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Values Voters, Rudy and Huck: The Dilemma we Face

October 23rd, 2007 | 5 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

This morning, the good Doctor Reynolds (of whom I am very fond) defended Mitt Romney against all comers for the primary.

The most powerful reason to vote for Mitt is Mitt. Romney is the best qualified, smartest, and most telegenic Republican in the race. He has been a successful business leader, saved an Olympics, and been an excellent governor of a liberal state. He knows how to communicate our values to people who do not agree with us. Romney is the only candidate who will not give up IQ points to Hilary and who can press her on her scanty resume that depends on the dubious notion that being married to the boss makes you qualified to run the business.

To be frank, there's a lot to disagree with in this assessment.  To start with, Romney is certainly a great business leader and manager--no one can doubts that.  But leadership in politics is different than leadership in business.

A President is not a CEO.  In the best cases, employees share the same vision as the CEO, and in the worst, they work out of self-interest and won't make waves.  That doesn't make being a CEO easy, but it does make it different.
Consider:  in politics, only half of the people that you have to work with agree with you (or are motivated by self-interest). The other half are working actively to defeat you.

Which of the Republican candidates is the most qualified under this notion of leadership?  It's not immediately obvious that Romney is the guy.  Yes, he had four years in a liberal state, but Huckabee had ten and did just fine.  In fact, ten years of experience as a governor is ten years of running a state, many years of which which he had ridiculously high approval ratings.
I would also challenge Dr. Reynolds' claim that Romney is the "smartest" candidate the Republicans have.  He may have the highest IQ and may have attended the most prestigious university and done well there, but those are the sort of criterion for "smartest" that I don't think much of.  Huckabee may have gone to a small school (presumably, not unlike Biola), but he graduated in 2.5 years before moving on to seminary.  That's fast, which makes me think he is no slouch intellectually.

What Dr. Reynolds considers 'telegenic,' many other people consider 'slick.'  He is not any more telegenic than Huckabee, and he is not nearly as effective as a communicator (though last night's debate was his best performance yet).  In fact, his perfect "telegenic" look is what makes many people dislike him--he is too polished, too perfect.
To finish up the paragraph, the notion that Romney is the only candidate "who can press Hillary on her scanty resume that depends on the dubious notion that being married to the boss makes you qualified to run the business" is, well,  not exactly accurate.  I'm still searching for the video of his press conference, but I would remind the reader of  his able chastising of Max Blumenthal, wherein he made it clear that he  could--and would--challenge anyone with whom he disagrees.

Dr. Reynolds goes on:

Only Romney can save the Party. Any other candidates will split the GOP, but if Romney is the nominee then the race will be about Hilary’s demerits and his merits. Rudy cannot move the people in the pews to the voting booth. Huckabee does not appeal to moderates and he will drive economic conservatives out. Fred will be worth a look when he wakes up and decides to run. He is a platitude chasing a nap. Finally McCain is Bob Dole and we already know the outcome of nominating a tired, heroic, senior senator.

This is the core of the argument.  Huckabee will split the party by driving away fiscal conservatives:  Romney will not.  But is the prognostication necessarily correct?
A quick read through of Huckabee's website suggests he may be more economically conservative than advertised.  On health care:

Workers complain that their wages are stagnant, but businesses reply that their total compensation costs are rising significantly because they are paying so much more for health care. Health care costs are adversely affecting your paycheck, even if you're healthy. Some Americans are afraid to change jobs or start their own businesses because they're afraid of losing their health insurance. It is time to recognize that jobs don't need health insurance, people do, and to ease the burden on our businesses. Our employer-based system has outlived its usefulness, but the answer is a consumer-based system, not socialized medicine.

That's a proposition that I can agree with.  It's bold, yes, and it may never pass, but it's certainly not a "moderate" or "liberal" position to take.  I would be surprised to hear fiscal conservatives reject an approach to health care that placed the burden on individuals, rather than the business itself.
On taxes and the economy:

As Governor of Arkansas, I pushed through the Arkansas Legislature the first major, broad-based tax cuts in state history - a $90 million tax relief package for Arkansas families. I also doubled the standard deduction to $2,000 for single taxpayers and $4,000 for those who are married. Some taxes I eliminated entirely: the marriage penalty, bracket creep caused by inflation, income tax on poor families, and capital gains on home sales. To encourage investment, I cut capital gains for both individuals and businesses. To help people better themselves, I provided tax credits for employee training and education. In total, I cut taxes and fees nearly 100 times during my ten-and-a-half years as Governor, saving the people of Arkansas almost $380 million.

When I left office in early 2007, Arkansas had nearly $850 million in state surplus, which I urged should go back to the people in the form of either a tax rebate or tax cut.

I believe that our massive deficit is not due to Americans' being under-taxed, but due to the federal government's over-spending. Achieving and maintaining a balanced federal budget is an important and worthy goal necessary to our long-term economic well-being. To achieve a balanced federal budget, I believe the President should have the line-item veto.

No, he doesn't mention that taxes he raised.  Yes, he prob ably raised them.  But the fact that he left office with an $850 million surplus is pretty impressive.  Shouldn't the ultimate measure of whether a guy is good for the economy be....the strength of the economy of which he is in charge? On that score, Huck's track record is strong.
Does Huckabee, then, split the party?  It's not quite the given that people think it is.
Regarding Romney's conversion, Dr. Reynolds argues persuasively that it is genuine, which simply means that he and and Huckabee are equal on this count.

Dr. Reynolds is brilliant and disagreeing with him on an issue makes me nervous, as I've been bested in conversation by him hundreds of times.  But on this issue, it is not clear to me at all that Romney is the guy that 'values voters' should throw their weight behind.

But then, I haven't made the full case for voting for Huckabee.  I don't have to.  Jonathan Alter did that for me. 

Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.