I Like Mike (Still)

I just finished "From Hope to Higher Ground: 12 STEPs to Restoring America's Greatness," by former Arkansas governor and current Republican candidate for President Mike Huckabee. I indicated previously that I am supporting him for President, and I've since become one of the "Bloggers for Huckabee," proudly displaying my "I Like Mike" banner on my blog page. Now that I've completed his book, I am more convinced than ever that he should become our next President. He is a different kind of Republican and he stands out from the others in the race. He's a prolific author and I've already got three more of his books on order because I think he's a man of great character and integrity, and someone I'd like to emulate in my future political pursuits. My wife teases me and says that if I were Catholic, my patron saint would be the one for lost causes (that would be St. Jude Thaddeus, by the way). She reminded me that I was for George H.W. Bush in 1980 when other Republicans were swooning over Ronald Reagan, I was a die-hard GeoWorks user when the world was going gaga over Microsoft Windows 3.0 (you're thinking, "What's GeoWorks?" Precisely!), and I was a Neil Diamond fan long after his prime. Oh, yes, I decided to run against Maryland political icons Steny Hoyer AND Mike Miller in the same election year. I tell her, "It's not my choices that were bad; it was the system!"

That gave me the idea of sharing with you my process for picking a candidate - not that you're going to rush out and apply it after I just divulged my track record for picking winners (grin)! Nonetheless, I think it will be instructive and, frankly, I wish more people gave their choices for elected office this level of thought. We'd have a better government for it, and I'm not saying that because I'm particularly smart. Every citizen, in my opinion, has an obligation to do their own research and make informed choices.

It frustrates me to no end how many people care so little about a process that will have a profound impact on their lives. They either make their selections based on emotion or image alone, or they allow themselves to be led around by the media, which handicaps the pursuit of the Presidency like a horse race and is more interested in promoting the biggest fundraisers or the annointed front-runners rather than the candidates with the best qualifications or performance. The media is supposed to be a check on "the system" but instead they perpetuate it.  Perhaps that's why most people aren't interested anymore - the influence of the press on who gets the nominations of the respective parties is too great to overcome.

In any case, I've always tried to do my own homework when it comes to picking candidates to support. I've made a few of these points in the past, but this is a methodical explanation of my thinking. Read on!

Prior executive experience, while not always a predictor of success, is a discriminator for me and helped me to narrow the field of candidates in the Republican camp to five - Governors Gilmore, Huckabee, Romney and Thompson (that's Tommy Thompson - Fred was a U.S. Senator), and the former mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani.

Authenticity is also important to me. That's a much harder characteristic to discern, but it boils down to consistency in your behavior and expressed beliefs. That made it very difficult for me to embrace Governor Romney. He appears to be a likable man, his success as a businessman is remarkable, his plan to bring business best practices to the execution of government resonates strongly with me, and he and his family look like they could star in a modern-day version of Ozzie (the original Ozzie) and Harriet. He even looks like a President.

It's the perception that he's remade himself to run for the Republican nomination that I can't shake. It's not that I believe our politicians should be immovable and resistant to change. On the contrary, I believe when we stop learning and growing intellectually, morally and spiritually, we start dying.

I understand his conversion on the issue of abortion - after all, I was reluctant to take a political stance on the issue in college, even though I was an active Republican at the time.  The meanness I witnessed in the pro-life movement felt wrong to me, especially when it was directed at women in trouble. Like Governor Romney, there were events in my life that led me to my current pro-life stance. Becoming a father and eventually recommitting my life to Christ after more than two decades away from church contributed to my change of heart. When I realized that being pro-life and showing compassion for the child didn't exclude compassion for the mother, I became more vocal and visible in my pro-life views and they have continued to strengthen and evolve over the years.

Eventually, though, the number and nature of the conversions Governor Romney has made in his public life were too much for me to overcome. He's been recorded on video - YouTube has not been his friend - or quoted in old candidate surveys expressing positions when he was running for the U.S. Senate and the governorship of Massachusetts that bear no resemblance to his current views. The man who seemed more liberal on numerous issues during his campaigns for statewide office in Massachusetts in the 1990s is offering himself in 2007 as the heir to Ronald Reagan's conservative legacy. As a result, I can't ascertain his authenticity and I crossed him off the list.

As a committed Christian and social conservative, I am pro-life, I support the institution of marriage, and I believe in protecting our rights under the Constitution. Because of this, I can't support Rudy Giuliani for the Republican nomination. I don't endorse his views on abortion, same-sex marriage, or gun control. Therefore, he's not on the list.

It was really difficult to narrow down the list after that because I liked the three that remained. I am familiar with Governor Jim Gilmore's work on homeland security through the Gilmore Commission, and his term as governor of Virginia stands out to me because of his initiatives to promote uniform standards and testing in education, his appointment of the nation's first state Secretary of Technology, and his outreach to the black community through establishment of a separate holiday for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the proposal and funding of an African-American History Trail, and his call for more diversity in Virginia social studies texts.

As governor of Wisconsin, Tommy Thompson was a pioneer in implementing conservative solutions to our most challenging social problems. Welfare reform, school choice and greater access to health care for the working uninsured all happened in Wisconsin under his direction, and he continued to be an advocate for health care reform as the nation's Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Bush.

So what sold me on Mike Huckabee over these two fine gentlemen?

First of all, he's a committed Christian and a social conservative, so we share the same worldview and values. That probably frightens many people given their perceptions of Christianity and Christians, but if people would put aside their biases and listen to him, they would find that he's not mean-spirited, judgmental, angry or even annoyed - OK, maybe he's a little annoyed, but he's just as annoyed with the hard-heartedness of some Republicans as he is about the self-righteousness of some Democrats. By most accounts, he's an approachable, genial and genuinely likable man. This brief article in a recent issue of U.S. News and World Report is illustrative of what I mean:

Politics doesn't have to be mean, says GOP prez hopeful Mike Huckabee. Take the friendly voice mail he received from Hillary Clinton about the touchy subject of religion and politics. In a recent magazine article, Huckabee had said that although he goes to a very expressive church (Baptist), it doesn't mean that those like Clinton who attend a more formal and liturgical church (United Methodist) are less genuine. One memorable thing Hillary Clinton said in the message: "I do have a soft spot for boys from Hope." Like her spouse, Huckabee was born in Hope, Ark.

I think that's what Americans want to see in the political process - respect regardless of political differences. Mike Huckabee is a Romans 12:18 Christian, and we need more people like him in public life.

Second, he stood out as a governor, even in this impressive group. He was lieutenant governor of Arkansas from 1993 to 1996 and governor from 1996 to 2007 and, although he initially ascended to the governorship after his predecessor resigned, he was elected twice in a state where Democrats traditionally dominated. In fact, he was only the fourth Republican since Reconstruction to win a statewide race in Arkansas. Time magazine named him one of the 5 best governors in America. His initiatives in health care, education, and technology were as impressive as those of his gubernatorial counterparts.

Finally, he shows genuine empathy for the working families of our country. His humble upbringing, his wife's battle with cancer when they were young newlyweds with very little money, and his counseling of struggling families as an ordained minister sensitized him to the impact of government decisions on people's lives. Unlike a lot of Republicans, he looks for conservative solutions to the "kitchen table" issues that concern most American families rather than just saying no. He comes across as a man who puts more thought and heart into his decisions than most politicians, making him a "compassionate conservative" in word and deed.

Needless to say, he passed the tests that the others failed. I have no doubt of his authenticity; he's been consistent in his words and actions throughout his public life, and he has been praised in the recent debates for his eloquence, wit and likabilty. He is unashamed of his conservative principles but doesn't let them morph into an anger or meanness of spirit that would betray his Christian beliefs.

My message to social conservatives looking for a candidate is this: you don't have to settle for someone with Hollywood "buzz" or search in vain for the next Ronald Reagan. You also don't have to accept the verdict of the media as to who will win; they don't have your best interests at heart, and you know it. Think independently; buy his book and read his optimistic prescription for America's future. Go to his Web site and read his bio. Read his inspiring story about how he took control of his own health and went from 280 to 170 pounds and now runs marathons when at one time he could barely climb a flight of stairs without breathing heavily. Don't let the press and the pundits dictate your choices to you. The person you're hoping for is the new man from Hope.