GQ's January interview with Mike Huckabee starts off like this: "There is a reason Mike Huckabee is standing out in a crowded and dull Republican field." Wait. Stop. I know the answer. Because he's fucking nuts?! Ok, so there's more to his campaign than sheer nuttery, which is why this Q&A is fascinating in a laboratory study kind of way. The entire interview after the jump. It's long, but sooo worth it.
Who's more popular in Hope--you or Bill Clinton?
It's a very Democratic town, so I don't know. Most of the people I grew up with are probably gone now. I go back and I don't know half the people anymore.
If it's such a Democratic place, how'd you wind up Republican?
I was raised a Democrat, but my first boss, the manager of the radio station in Hope, was one of about seven Republicans in Hempstead County. He was certainly a big influence. So was Winthrop Rockefeller. He was governor in the '60s, and I remember thinking that he was a different kind of politician: He broke the old Democratic machine in the state and was the first one to really take down racial barriers in Arkansas.
At that time, were there national issues driving you to the right? Social issues like Roe v. Wade?
Law and order. Economic issues. I just felt like Republicans had a better handle on both. The sanctity of life wasn't a big issue until abortions became incredibly more prolific in the later '70s. That's when it became a major, profitable industry. There was literally just this avalanche of abortion mills that sprang up. And it was no longer this rare procedure that was occasionally and rarely used: The Yellow Pages were filled with ads for people pushing abortion like it was a tonsillectomy.
Let's talk about abortion for a minute. If you look at the polls, Rudy Giuliani's leading--
But not because of that issue.
Okay, sure. Maybe you'd say that Giuliani is leading in spite of that issue. How do you feel about a pro-choice candidate being the GOP nominee?
I'm likely to support the Republican nominee whatever our options are--because anybody on our side is better than anybody on their side. In terms of Giuliani's attitude toward court appointments, it'd certainly be better than what I'd expect out of Hillary Clinton.
Pat Robertson--a big, historic figure on the religious right--just endorsed Giuliani. And you have Chuck Norris endorsing you. In the endorsement game, you've got to be feeling pretty good, right?
Yeah. I mean, ask most Americans who'd they rather have: Chuck Norris and his fists or Pat Robertson? I'll take Chuck.
But isn't Robertson's endorsement strange? I mean, you could say that pro-lifers are finally on the verge of overturning Roe v. Wade--you're just one Supreme Court justice away--but there doesn't seem to be a sense of urgency coming from the movement. What's going on?
Now, that's a question I can't answer. It seems that the leaders of the past, those who have been looked to as the bell cows of the movement, are completely out of step with their own followers lately. But if you talk about the people in the rank and file, there's not any confusion at all. The people haven't abandoned their principles. It's almost like that classic cartoon where the guy runs up and says, "Did you see where everybody went? I'm their leader and I need to know who they are." That's kind of what's happening. When I won 54% of the vote in the Washington Values Voters poll and 64% of the one in Ft. Lauderdale, and the next closest candidate to me has 10%, nobody says, hmmmm, those voters look like they're all over the place. They're not all over the place at all. They have it pretty well figured out.
What do you think the leaders are thinking?
They're thinking in terms of political expediency and not in terms of the principles that supposedly got them involved in the movement to begin with. It's kind of like if the NRA suddenly started saying, "Well, you know, guns are important, but what we really care about is global warming." Nobody would take them seriously, because they would have lost their core purpose.
There's a lot of talk in this election about religious conservatives being concerned with issues of poverty, environment, and so on--and people are looking to you as a representative of this new point of view. Do you see yourself that way?
Absolutely. I'm the first candidate coming from the faith perspective who says stewardship of the earth is a matter we have to touch, along with poverty and hunger. Now, quite frankly, that makes some of the--maybe I would call them traditionalist and establishment--Republicans nervous, because they've never talked about these issues before. But we can't just have two issues: marriage and sanctity of life. It has to be broader.
Is the strategy shifting because social conservatives are losing on those core issues? Ten years ago, it would have been unimaginable to have gay marriage even in liberal Massachusetts. Now it's there.
I don't think the issue's about being against gay marriage. It's about being for traditional marriage, and articulating the reason that that's important. You have to have a basic family structure. There's never been a civilization that has rewritten what marriage and family means and survived. So there is a sense in which, you know, it's one thing to say if people want to live a different way, that's their business. But when you want to redefine what family means or what marriage means, then that's an issue that should require some serious and significant debate in the public square. And if you look at when states have it on the ballot--I know in our state it was a 70% against issue. Most states are similar to that.
But if the younger generation keeps going the way it's going, it could be 50% in ten years.
I just wonder what you'd say to the gay couple who says, Well we want to live this way and my partner can't come visit me in a nursing home.
He can with a power of attorney. That's the fallacy: That this requires some new definition of marriage. It's simply not the case.
So why can't you call it a civil union?
Because it really is a precursor toward marriage. Once the government says that this relationship is in essence similar to or equal to a marriage--we're not going to call it that but that's what it is--and you grant it the same basic rights as marriage, then you've effectively done it.
So, generally, do you think it's fair for people to take a candidate's theological convictions into consideration at the polling place?
As long as everyone gets the same scrutiny. That's what I don't think is fair: I've been given an unusual level of scrutiny. No candidate gets quizzed to the depth that I do about faith.
Really? Even Mitt Romney?
He hasn't gotten nearly as much for his Mormonism as I have for being a Baptist. I mean, I've never heard the kind of interviews with him that I got from Bill O'Reilly or Wolf Blitzer. No one's just kept pressing and pressing and going into the details of his doctrine. Not that I've heard.
In the past, being a minister was your job.
Okay, but are you quizzing Rudy Giuliani about being a lawyer? I haven't been a pastor in sixteen years. I mean, if you want to go back sixteen years and ask Fred Thompson, "What were you doing?" I don't mind; I just think that there's--
But don't voters have the right to know whether you believe in, say, evolution?
Only if I were saying that I would, as president, do everything I could to prevent the teaching of certain things. But I'm not. The president doesn't choose eighth-grade textbooks in science. Those are school-board decisions.
Okay, so, you're running for school board: What would you say?
I think people should be exposed to evolution. They should be taught that, yes, this is the prevailing scientific view, but that there are others who happen to view things differently.
How do you view things?
I wasn't there; I don't know. When I get these detailed questions, I just say that I believe that God did it and that I just don't know how he did it.
So you're more of an agnostic on evolution.
I would never want that word ascribed to me. Here's the point I want to make: Even if I had very adamant views about eschatology or creationism, I don't go out as president and say this is the only view Americans should have.
George W. Bush ran in 2000 sounding what some might say are themes similar to yours: He talked about compassionate conservatism, about Democratic issues like education and healthcare--
I would dispute that those are Democratic issues.
Fair enough--then talking about issues that the press has traditionally considered Democratic issues. Do you think the party has gone astray in the Bush years because of compassionate conservatism?
I don't think so. I think there are three things that created the problems of last year. Overspending. The perception of complete inattention to blatant corruption. And the dissatisfaction with the war on Iraq. Those three issues converged and really got the Republicans in trouble. It was not that they talked about education or healthcare--
Well some of that overspending was on healthcare, right? The Republicans passed a multibillion dollar prescription drug entitlement and a lot of conservatives say that was a mistake. What do you think?
About that specific bill?
Mixed. I mean it wasn't a perfect bill. Sometimes what you have to look at is if you're spending money on preventing disease--and in some cases that's what that drug benefit did. It gave people an opportunity to manage or prevent more severe medical conditions. We don't honestly know the full impact of it. But there's always a sense in which you say, well, look how much money you've spent. What you don't know is if you hadn't managed the illness. Let's say a person has diabetes. Here's what we know: a person with diabetes is likely to spend 8.3 days a year in a hospital. If you manage the disease with drugs, you might not have 8.3 days. 8.3 days is a lot more expensive than 12 months worth of drug therapy or insulin therapy. So that's part of the analysis.
You have to spend money to save money.
In some cases.
So in some cases you have to raise taxes to spend money.
Or have a better economy because you have a different tax structure. Which is my point. Part of the reason that I feel like our country has economic issues is because we have a tax structure that penalizes productivity. Change the model and you change the dynamics of the economic game.
If you had to give George W. Bush a grade right now for his time in office, what would you give him?
No, I wouldn't. History is better at looking at things after they've had time to simmer. I'm a pretty good chili maker. I can tell you right now, the chili tastes better two days from now than it does the day you make it, because the flavors get in....
Is it also too soon to give a grade to Bill Clinton?
I think it is, but I would say this about him: We're getting a little closer to an opportunity to evaluate. His record, I think, will ultimately be mixed. There were many, many personal issues that he was obviously an abject failure on. I didn't agree with all his policies or politics, but there were other things Bill Clinton did that kept him from being an absolute, total, 100 percent disaster.
What did Clinton do right?
He signed NAFTA. Supported welfare reform. Those were things that I think had a good and helpful long-term impact on the economy.
Since you think that Clinton's greatest failings were personal, do you also think that's a fair issue to raise about your fellow Republican candidates? Sure, Bill Clinton cheated on his wife, but he stayed with her. You're running against people who've had multiple wives.
I have a lot of respect for the fact that he and Hillary kept their marriage together--a lot of people wouldn't and couldn't. It's a remarkable achievement, and I've publicly commended it. And look, Republicans can't have two sets of rules: If we're going to say that what he did matters, we have to say that it also matters for us.
But what about your opponents? You clearly think that Clinton's personal life adversely affected his presidency.
It's up to the voters to decide what they want in the president. If they think those things matter, they'll raise them. But I'm not going to.
One last thing: A few years ago, GQ asked John Kerry to choose the Beatles or the Stones, and he tried to have it both ways. I know you're a Stones man.
I am. I love the Beatles, and that's what first got me into music, but the Beatles--they're gone. The Stones are still around. Their music has endured for generations, and it's a pure and earthy kind of rock 'n' roll. It's endured because it's about the artist, and not about the studios and the production.
You love them enough to have pardoned Keith Richards, right?
One of my last acts as governor was to issue a pardon for a traffic violation that he had in 1975 when he and Ronnie Wood were driving through Arkansas. He got pulled over for a reckless-driving charge. I was a college student when it happened, and I was so embarrassed: I thought, Golly, we finally got the Rolling Stones in Arkansas, and what do we do? They played a concert while I was governor, and I was invited backstage to meet the band. I'm having this conversation with Keith, and he's telling me that he'd been in Arkansas before. And I said, "Keith, I can do something for you that no other human being on earth can do. I'm the only one with the power to do this. I can pardon you and get that o your record. You can have a clean start in Arkansas."
Do you ever worry that the bands you love have done more to unravel the social fabric than, say, gay marriage has?
You always separate the art and the artist, whether it's Van Gogh or Keith Richards. You can appreciate the work of somebody even if you don't necessarily want to replicate their lifestyle. You still have respect for what they are able to accomplish. And besides, it gives me a very, very important project. Now that I've pardoned Keith Richards, wouldn't it be incredible if that somehow led to my being able to give him a full pardon before God for all the things he's done?
So you really think you can have the rock 'n' roll without the sex and drugs?
Well, I have.
Photo credit: Jeff Minton/GQ