Thursday, December 13, 2007

Why Mike Huckabee's rise pleases me

[Note: This is a slightly more coherent, more theoretical version of my previous post on Mike Huckabee]

This New York Times Magazine profile of Mike Huckabee has been understandably causing a buzz, although, as Ross points out, for all the wrong reasons. And yet, and yet, I have to admit that reading the profile caused me, in a strange way, to warm to Huckabee, if only because, there's something rather ... democratic about his rise.

Ross defends Huckabee's qualifications for the job but is rightfully annoyed that Huckabee hasn't prepared himself for what is after all his moment in the spotlight. After all isn't it Huckabee's duty to seriously apply himself to the study of all that he is deficient in (foreign policy, economics, the whole jazz) especially, now, when it seems like he could win the Republican nomination? Matt Yglesias says the same here.

So why did I end up feeling good about the Huckabee phenomenon? Especially after reading the NYT profile?

Let me explain. In a democratic society, every adult is eligible to vote. The key point however is that every adult is also eligible for political office -- no qualifications are required, anyone can stand for elections. In contrast to other professions (say medicine, or the law) where a credential is required, there is no credentialing in politics. There are no formal qualifications either; we don't expect our politicians to be political theorists or policy analysts. All we ask of them is that they be electable -- if I can win elections, I'm qualified.

But as societies grow more and more complicated, politics itself has become professionalized. To govern complex societies like ours, we want our politicians to be competent and more than that, as per the capitalist ethos, we want them to be motivated by other things beyond public service; we want them to be paid for their hard work. Once they've gotten elected, we ask of them what we ask of any other "professional": that they work hard, that they do their best. What this means is that politics no longer remains a hobby. I can no longer dabble in politics (except may be as a consumer); to stand for elections I need to devote myself to it full time. In time, a lot of actual professions -- that require qualifications and credentials both -- have grown around politics: there are lobbyists, publicists, pollsters, speech writers, all in addition to the media that covers politics (print, television, radio).

That politics is a profession (albeit one without qualifications) is as it should be but it comes at a price. The price is that in order to stand for office -- to , in other words, participate in politics -- one needs a fair amount of acumen. One needs to be able to deal with interest groups and lobbyists, one needs to be able to work the media, one needs to have a substantial amount of funds and oh so much more. So if I were to decide tomorrow to stand for office, it would take me a long while to be able to understand how it all works and even then I'll probably never manage to have enough money to strike out on my own. (The amount of money required to stand for political office is of course, the prime reason why some folks want campaign finance laws but then that's a story for another day). To an outsider, the world of politics is a forbidding world -- and very very hard to get into.

And a look at the contenders for 2008 proves the point. All of them, Republican or Democrat, have huge amounts of funds at their disposal (Romney, Clinton), have a well-oiled political machinery at their disposal (Clinton), were born, so to speak, with silver spoons in their mouths (Romney) and all of them radiate a kind of confidence that they can chart choppy political maneuvering (dealing with lobbyists, big business, unions, big donors, what-have-you) with ease. I

And then there's Mike Huckabee. He seems to have achieved his lead in the Republican nomination despite being the complete opposite of what a Washington insider should be. The guy travels commercially, has no advisers, no funds, no well-oiled machinery, seems to have had no success in getting endorsements, and isn't walled off behind a battery of people who claim to speak for him. And he's leading the Republican nomination! I don't know about you, but I find his rise strangely appealing -- very... there's no other word I can think of ... democratic.

UPDATE: According to Ross Douthat, I have a case of Huckenfreude:
Huckenfreude (n): Pleasure derived from the outrage of prominent conservative pundits over the rising poll numbers of Mike Huckabee. Particularly sharp when the pundits in question are partisans of Rudy Giuliani, but extends to supporters of Mitt Romney as well. Usually experienced by evangelicals, crunchy cons, populists, and other un-airbrushed elements of the conservative coalition. Tends to coexist with an awareness that Huckabee isn't actually ready for prime time, and that his ascendancy may ultimately do their various causes more harm than good.

1 comment:

corbyz said...

"It is now difficult to keep track of the vast array of publicly endorsed and institutionally supported aberrations—from homosexuality and pedophilia to sadomasochism and necrophilia."

-Republican Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, 1998

Also:

"homosexuality is an aberrant, unnatural, and sinful lifestyle, and we now know it can pose a dangerous public health risk" -1992

"If you ask for survivor benefits to be paid to a same-sex survivor, I think we have a right to say no to that." -2003

In 1998, Huckabee supported banning gay men and women from acting as foster parents because "it is not in the best interest of children."

"it is Arkansas public policy to prohibit sodomy to protect the traditional family structure." -1997

And finally:

"Unless Moses comes down with two stone tablets from Brokeback Mountain to tell us something different, we need to keep that understanding of marriage." -(still) Mike Huckabee