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Bill Steigerwald Bill Steigerwald, 3/2/2009 [Archive]

Mr 'Total Conservative' -- Interview With Mike Huckabee



Since Mike Huckabee finished third in the 2008 Republican presidential primaries, the former governor of Arkansas, author and ordained Southern Baptist minister seems to have found a new career in television and radio.

"Huckabee," his hour-long show on Fox News Channel on Saturdays at 8 p.m. (repeated at 11 p.m.), is a mix of politics, entertainment and interviews with newsmakers, politicos and celebrities that exploits its namesake's famous humor and his skill as a rock íní roll bassist.

Huckabee's daily radio commentary, "The Huckabee Report," is carried on ABC Radio Networks and his seventh book, "Do The Right Thing: Inside the Movement That's Bringing Common Sense Back to America," came out in November. I talked to Huckabee by telephone Tuesday evening (Feb. 24) as he headed for a meeting in New York City:

Q: Are you secretly happy youíre not the president right now?

A: Well, no. I wouldnít characterize (it like) that. I certainly know itís a challenge, but in many ways, in light of the policies that are being put forth, I wish I was.

Q: Whatís your aerial assessment of President Obamaís actions and rhetoric so far?

A: Heís completely governing almost opposite of what I had not only expected but had predicted he would do. Ö Let me give you an example. I thought that he would be much more careful not to stir up controversial things early in his term; that he would have learned from the Clinton debacle of í93; and that he would have left alone a lot of very controversial items like some of the sanctity-of-life issues and same-sex marriage issues. Itís been somewhat surprising that heís taken those on immediately.

The other thing that has surprised me is that the rhetoric of his campaign was so built around the importance of hope and a different way of doing business in Washington, and then when he gets there he essentially fills the Cabinet and his administration with very seasoned Washington insiders.

His message has been far more about fear than hope, and rather than give us a locker-room pep talk, he kind of holds our hand and says, "Boys, thereís just nothing else we can do."

Q: Is there anything that leaps to your mind that Obama should be doing differently -- mainly the economic stuff?

A: Absolutely. What we need to be doing is realizing that we got in trouble by spending too much and borrowing what we didnít have. You donít fix that by spending even more and borrowing beyond a credit limit that weíve ever, ever imagined. ...

Q: Is the GOP -- or whatís left of it in Congress -- doing the right thing in bucking Obamaís stimulus package?

A: Absolutely. Itís about time. They should have bucked the TARP plan, and they should have told the then-Republican president that he had lost his ever-loving mind proposing it. I was just sick to watch people who call themselves conservatives wring their hands and line up and say, "Well, we donít want to do this but we have to." And I thought, "No, you donít have to do that. If itís stupid, donít do it" -- and that was stupid.

Q: Has the GOP defended itself well from criticism that it wasnít being "bipartisan"?

A: I think people forget that bipartisanship is really the burden of the victor, not the loser. The loser doesnít get to just walk in and dictate the terms. So if Obama wants bipartisanship, that means he doesnít throw a bill down on the table already written by Nancy Pelosi and basically put a gun to their heads and tell them, "Hereís an offer you canít refuse."

Q: Despite you being a reasonably successful two-term governor, the Republican Party bosses didnít seem to like you or seem to appreciate your entrance onto the stage for the primaries. Why?

A: Part of it was that I had the audacity to suggest that there was a Washington-to-Wall Street axis of power that was ruining the party. Now, what I was excoriated for proves out to be that I was prophetic.

Q: In a line or two, what kind of a Republican are you?

A: I would describe myself as a "total conservative, a conscientious one." And that I believe that one doesnít separate the fiscal and social issues because they are tied together. The theme of my book was that if families and a culture start breaking down, it is going to lead to a larger government and far more expensive government.

Q: Were you at all punished by conservative Republicans for being too soft on social issues, in the sense that you were too willing to use government to address social issues?

A: I never wanted government to be the first line of defense. In fact, I think really what I got punished for was not having enough money to defend myself against the attacks of the people who had enough money to frame me in a way that was totally inaccurate. Once people started doing their own research and homework, I donít think they ever came to those conclusions.

Q: Do you plan to run for president again?

A: The honest answer is I donít know. I really donít.

Q: If you did run again, would you stress anything different or would you shift or even change any of your positions?

A: I wouldn't change any positions because those are convictions. Thatís one of the problems I have with people who take a poll to find out what they believe this week. I think one of the reasons that I got as far as I did was because people knew that what I was saying was consistent with what I had always said and what I had always done.

Q: Your TV show is doing pretty well. Youíre on Fox with all those "crazy right-wingers." Do you enjoy entertainment enough to give up politics?

A: Well, right now I am just grateful that I have a job. Iím doing that (weekly show) and then every day I am doing twice-daily commentaries on the ABC Radio Networks. Itís a terrific platform and Iím enjoying it immensely and I certainly could be content doing that for a long time to come. ... But I donít know. Itís just too far to predict what itís going to look like in a couple of years.

Bill Steigerwald is a columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. E-mail Bill at bsteigerwald@tribweb.com. ©Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, All Rights Reserved.

RESTRICTIONS: Bill Steigerwald's columns may not be reprinted in general circulation print media in Pennsylvania's Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, and Westmoreland Counties.

If you're not a paying subscriber to our service, you must contact us to print or post this column on the web. Distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc. Sales sales@cagle.com (805) 969-2829.

WEB Length version

Since Mike Huckabee finished third in the 2008 Republican presidential primaries, the former governor of Arkansas, author and ordained Southern Baptist minister seems to have found a new career in television and radio.

"Huckabee," his hour-long show on Fox News Channel on Saturdays at 8 p.m. (repeated at 11 p.m.), is a mix of politics, entertainment and interviews with newsmakers, politicos and celebrities that exploits its namesake's famous humor and his skill as a rock íní roll bassist.

Huckabee's daily radio commentary, "The Huckabee Report," is carried on ABC Radio Networks and his seventh book, "Do The Right Thing: Inside the Movement That's Bringing Common Sense Back to America," came out in November.

I talked to Huckabee by telephone Tuesday (Feb. 24) evening as he headed for a meeting in New York City:

Q: Are you secretly happy youíre not the president right now?

A: Well, no. I wouldnít characterize (it like) that. I certainly know itís a challenge, but in many ways, in light of the policies that are being put forth, I wish I was.

Q: Whatís your aerial assessment of President Obamaís actions and rhetoric so far?

A: Heís completely governing almost opposite of what I had not only expected but had predicted he would do. Ö Let me give you an example. I thought that he would be much more careful not to stir up controversial things early in his term; that he would have learned from the Clinton debacle of í93; and that he would have left alone a lot of very controversial items like some of the sanctity-of-life issues and same-sex marriage issues. Itís been somewhat surprising that heís taken those on immediately.

The other thing that has surprised me is that the rhetoric of his campaign was so built around the importance of hope and a different way of doing business in Washington, and then when he gets there he essentially fills the Cabinet and his administration with very seasoned Washington insiders.

His message has been far more about fear than hope, and rather than give us a locker-room pep talk, he kind of holds our hand and says, "Boys, thereís just nothing else we can do." I feel like rather than the coach at halftime telling his team to go out and win, heís the doctor at bedside basically suggesting that we just pull the plug.

Q: Is there anything that leaps to your mind that Obama should be doing differently -- mainly the economic stuff?

A: Absolutely. What we need to be doing is realizing that we got in trouble by spending too much and borrowing what we didnít have. You donít fix that by spending even more and borrowing beyond a credit limit that weíve ever, ever imagined. ... Thereís simply no parallel to that in anybodyís repertoire of common sense. Families out there know that if they get in trouble and theyíve spent up a bunch of money and theyíve borrowed and they are up to hock to their necks, the thing theyíve got to do is start paying off what they owe and cut back their spending.

It would appear that what weíve decided is that if weíre really in trouble because weíve spent a whole lot of money we didnít have, we just ought to spend some more and that will make it OK. Itís throwing gasoline on a house fire.

Q: You donít have to be a Noble Prize-winning economist to know that all this money has to be coming from somewhere -- from our descendants in taxes or from the future value of the dollar in inflation.

A: Or both, yeah. I think thatís part of the issue. In fact, Iím thinking about ordering the Rosetta Stone program of Mandarin Chinese because if we keep having them buy up our currency, weíll all need to speak it.

Q: Is the GOP -- or whatís left of it in Congress -- doing the right thing in bucking Obamaís stimulus package?

A: Absolutely. Itís about time. They should have bucked the TARP plan, and they should have told the then-Republican president that he had lost his ever-loving mind proposing it. I was just sick to watch people who call themselves conservatives wring their hands and line up and say, "Well, we donít want to do this but we have to." And I thought, "No, you donít have to do that. If itís stupid, donít do it" -- and that was stupid.

Q: Has the GOP defended itself well from criticism that it wasnít being "bipartisan"?

A: I think people forget that bipartisanship is really the burden of the victor, not the loser. The loser doesnít get to just walk in and dictate the terms. So if Obama wants bipartisanship, that means he doesnít throw a bill down on the table already written by Nancy Pelosi and basically put a gun to their heads and tell them, "Hereís an offer you canít refuse."

Theyíve had everything but the horse head in bed with them. Thatís not bipartisanship. Bipartisanship is where you ask for the support but you also are willing to listen and take those ideas from the other side into play and actually incorporate them into the bill, but it didnít happen. This was done in the middle of the night with one party.

Q: You were a very successful Republican governor in the land of Clinton, which was mostly Democrat ...

A: Oh, totally. A lot of people donít know this, but my Legislature was the most lopsided in America. We had 11 out of 100 House members who were Republican and 4 out of 35 senators who were Republican when I first took office (in 1996). It was more lopsided than any in the country, including Massachusetts.

Q: Despite you being a reasonably successful two-term governor, the Republican Party bosses didnít seem to like you or seem to appreciate your entrance onto the stage for the primaries. Why?

A: Part of it was that I had the audacity to suggest that there was a Washington-to-Wall Street axis of power that was ruining the party. Now, what I was excoriated for proves out to be that I was prophetic.

Q: In a line or two, what kind of a Republican are you?

A: I would describe myself as a "total conservative, a conscientious one." And that I believe that one doesnít separate the fiscal and social issues because they are tied together. The theme of my book was that if families and a culture start breaking down, it is going to lead to a larger government and far more expensive government.

The reason I point that out is that having been a governor, most of the cost of government really goes down to the breakdown of social structure. Single mothers, we know, are a basic cause of greater likelihood of educational deficiencies, health deficiencies, criminal activity. ... Iím not saying there are not wonderful single parents out there, but itís inescapable to recognize that when people are raised in fractured families, the likelihood goes up dramatically for poverty and all the things that are associated with it. When thereís not a family there to pick up the pieces, government ends up doing it. Whether there are more cops on the street, people having to sandblast the graffiti off the bridges and roadways, counselors at school -- it just gets expensive.

Q: Were you at all punished by conservative Republicans for being too soft on social issues, in the sense that you were too willing to use government to address social issues?

A: I never wanted government to be the first line of defense. In fact, I think really what I got punished for was not having enough money to defend myself against the attacks of the people who had enough money to frame me in a way that was totally inaccurate. Once people started doing their own research and homework, I donít think they ever came to those conclusions.

For example, I would be hit for "Will he raise taxes?" OK. letís take a look at that. We had the worst roads in America, according to Truckers magazine. They were falling apart. So we took a bond issue to the voters and by an 80 percent margin the people of my state voted to rebuild our road system. Iíd say that was pretty darn good political leadership to recognize that people wanted better highways ícause it was safer, more economical. ... Rather than being busted for a fuel tax, which I think you ought to pay as you go, that made more sense to me. I wish the federal government would recognize that if they are going to do something, they ought to pay for it.

Q: Do you plan to run for president again?

A: The honest answer is I donít know. I really donít.

Q: If you did run again, would you stress anything different or would you shift or even change any of your positions?

A: I wouldn't change any positions because those are convictions. Thatís one of the problems I have with people who take a poll to find out what they believe this week. I think one of the reasons that I got as far as I did was because people knew that what I was saying was consistent with what I had always said and what I had always done.

Q: Your TV show is doing pretty well. Youíre on Fox with all those "crazy right-wingers." Do you enjoy entertainment enough to give up politics?

A: Well, right now I am just grateful that I have a job. Iím doing that (weekly show) and then every day I am doing twice-daily commentaries on the ABC Radio Networks. Itís a terrific platform and Iím enjoying it immensely and I certainly could be content doing that for a long time to come. ... But I donít know. Itís just too far to predict what itís going to look like in a couple of years.

Bill Steigerwald is a columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. E-mail Bill at bsteigerwald@tribweb.com. ©Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, All Rights Reserved.

RESTRICTIONS: Bill Steigerwald's columns may not be reprinted in general circulation print media in Pennsylvania's Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, and Westmoreland Counties.

If you're not a paying subscriber to our service, you must contact us to print or post this column on the web. Distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc. Sales sales@cagle.com (805) 969-2829.



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