Friday, December 17, 2010

EDITORIAL >>President Huckabee?

If Mike Huckabee is elected president, a prospect that is not so remote as it once was, he will have followed the most circuitous path ever. We mean that no one has ever come down, decisively, on both sides of so many issues.

You know the history: on taxes, immigration, health care or almost any serious policy controversy that you can name, he has taken the progressive and then the alternative side. This week it was energy policy.

On the blog of his political fund-raising arm, Huck PAC, the former governor wrote Wednesday that he was upset that a contributor had said that he had supported federal cap-and-trade legislation in 2007 when he was kicking off his campaign for president.

“To put it simply, that’s just not true,” Huckabee said. “This kind of mandatory energy policy would have a horrible impact on the nation’s job market. I never did support it—period.”

That is pretty emphatic. If you remember, the cap-and-trade approach to lower global-warming carbon emissions and break American dependence on foreign oil was fairly popular back in 2007. It was the conservative alternative to a straightforward carbon tax, but the U. S. Senate was stymieing even that approach. The oil and coal industries and the U. S. Chamber of Commerce geared up a massive advertising assault on cap and trade and anything that would try to reduce the consumption of carbon fuels—it would throw people out of work, they said—and public attitudes shifted against cap and trade. The politicians followed.

But Politico was unkind enough to dig up Huckabee’s actual recorded remarks on the subject at an Oct. 13, 2007, appearance at the Clean Air- Cool Planet conference in Manchester, N.H. He said the House of Representatives should adopt measures passed by the Senate to raise the standards for carbon emissions. Then he added:

“I also support cap and trade of carbon emissions. And I was disappointed that the Senate rejected a carbon-counting system to measure the sources of emissions, because that would have been the first and the most important step toward implementing true cap and trade.”

The House of Representatives actually did everything he urged, including passage of a watered-down cap-and-trade bill, but the legislation died in the Senate. It is hard to find any reservations in “I also support cap and trade of carbon emissions.”

A man’s position can easily change in three years, but the truth of what he did doesn’t change.

But we sometimes find ourselves looking at our formerly favorite son’s flexibility in a different light. It makes him a little more appealing than any of the other current Republican wannabes, except perhaps former Gov. Mitt Romney, who has changed has position on issues just about as often as Huckabee. Romney doesn’t lie about changing positions, but he explains it away.

If you’re looking for some adaptability in the hidebound stances of politicians, then Huckabee gives you some hope that as president he might work for measures that help common people even if it meant collaborating with Democrats, which was his practice as governor of Arkansas.

After all, as governor, he once said that before leaving office he intended to see that every person in Arkansas was insured for health care. He never got around to doing more than increasing the government’s insuring role for children and low-income working adults, but at the time it seemed that he was looking at Romney’s example in Massachusetts. Romney soon afterward got the Democratic legislature to pass a universal health-insurance law for that state that became the template for the law that Congress passed last year—the one all Republicans, including Huckabee, are now condemning. It required everyone to purchase insurance except those too poor to afford it, who were covered by the state-federal insurance option.

Then Thursday night, Huckabee appeared on the “Daily Show with Jon Stewart” to plug his new Christmas book. Stewart trapped him by talking about the plight of the 9/11 rescuers who are dying from ailments caused by inhalation at the crash site. Republicans in the Senate are blocking passage of legislation to help with their health care by saying Congress should adjourn for Christmas rather than take up such legislation. Huckabee said the bill should be passed immediately and he first tried to blame it on the Democrats for tying it to other legislation. Stewart corrected him and said it was a stand-alone bill. In that case, Huckabee said, the Republican senators should stop obstructing the bill and vote for it, and he told about a personal friend who was one of those dying from his work at the disaster site.

That is the Huckabee we have admired from time to time. There’s a 50/50 chance that would be the Huckabee who would be president. In our book it gives him a leg up on the current Republican field. But then we fully expect to hear him deny that he ever supported the 9/11 bill should it somehow become an issue in the presidential race. He will have lots of chances to change our mind.