necessarily in total sync with the small universe of Republicans who are the CEOs of Wall Street companies, although many of them know what I'm saying is the truth. But I'm very much in sync with the guys who work up and down the factory line."
On Unions:
“The real fact is, unions are going to take a more prominent role in the future for one simple reason: A lot of American workers are finding that their wages continue to get strapped lower and lower while CEO salaries are higher and higher.
And the reality is that when you have the average CEO salary 500 times the average worker, and you have the hedge fund manager making 2,200 times that of the average worker, you're going to create a level of discontent that's going to create a huge appetite for unions.
So unions are the natural result of workers finally saying, ‘Look, I can't go from a $70,000 year job to a $15,000 a year job and feed my family of four.’ That's when unions are going to come back in roaring form.”
On trade:
"Free trade has to be fair trade. We are losing jobs because of an unlevel, unfair trading arena that has to be fixed. Behind the statistics, there are real families, real lives, and real pain. I'm running for President because I don't want people who have worked loyally for a company for 20 or 30 years to walk in one morning and be handed a pink slip and be told, ‘I'm sorry, but everything you spent your life working for is no longer here.'"

After quotes like that, I should point out that many of Huckabee's actual proposals (such as the national sales tax) are about as far from helping the working class as you can get. But as we know the media and pundits will often value well spoken rhetoric over substance and actual policy.

And this is the reason that Mike Huckabee is a threat. Even though there is extraordinary discontent with republicans nationwide, his candidacy has the potential to change the debate, and make the election a referendum on economic issues. Although the current position of the democratic party appears to be in a strong, the unspoken division and "soft underbelly" of the party is their deep internal divide on economic issues. NAFTA, the Bankruptcy bill and the Peru Free trade agreement are just some of countless examples where the democratic caucus and the party as a whole have been shamefully split between the corporate wing of the party and the true progressives. My fear has always been that at some point, a Republican candidate would take advantage of this divide to blur the lines between the parties on economic issues, which is what Mike Huckabee is in a pole position to do. There is a strong undercurrent of populist sentiment throughout the country, and it has the potential to be an electoral gold mine for any candidate who decides to tap into it.

It should also be said, that our choice as nominee will largely determine the effectiveness Huckabee's rhetoric in the general election. A DLC/Bob Rubin style candidate (Read: Hillary Clinton) would be the most vulnerable to this line of attack, whereas someone who has taken stronger stances on these issues would make it much harder to blur the lines between the parties.

If he wins the nomination, his populist rhetoric and strong support from the religious right would make Mike Huckabee a more dangerous opponent than any of his challengers. But if the democratic nominee decides to ignore these economic issues and allows a republican candidate to use them against us, then they we have no one else to blame but ourselves.

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