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To Be or Huckabee

The Republican party's question.

11:00 PM, Dec 19, 2007 • By DEAN BARNETT
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SINCE MIKE HUCKABEE's meteoric rise in the polls, questions regarding his gravitas have dogged the latest Man from Hope. Oh sure, he can toss out witticisms with the best of them and he's as likable a politician as we've seen in decades, but many wondered whether he had the policy chops to be a capable president. Those doubts often hailed from magazines like this one; snot-nosed policy wonks, be they writing in journals of opinion or in the blogosphere, were dazzled by neither Huckabee's wit nor his ability to make rhymes like an extremely pale Jesse Jackson.

In an effort to answer these questions once and for all, Huckabee took to the pages of Foreign Affairs to dramatically lay out his foreign policy vision. As its name suggests, Foreign Affairs tends to be a dry read. The notoriously serious Counsel on Foreign Relations publishes the magazine, so Huckabee's trademark wit would be of no service. Apparently sensing the sobriety of the occasion, Huckabee chose to write the essay under the handle "Michael D. Huckabee" rather than the more familiar and colloquial "Mike."

The essay was a disaster for both Michael D. Huckabee and Mike Huckabee. Their bid to persuade America's most serious foreign policy analysts that Huckabee understands global affairs was equal parts embarrassing and unintentionally comic. In one part of the essay, Huckabee somberly intoned that "Sun-tzu's ancient wisdom is relevant today: 'Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.'" The only problem with citing this ancient piece of wisdom is that it comes not from Sun Tzu, but Michael Corleone. Unfortunately, the rest of Huckabee's essay was silent as to what America should do about Hyman Roth and his Sicilian message boy, Johnny Ola.

Huckabee's confusion regarding Sun Tzu and Michael Corleone obviously didn't reassure Republicans who harbored doubts about his seriousness as a thinker. Other parts of Huckabee's Foreign Affairs opus uncomfortably suggest that the governor isn't just playing at being a rube. Repeatedly, Huckabee clumsily tried to make purportedly serious points in Bumpkin-speak. "When we let bin Laden escape at Tora Bora," Huckabee reminisced, "we played Brer Fox to his Brer Rabbit." At the risk of revealing my lack of bumpkin bona fides, I don't know what that's even supposed to mean.

But that faux pas and the Corleone confusion were hardly the essay's lowlight. Huckabee's opening paragraphs were positively jaw dropping both for their style and their substance:

"The United States, as the world's only superpower, is less vulnerable to military defeat. But it is more vulnerable to the animosity of other countries. Much like a top high school student, if it is modest about its abilities and achievements, if it is generous in helping others, it is loved. But if it attempts to dominate others, it is despised.

"American foreign policy needs to change its tone and attitude, open up, and reach out. The Bush administration's arrogant bunker mentality has been counterproductive at home and abroad."

Perhaps I'm a harsh grader, but comparing America to a high school student and geo-political affairs to the interplay between the jocks and the geeks does not reflect a world class intellect at work. Maybe Huckabee dumbed down his essay to make it accessible to the notoriously slack jawed hillbillies who make up Foreign Affairs' core audience. Or maybe he really thinks that way.

Worse still is his reference to President Bush's "bunker mentality." This comment echoes one of the rhetorical tics that has become so common on the left, its denizens seldom even notice it anymore--referring to the president with imagery reminiscent of Hitler. We'd expect such rubbish from a Daily Kos diarist. But a presidential candidate? And a Republican?

And then there was the speech Huckabee gave in conjunction with the essay's release. In his speech, Huckabee made certain points that he didn't put in the magazine, perhaps for reasons of space or maybe because some Foreign Affairs editor has a well developed sense of mercy. "The bottom line is this," Huckabee cautioned. "Iran is a regional threat to the balance of power to the Middle and Near East; Al Qaeda is an existential threat to the United States."

Stunningly, Huckabee got it perfectly backwards. Al Qaeda is a menace to American security. But a nation governed by a hostile regime poised to produce a small arsenal of nuclear weapons that its leadership promises to use presents a truly existential threat. We can only conclude that "existential threat" does not mean what Mike Huckabee thinks it does.