Since Mike Huckabee finished third in the 2008 Republican presidential primaries, the former governor of Arkansas, author and ordained Southern Baptist minister seems to have found a new career in television and radio.
"Huckabee," his hour-long show on Fox News Channel on Saturdays at 8 p.m. (repeated at 11 p.m.), is a mix of politics, entertainment and interviews with newsmakers, politicos and celebrities that exploits its namesake's famous humor and his skill as a rock 'n' roll bassist.
Huckabee's daily radio commentary, "The Huckabee Report," is carried on ABC Radio Networks and his seventh book, "Do The Right Thing: Inside the Movement That's Bringing Common Sense Back to America," came out in November.
I talked to Huckabee by telephone Tuesday (Feb. 24) evening as he headed for a meeting in New York City:
Q: Are you secretly happy you're not the president right now?
A: Well, no. I wouldn't characterize (it like) that. I certainly know it's a challenge, but in many ways, in light of the policies that are being put forth, I wish I was.
Q: What's your aerial assessment of President Obama's actions and rhetoric so far?
A: He's completely governing almost opposite of what I had not only expected but had predicted he would do. . Let me give you an example. I thought that he would be much more careful not to stir up controversial things early in his term; that he would have learned from the Clinton debacle of '93; and that he would have left alone a lot of very controversial items like some of the sanctity-of-life issues and same-sex marriage issues. It's been somewhat surprising that he's taken those on immediately.
The other thing that has surprised me is that the rhetoric of his campaign was so built around the importance of hope and a different way of doing business in Washington, and then when he gets there he essentially fills the Cabinet and his administration with very seasoned Washington insiders.
His message has been far more about fear than hope, and rather than give us a locker-room pep talk, he kind of holds our hand and says, "Boys, there's just nothing else we can do." I feel like rather than the coach at halftime telling his team to go out and win, he's the doctor at bedside basically suggesting that we just pull the plug.
Q: Is there anything that leaps to your mind that Obama should be doing differently -- mainly the economic stuff?
A: Absolutely. What we need to be doing is realizing that we got in trouble by spending too much and borrowing what we didn't have. You don't fix that by spending even more and borrowing beyond a credit limit that we've ever, ever imagined. ... There's simply no parallel to that in anybody's repertoire of common sense. Families out there know that if they get in trouble and they've spent up a bunch of money and they've borrowed and they are up to hock to their necks, the thing they've got to do is start paying off what they owe and cut back their spending.
Q: You don't have to be a Noble Prize-winning economist to know that all this money has to be coming from somewhere -- from our descendants in taxes or from the future value of the dollar in inflation.
A: Or both, yeah. I think that's part of the issue. In fact, I'm thinking about ordering the Rosetta Stone program of Mandarin Chinese because if we keep having them buy up our currency, we'll all need to speak it.
Q: Is the GOP -- or what's left of it in Congress -- doing the right thing in bucking Obama's stimulus package?
A: Absolutely. It's about time. They should have bucked the TARP plan, and they should have told the then-Republican president that he had lost his ever-loving mind proposing it. I was just sick to watch people who call themselves conservatives wring their hands and line up and say, "Well, we don't want to do this but we have to." And I thought, "No, you don't have to do that. If it's stupid, don't do it" -- and that was stupid.
Q: Has the GOP defended itself well from criticism that it wasn't being "bipartisan"?
A: I think people forget that bipartisanship is really the burden of the victor, not the loser. The loser doesn't get to just walk in and dictate the terms. So if Obama wants bipartisanship, that means he doesn't throw a bill down on the table already written by Nancy Pelosi and basically put a gun to their heads and tell them, "Here's an offer you can't refuse."
They've had everything but the horse head in bed with them. That's not bipartisanship. Bipartisanship is where you ask for the support but you also are willing to listen and take those ideas from the other side into play and actually incorporate them into the bill, but it didn't happen. This was done in the middle of the night with one party.
Q: You were a very successful Republican governor in the land of Clinton, which was mostly Democrat ...
A: Oh, totally. A lot of people don't know this, but my Legislature was the most lopsided in America. We had 11 out of 100 House members who were Republican and 4 out of 35 senators who were Republican when I first took office (in 1996). It was more lopsided than any in the country, including Massachusetts.
Q: Despite you being a reasonably successful two-term governor, the Republican Party bosses didn't seem to like you or seem to appreciate your entrance onto the stage for the primaries. Why?
A: Part of it was that I had the audacity to suggest that there was a Washington-to-Wall Street axis of power that was ruining the party. Now, what I was excoriated for proves out to be that I was prophetic.
Q: In a line or two, what kind of a Republican are you?
A: I would describe myself as a "total conservative, a conscientious one." And that I believe that one doesn't separate the fiscal and social issues because they are tied together. The theme of my book was that if families and a culture start breaking down, it is going to lead to a larger government and far more expensive government.
The reason I point that out is that having been a governor, most of the cost of government really goes down to the breakdown of social structure. Single mothers, we know, are a basic cause of greater likelihood of educational deficiencies, health deficiencies, criminal activity. ... I'm not saying there are not wonderful single parents out there, but it's inescapable to recognize that when people are raised in fractured families, the likelihood goes up dramatically for poverty and all the things that are associated with it. When there's not a family there to pick up the pieces, government ends up doing it. Whether there are more cops on the street, people having to sandblast the graffiti off the bridges and roadways, counselors at school -- it just gets expensive.
Q: Were you at all punished by conservative Republicans for being too soft on social issues, in the sense that you were too willing to use government to address social issues?
A: I never wanted government to be the first line of defense. In fact, I think really what I got punished for was not having enough money to defend myself against the attacks of the people who had enough money to frame me in a way that was totally inaccurate. Once people started doing their own research and homework, I don't think they ever came to those conclusions.
For example, I would be hit for "Will he raise taxes?" OK. let's take a look at that. We had the worst roads in America, according to Truckers magazine. They were falling apart. So we took a bond issue to the voters and by an 80 percent margin the people of my state voted to rebuild our road system. I'd say that was pretty darn good political leadership to recognize that people wanted better highways 'cause it was safer, more economical. ... Rather than being busted for a fuel tax, which I think you ought to pay as you go, that made more sense to me. I wish the federal government would recognize that if they are going to do something, they ought to pay for it.
Q: Do you plan to run for president again?
A: The honest answer is I don't know. I really don't.
Q: If you did run again, would you stress anything different or would you shift or even change any of your positions?
A: I wouldn't change any positions because those are convictions. That's one of the problems I have with people who take a poll to find out what they believe this week. I think one of the reasons that I got as far as I did was because people knew that what I was saying was consistent with what I had always said and what I had always done.
Q: Your TV show is doing pretty well. You're on Fox with all those "crazy right-wingers." Do you enjoy entertainment enough to give up politics?
A: Well, right now I am just grateful that I have a job. I'm doing that (weekly show) and then every day I am doing twice-daily commentaries on the ABC Radio Networks. It's a terrific platform and I'm enjoying it immensely and I certainly could be content doing that for a long time to come. ... But I don't know. It's just too far to predict what it's going to look like in a couple of years.