The Man Behind the Myth

Now a serious Republican presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee has had shifting stances that seem more calculated than compassionate.

BY Bernice Yeung

December 14 2007 12:00 AM ET

On the national
stage Mike Huckabee of Arkansas was best known as the
affable Republican presidential candidate who plays in a
rock band and dropped 110 pounds after a diabetes
diagnosis -- until his 1992 comments on AIDS
(“we need to take steps that would isolate the
carriers of this plague”) and homosexuality (it
is "an aberrant, unnatural, and sinful lifestyle")
came to light.

But for those who
have watched Huckabee’s ascension from Baptist
minister to Arkansas governor to Republican
presidential candidate, his 1992 remarks were not
altogether surprising. Despite his undeniably winning
personality, Arkansas political observers along the
political spectrum have described Huckabee as someone
who could also be prickly, thin-skinned, and stubborn.
“In Arkansas, when he’d get a level of
inspection, he’d get out of sorts and whiny,”
says Max Brantley, executive editor of the liberal
Arkansas Times, who has covered Huckabee
for 16 years. “He’d blame the media and
then he’d lash out.”

Brantley adds
that the current flap, particularly Huckabee’s
unapologetic refusal to distance himself from his
’92 comment on AIDS, is representative of the
politician he has come to know. “I think it’s
a refusal to admit error and also a blatant and I
think repellent effort to play to the dominant voter
in the primaries who remains homophobic,”
Brantley says. “And he’s obstinate. As a
governor he was not a consensus-builder or a
negotiator. He’s absolutely sure he’s right,
and he never admits it when he’s wrong. He can
be mean and ugly if you cross him. He’s
secretive. He’s very similar to Bush with the
exception that he wasn’t born with a silver
spoon in his mouth.”

But Jay Barth, a
political scientist at Hendrix College in Arkansas who
has written about both state politics and gay and lesbian
politics, says that Huckabee’s 1992 comments
were likely the mark of a political newbie, which is
why those comments and their tone are so inconsistent with
his presidential candidate persona. “He
transitioned from being a minister, where he had a
certain freedom to share his views, to politics, where
it’s important to be more careful and think about the
implications,” Barth says. “I think that
over time, he did grow as a politician. That said, he
has always remained very much a performer. As a result, he
often goes for the cute and gimmicky line that,
especially on gay issues, sometimes leads to some
hurtful humor.”

What else has
Huckabee had to say about gay rights issues over the years,
and what does it reveal about the man behind the sound
bites? Here’s a round-up of some of
Huckabee’s public statements -- what emerges is a
portrait of a keen showman who has become adept at bending
his words in order to reach his audience but whose
policy positions are ultimately antigay.

ON BEING GAY

When he was asked
earlier this year on NBC’s Meet the
Press
whether he believes people are born gay or choose
to be gay, Huckabee responded, “I don't
honestly know. I really don't. I think there are --
there are people who would argue vociferously on both sides
of that. But I think that the point is, people are, are who
they want to be, and we should respect them for that.
But when they want to change the institutions that've
governed our society for all the years of recorded
human history, then that's a serious change of, of culture
that we, we don't just make readily or, or hurriedly.
It has to be done with some, some deep
thought.”

In 1992, Huckabee
also told the Commercial Appeal, a Memphis
newspaper, that he believes being gay is a ''lifestyle
choice'' that should not be ''encouraged or legitimized'' by
government actions. Still, he said he was against gay
bashing: ''I resent sometimes we get on our high
horses about what is right and wrong. 'We can never
lose sight of the fact our real desire needs to be what's
best for our people.''

Analysis: Despite
Huckabee's anti-hate crime rhetoric, Brantley, the
newspaper editor, says gay voters should still be skeptical
of him. “You could go down the line on issues
-- the marriage amendment, the state policy where the
board of his appointment prohibits foster parenting by
gay people, and what I view as animus against employing gay
people, it’s a viewpoint from someone who
doesn’t accept that gay people are part of the
mainstream,” he says.

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