The latest Gallup poll indicates that Mike Huckabee is now the most popular of the possible GOP contenders to run against Barack Obama in 2012. And it just so happens that the former Arkansas governor is visiting Iowa this week – to tout his latest book but perhaps also to test the campaign waters.
The former Baptist minister was also quick on Wednesday to criticize President Obama for reversing his support of the Defense of Marriage Act. That 15-year-old law defines marriage as only between a man and a woman and effectively bans federal recognition of gay marriage.
Mr. Huckabee won the 2008 Iowa caucus against John McCain and, while later losing the GOP nomination, he has kept himself in the public eye, maneuvering among potential rivals such as Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney.
Politics aside, Huckabee offers an interesting policy challenge to Obama. He claims government can’t fix the slow economy and high unemployment unless America fixes its social structure. Families are the nation’s most basic form of government, he says, and they are falling apart.
Huckabee says absentee fathers, for example, cost the government some $300 billion a year in aid to single moms – not to mention the lost prosperity if those children are not raised to be ethical and productive citizens as a result of being from a broken family. He says two-thirds of children who live in poverty wouldn’t be in such a plight if their parents were married.
His basic pitch: No government program can do what parents must do in teaching the kind of personal responsibility that is essential to creating a good economy. And the rising costs of government are due in large measure to entitlement programs that pick up the pieces of broken families.
Such talk about “family values” is a far cry from the usual debate about job creation, which is focused on such steps as stimulating the housing market, providing cheap credits to banks, and subsidizing clean energy, fast trains, and Internet expansion.
Huckabee is also challenging the tea party, which is focused on economic conservatism and ending big government. Social conservatives and cultural warriors like himself don’t want to become political relics from the Reagan era, when abortion was their prime issue. So they must find some linkage to economic revival.
It’s not a big leap, of course, to see the divorce rate, high levels of teen pregnancy, growing drug use, and other social ills as drags on the economy. But Huckabee falters in not also pointing out that a healthy economy can help reduce those social ills.
And he is not very specific on how big a role he wants for government to address family values. Banning abortion or making it more difficult to divorce is unlikely to happen, for example, while helping families through federal spending or rules on companies aren’t going to fly for now.
Like many conservatives in the debate about entitlement reform, Huckabee won’t say just how much of the government’s social safety net he would reduce even as he would also use government to try to keep families whole.
Yes, charity begins at home, but few people would want to end Social Security.
But then, if unemployment is still above 8 percent during the 2012 presidential race, Huckabee’s views could become more attractive, especially if they are refined and fleshed out. Obama would be vulnerable to Huckabee’s more fundamental view of what ails both society and the economy.
Huckabee hasn’t decided to run yet. But if he does, he may bring a new perspective on the nation’s tired economic debate.