Saturday, December 01, 2007

Tax Hike Mike vs. the Club for Greed
The latest poll from Iowa evidently shows Mike Huckabee with a five-point lead over Mitt Romney, elevating the likelihood of a fundamental schism within the Republican Party from "longshot" to "maybe 50-50." If Huckabee wins Iowa, which I now consider likely, he might get a bounce in South Carolina, and then from there it's a jump ball. The result will be not only the most fascinating Republican race in at least a half-century, but a major and long overdue debate about what their party is and the role of government itself in American life.

I'm just not sure this debate will unfold the way most seem to think it will. The prevailing narrative seems to be the anti-Clinton/pro-Bush coalition (for that's what it is, or was, from 1994 through 2004) will crack along the lines of "social conservatives" versus "fiscal conservatives." Huckabee, in this view (held by Sullivan among others), is candidate of religious fundamentalism, a politician inclined toward big government conservatism (more on that in a minute) but much more importantly, an actual man of faith rather than a well-coached stooge. Any of Romney, Giuliani and TV's Fred Thompson is the candidate of free-market fundamentalism, there primarily to cut taxes and otherwise comfort the comfortable. George W. Bush, of course, was the perfect leader for this coalition by virtue of effortlessly playing both roles.

But I think there's something even more fundamental about Huckabee that scares the Club for Growth, which is stepping up its attacks on an underfunded challenger who until a month ago barely registered in the polls. They call him "Tax Hike Mike"; he calls them "the Club for Greed." Their attack is that he has raised taxes; his counter-argument--which many of us have been waiting for years for Democrats to make--is that sometimes raising taxes is the appropriate and necessary thing to do. The Times does an admirable job sorting through the statistics and coming to some well-informed conclusions:

While taxes did rise in the 10 years that Mr. Huckabee was governor, the portrayal of him as a wild-eyed spendthrift is hardly apt. For the most part, Mr. Huckabee’s tax initiatives had wide bipartisan support, with the small number of Republicans in the overwhelmingly Democratic state legislature voting for the tax increases and many maintaining that the state was better for them.
“He got bipartisan support on all the tax increases,” said State Senator Kim Hendren, a veteran Republican and member of the legislative budget committee. “Huckabee didn’t say ‘I just want to raise taxes to start programs.’ He has a liberal heart for young people, for the disabled and for improving Arkansas’ lot in education, and he is pretty good at working across party lines.”
In general, Mr. Huckabee supported tax increases when he had a defined goal in mind, whether it was schools, roads or parks.

“He tended to raise taxes for specific government programs,” said Jay Barth, an associate political science professor at Hendrix College in Conway, Ark. “He does believe in a robust government as an active force in the lives of its citizens, especially in helping the little guy.”
The other big tax increase, which also received bipartisan support, was the one on gasoline to pay for road improvements.

“Our roads were in terrible condition,” said Dennis Milligan, chairman of the Arkansas Republican Party. “We knew that in order to attract jobs and companies we needed better roads. Huckabee made a wise choice and now we have companies locating here and wonderful roads. He did a lot to improve roads, and you can’t do it for free.”
“Antitax radicals will never be convinced that tax monies can be legitimately spent on highways, bridges, schools and Medicare,” the campaign said in a response to the Club for Growth.

So: Huckabee raised taxes to improve infrastructure, services and amenities, using arguments informed by (among other things) economic development priorities--and he got overwhelming bipartisan support for his measures. Add in that he won re-election four times in a state that remains strongly Democratic at all levels under federal... and you suddenly see why he scares the shit out of the Club for Growth and the other anti-tax fanatics:

This is a guy who believes in competent governance that offers value to all citizens, not just the rich. A more striking contrast with the Bush/DeLay way of doing the public's business, in which offering tax cuts outweighs paying for wars of choice and the botched response to Hurricane Katrina represents not a human tragedy but proof that government can't find its ass with a map and a flashlight, one could not produce. At least not among Republicans.

That might read as oversimplistic, but give me another explanation. The Club for Growth isn't arguing that Huckabee's tax increases were wrong on the merits, or that they didn't yield the desired policy outcomes. That's not what they do; to them, it's not relevant. Any tax increase, under any circumstance, ever, is wrong. They shriek, "Aha! He raised taxes! He wants your money! And that's not his money--it's your money!"

The proper response to this is, and always has been, "It's also our government." As I've written here many times, we have some scary problems coming down the pike. We'll need a really effective government to handle them, and that government will require more robust revenues. The only way to secure those revenues is by making the case that it is our government, and its job is to act in ways that advance the public good.

It's ironic that it takes a Republican--one regarded by the social issues-fixated MSM as a "conservative"--to make this argument, which we desperately need. If Huckabee wins his party's nomination, that same media so inclined to focus on "God, guns and gays" might not be able to keep the country's eyes off the prize of other, more salient issues any longer--and it could spell the end of a dominant intra-party faction that has an active interest in fomenting bad government that facilitates inequality and keeps its foot on the economic necks of millions in the name of "freedom."

I don't want to see Huckabee in the White House; we don't need another faith-based presidency, even a more competent and well-intentioned one. But I wish him all the best right now.


Vote For Hillary Online said...

If the list of candidates to choose from was a line of port-o-potties outside a concert, Huckabee would be the one overflowing with diarrhea.
If you want a real candidate with real values, then you want Hillary Clinton. Just trust me.

Vote For Hillary Online

David said...

Yes, the Clintons have done so much to earn our trust.

Your website might be the funniest thing I've ever seen. Or it might be that I'm sufficiently traumatized at the Eagles' 4th and goal failure a few minutes ago that my discernment is eroded. But if not, mmmm, that's good satire!

But your disgusting Huckabee putdown read so sincere and so dumb to me that you're really either a god of satire, truly a god, or maybe you are serious. There's no dead giveaway--the blog, the loyalty oath, it's so over the top yet un-self-aware that I'm really buffaloed by this thing. Please, let me know.

And thanks for coming by.

the Navigator said...

I would, in a heartbeat, vote for Hillary over any Republican now in the race, but if voteforhillary returns, it's only fair to ask: so then, which port-a-potty is Hillary?

David said...

Prospects like this one make me happy that I live in a non-swing state, so this isn't an issue for me... as I've repeated a few times, the only way I vote for Clinton is if it's her against Rudy and there seems to be even a remote possibility of him winning NY. Which they wouldn't be unless he was headed for 400 EVs. In which case I'd be too busy trying to figure out what I could do for work in Canada or Europe to get to the polls anyway.

But it is a good question. I can sort of psychologically discern the smell of the Hill-o-Potty: a medium layer of air freshener masking, but not totally blocking, the putrescent rot beneath.

The Navigator said...

I think your position is eminently reasonable. The more I see of Clinton the less I like her. I'd definitely prefer Obama - dude was a community organizer! - but even he's giving me pause with some things lately. He's clearly pandering on liquid coal and ethanol, and while raising the income cap for SS taxes wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, I'm pretty well persuaded that it's not necessary now and all it accomplishes to insist that it's critical right now is to play into the GOP fearmongering. And Krugman had a nice point the other day about Obama trying to mislead about Clinton's & Edwards' health care plans, which would cover more people, and trying to skirt around the fact that his wouldn't.

David said...

On the health care proposals, check out Robert Reich's blog today. He thinks Obama's would cover more people because of the unworkable nature (at least at the economic margins) of Hillary's individual mandate approach.