As the hopeless but energetic presidential campaign of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) builds momentum in name recognition, fundraising and cross-ideology appeal, some conservatives are beginning to attack him in earnest. A GOP consultant condemns Paul's "increasingly leftish" positions. Syndicated columnist Mona Charen calls Paul "too cozy with kooks and conspiracy theorists." Film critic and talk-radio host Michael Medved looks over Paul's supporters and finds "an imposing collection of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, Holocaust deniers, 9/11 'truthers' and other paranoid and discredited conspiracists."
For the most part, these allegations strike me as overblown and unfair. But, for argument's sake, let's say they're not. Let's even say that Paul has the passionate support of the Legion of Doom, that his campaign lunchroom looks like the "Star Wars" cantina, and that his top advisors have hooves instead of feet.
Well, I would still find him less scary than Mike Huckabee.
While many are marveling at Paul's success at breaking out of the tinfoil-hat ghetto, Huckabee's story is even more remarkable. The former Arkansas governor and Baptist minister is polling in second place in Iowa and could conceivably win there. He's still a long shot to take the nomination and a pipe dream to take the presidency, but Huckabee matters in a way that Paul still doesn't. One small indicator of Huckabee's relevance: His presidential opponents are attacking Huckabee while ignoring Paul like he's an eccentric sitting too close to you on the bus.
What's so scary about Huckabee? Personally, nothing. He seems a charming, decent, friendly, pious man.
What's troubling about The Man From Hope 2.0 is what he represents. Huckabee represents compassionate conservatism on steroids. A devout social conservative on issues such as abortion, school prayer, homosexuality and evolution, Huckabee's a populist on economics, a fad-follower on the environment and an all-around do-gooder who believes that the biblical obligation to do "good works" extends to using government - and your tax dollars - to bring us closer to the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.
For example, Huckabee would support a nationwide ban on public smoking. Why? Because he's on a health kick, thinks smoking is bad and believes the government should do the right thing.
And therein lies the chief difference between Paul and Huckabee. One is a culturally conservative libertarian. The other is a right-wing progressive.