Patrick Heyman, PhD
Mike Huckabee dropped by Palm Beach Atlantic University (a small, private, Christian university with a fabulous nursing program) last night and today. I was at a session today where he made a few remarks and then took questions from the audience (students and faculty)–some hostile, some fawning. At the end of the hour, my head was hurting from sorting through all the doublespeak, half truths, and straw man arguments.
Huckabee has a few (very few) good points and pretends as though he is a different breed of candidate, when in fact there is nothing new about him. Following are a few of his points and my refutations of them. (Note: these are not in chronological order. Note also that I have confined myself only to the remarks he made during this session.)
Huckabee Point 1
He complained that many Republicans are not really Republican, but libertarian–they just don’t know it. He went on to explain that Libertarians are in favor of simply cutting government and the consequences be damned. Such a position, he maintains, is irresponsible. “How would you like it if we cut the police department, and then your house was broken into, and it took the police 45 minutes to get there instead of…” He, however, thinks that the best government is self-government embodied in the Golden rule (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.)
Wow, where does one start with this mess of illogic? There is no doubt that many libertarians are registered as Republicans for a variety of reasons one of which might be ignorance, but his next statement is a classic straw man argument. Some Libertarians are certainly in favor of cutting the government regardless of the short term consequences, because they know that the long term effects will be beneficial, but others favor a more graduated approach. The next statement is both specious and disingenuous in its straw humanity: a) The federal government does not fund police departments (homeland security funding aside). b) He plies the classic liberal maneuver that if cuts must be made, sanitation, fire departments, and the police will be the first to be cut from the budget–as opposed to say the Jazzfest or the municipal water park. c) As the (I hesitate to use the term victim) subject of an attempted home invasion two years ago, I can tell you that a police response time of five minutes is not fast enough. d) In many areas of the country, the police response time is already 45 minutes, and in some cities, the police will not respond at all to certain neighborhoods. In fact, the Supreme Court has ruled that police have NO responsibility for the protection of individual citizens.
The most audacious aspect of this point is Huckabee’s shameless appropriation of a key Libertarian plank as his own–that self-government is best, that if government must exist at all, it should be as small and as local as possible. And of course, he declined to elaborate on just how any of his big government policies are supposed to move us closer to self-government.
Huckabee Point 2
His appearance seems to have been part of a speaking tour connected to his new book Do The Right Thing. He pointed out that in it he has coined a new term: vertical politics–as opposed to horizontal politics. Horizontal politics is voting for someone based on party affiliation or political philosophy. Vertical politics is based on whether voters think a candidate will lead the country up or down. Huckabee thinks that politics in America is moving from horizontal to vertical because the under 35 demographic has no party loyalty.
Only a politician could make such a banal point and call it new and insightful. People have been voting for the candidate they thought would be good for the country since the time of Pericles. Has Huckabee never heard that Mussolini was elected because he made the trains run on time? Why does he think that Reagan won in two landslide elections? Has he never heard of Reagan Democrats?
The major reason that party loyalty is waning is because there is so little difference between the parties these days. The reason that the Republicans have been losing elections lately is because they are being punished by their own voters for acting like democrats, for supporting George W. Bush’s liberal programs and spending.
Huckabee Point 3
He made a point about the cost of health care and how it was so expensive because we don’t have enough preventative care. He pointed out that three of the things that contribute most to the high cost of health care in the United States are overeating, underexercising, and smoking–all three voluntary behaviors. He also pointed out that (I forget the exact statistic) something like 85% of the healthcare expenditures occur in the last five years of an individual’s life.
We most certainly do cover the cost of preventative care in the United States. It is mandatory in practically every insurance plan. It is the entire basis of HMOs. Most insurance plans even cover screening colonoscopies. Preventative care is also available from a variety of community clinics, occupational health programs, health fairs, etc. Preventative care is so important now that doctors have been successfully sued because they did not encourage patients to quit smoking often enough.
Preventative medicine is not fun; it takes discipline. If you felt perfectly fine would you take medicine every single day that made you fatigued, made you dizzy, made you cough, made your ankles swell, gave you constipation, made you impotent? (All major adverse effects of common blood pressure medications.) Heck, if you really are sick, how many of you can even remember to take your antibiotics correctly? Quite simply, Americans do not use preventative care because the nanny state shields them from themselves. They are protected from the consequences of their actions while young, because their grandchildren subsidize their healthcare when they reach 65. Why should they deny themselves the good life now when they can just take a “magic pill” later?
While it is true that many of our chronic diseases have behavioral components, what exactly does Huckabee propose we do about it? Outlaw overeating? Mandate government morning runs? I was reminded of the classic scene from Demolition Man where Sandra Bullock’s character explains to Sylvester Stallone’s character that meat has been outlawed because, “anything not good for you is bad, hence illegal. Alcohol, caffeine, contact sports, meat…bad language, child play, gasoline, uneducational toys, and anything spicy. Abortion is also illegal, but then so is pregnancy…if you don’t have a license.”
It is sheer mockery of logic to complain about spending more health care dollars in the last few years of life. Hello. That is when you need them unless you are tired of living. It is as though he had just visited the Amazon basin with Montaigne’s servant who declared that among the natives there were no sick people, no one palsied, toothless, or bleary-eyed, or bent with age. As P.J. O’Rourke pointed out, that is because such people were most probably dead.
This unhealthy fixation on fat and cardiovascular disease dates back to the 50s with Dr. Ancel Keys who was obsessed with lowering deaths from heart disease. We have indeed lowered deaths from heart disease, but a careful examination of the evidence shows that it was lowered by symptom awareness and early and better treatment of heart attacks–not by prevention. Such advances would likely never have occurred had we followed Huckabee’s misguided advice. Thankfully, while the government was pursuing dead end prevention measures, the actual health care business was in the business of saving lives.
Americans are healthier than they ever have been aside from their excesses of weight and associated diseases. But even that is traceable to well-meaning government agents. After mucking with the schools for decades and worsening education, they decided to eliminate recess and P.E. They decided parents could not be trusted to feed their children, so the government would do it for them. They subsidized agriculture leading to the bizarre situation where soda is cheaper than milk, where petroleum byproducts (margarine) are preferred to natural products (butter).
I am not quite sure where Huckabee was going with this one, because he never actually gave any policies. But his premises are so wrong they would incite mass fear and panic if not for the reality of Obama health care. Maybe I should call Grandma.
Huckabee Point 4
He took a cheap shot at commentators such as those on Talk Radio, who have never had to make a tough government decision in their lives, who will tell us how we ought to do it and how we’re doing it wrong.
I felt like saying, “Aww, didems make oo wanna cry?” Does this mean that unless one has worked in government in an executive position, no one can criticize the president or a presidential candidate? What about voters? Are they allowed to criticize? Is there still a first amendment in the United States or did that get destroyed somewhere between the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, Patriot Act, and Campaign Finance Reform?
Many talk radio hosts and guests have worked in government such as Judge Napolitano, Mark Levin and Laura Ingraham. Even those who have not worked in government nor even earned a college degree like Rush Limbaugh make important business decisions every day. In fact, if the Republican party had listened to Rush during the last election campaign (or for the last ten years), we might be in a very different position than we are now. I know there are a lot of Rush-haters here, but every day, Rush speaks about personal liberty, about relying on yourself instead of government, about the erosion of freedom in the United States. He speaks about real free market principals, real capitalism, and promotes the work of economists like F.A. Hayek and Milton Friedman. (Even Lew Rockwell has admitted that, monetarism aside, Friedman was a great economist). During the Bush presidency he opposed No Child Left Behind and Medicare Part D. He has consistently warned that compassionate conservatism is no conservatism at all, that governing like liberals but “smarter” is a difference of degree, not kind. During the campaign, Rush opposed the bailout bill and pointed out that there was no essential policy difference between Obama (the real liberal) and McCain (the liberal-lite). Huckabee could do much worse than listen to the likes of talk radio.
Huckabee Point 5
He claimed that in the last election, the entire field of candidates on both sides essentially held the same views on major points such as the war in Iraq. He quipped, “At the debates, we could have all just shut up and given Ron Paul two minutes to tell us how we’re wrong.”
True and false at the same time. Granted, there were very few good choices among the candidates, and true that no one was calling for the closing of the Federal Reserve other than Ron Paul, but there was a huge difference among the candidates’ views on substantive issues such as taxes, global warming, illegal aliens and immigration, gun ownership, and campaign finance reform. Huckabee was also trying to position himself as above the fray, when in fact, he was just a conventional candidate.
Huckabee comes across as a reasonable, down to earth person. He has a good sense of humor. He speaks well. He plays a mean bass guitar (but that brings flashbacks of our last musician president). After the session I attended, he preached a “mom and apple pie” message—the kind that no one can dispute. The problem is that these types of qualities do not a president make. In these kinds of controlled circumstances even ultra liberal democrats like Florida Senator Bill Nelson (who spoke at our graduation a few years back) can seem reasonable and conservative.
Huckabee does have some good points. He mentioned that under capitalism, freedom to succeed also means freedom to fail. The problem is that he seems to omit extending that same freedom to people who make bad choices in their diets and personal habits. (See healthcare sections above.) On his television show, he has talked about the unholy alliance of business and government* but today he only referenced the culture of greed and mentioned the time he called the Club for Growth the Club for Greed. I must admit that I am not completely familiar with Club for Growth’s politics, but looking at their website, does this mean that Huckabee is against making the Bush tax cuts permanent, for the death tax, against school choice, against limiting government spending, against tort reform?
Okay, so even his good point turns out to be a bad point. It was quite obvious that Huckabee is already campaigning for 2012. If he ends up as the Republican candidate, I may take take Thomas DiLorenzo’s advice and simply not vote. See also the Myth of Representation.
*The Obama administration’s favorite term seems to be “public-private partnership,” meaning taking our tax money and giving it to the government and its private cronies like ACORN, Fannie Mae, and AIG.
Patrick Heyman, PhD, (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an Assistant Professor of Nursing at Palm Beach Atlantic University. His views are his own and most likely do not represent the position of the University.