By Freedom New Mexico
Editor’s note: The following profiles of presidential candidates are intended to help voters decide whether individual freedom will advance or retreat if the candidate is elected.
Today we focus on leading Republican candidates. We looked at Democrats on Wednesday.
Although former Arkansas Gov. (and ordained Baptist minister) Mike Huckabee’s candidacy is now on the ropes, he rose from relative obscurity following his victory in the Iowa Republican caucuses.
The Iowa Repub-lican grass-roots is dominated by evangelical Christians, and Huckabee played up his religious views, arguing, “My faith is my life — it defines me. My faith doesn’t influence my decisions, it drives them.”
His critics have rightly wondered where such faith would be taking him. Christianity doesn’t lay out a set of principles of government, so policy issues become a matter of interpretation; even Christians of various beliefs come to wildly different conclusions.
Huckabee is conservative on the social issues, such as gay marriage and abortion, characteristic of the religious right. But his economic policies would more aptly be termed religious left.
The religious right wants Christian-based moral standards, while the religious left wants to use government to redistribute wealth.
As governor, Huckabee was zealous for tax increases of all sorts. He has embraced elements of the Nanny State agenda, such as his past support for a federal ban on smoking in public places. Having lost 105 pounds, he has promoted policies to crack down on fatty foods.
We’ve described him in the past as a cross between Hillary Clinton and Pat Robertson, someone who embraces the Left’s zeal for big, meddlesome government with support for conservative moral positions.
He seems to want government to be involved in all aspects of people’s lives, personal and economic. That makes him as close to a polar opposite of the libertarian position as we’ll find in a candidate.
And yet Huckabee does take some surprising positions. He is altogether too pro-war for our tastes, yet he is one of only two GOP candidates to call for a shutdown of Guantanamo.
Although he has taken a tougher anti-immigration stance to woo GOP base voters, his previous immigration position was less Draconian than most Republicans. He has criticized “three strikes” legislation and has been more reasonable on some crime issues.
We are fascinated by Huckabee’s attempt to create a “Christian” political approach, but we’d be far more interested if he promoted a constitutional one instead.
Arizona Sen. John McCain has a few good qualities from an individual freedom perspective, including personal courage and a generally anti-waste, anti-tax record in the U.S. Senate.
He has been an untiring opponent of pork-barrel spending accomplished through “earmarks” for special spending projects. He now says he supports making President Bush’s tax cuts permanent. And he has advocated immigration reform that is both more compassionate and more realistic than the build-the-fence-and-send-’em-back position.
On a wide range of issues, however, he has actively pushed policies at odds with a genuinely pro-freedom agenda or even a limited-government constitutional position.
He voted against the president’s tax cuts in 2001 and 2003. He has starred in advertisements on behalf of mandatory gun-trigger locks, a requirement of dubious usefulness and constitutionality. He even introduced legislation in 2004 to create a federal boxing commission, a completely unnecessary new agency.
Perhaps most egregiously, he was a principal sponsor of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance restrictions law, which sought to outlaw even issue advertisements in the last days of political campaigns. These provisions are restrictions on the very kind of speech — political speech — that the authors of the First Amendment considered most important.
John McCain has worked actively to mandate background checks on gun buyers at gun shows. He has endorsed onerous legislation to deal with climate change, even restrictions on carbon emissions that would do great damage to the economy while having a negligible impact on global warming.
McCain’s famous temper, often displayed in profanity-laden tirades about fellow Republicans, suggests a temperament unsuited to wielding great power. He has, if anything, been more aggressive than President Bush in support of the war in Iraq, and it is more than possible that he would involve the U.S. in more unnecessary military operations if elected.
McCain now looks like a front-runner (although that’s a tenuous title this year), and he just might win the Republican nomination. But his election would be unlikely to lead to greater individual liberty in a country that already restricts it in ways that would appall our forefathers and mothers.
If there is any candidate who in many ways comes closest to the libertarian values to which our editorial pages are devoted, it is 10-term Texas Republican Rep. Ron Paul, who has made more of a splash, drawn more votes and raised more money in the early primaries than almost anybody expected.
In the process, this quiet, unassuming medical doctor with little of the personal charisma one often associates with politicians has become the inspiration for what may be the most impressive pro-freedom mass movement in modern times.
Paul may not be a perfect candidate by our lights. His position on immigration is barely distinguishable from that of other border hawks. We are unaware that he has acknowledged that the fundamental reason there are so many people in this country illegally is that the quotas are too low. The alternatives to fixing the quotas are recession or repression.
Paul also allowed his name to be used on newsletters in the early 1990s that included questionable rhetoric about blacks and gays. He didn’t write them, and he’s no bigot, but he could have exercised better control.
He has been right from the beginning, however, on the most important issue of recent times, the ill-advised war in Iraq. Despite considerable abuse from other GOP candidates, he has not backed down on this key issue. He combines it with a thoroughgoing critique of U.S. foreign policy, making the case for a strong defense of the U.S. itself and a policy of nonintervention in the affairs of other countries, combined with free and open trade.
During his time in Congress, Paul promised not to vote for legislation or spending that, in his view, violated the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution was explicitly written to create a government of strictly limited powers and prerogatives.
Paul has sometimes been alone in the way he voted, opposing boondoggles that might have benefited interests in his district and earning him the nickname, “Dr. No.” Yet he has explained himself well enough to the folks back in Texas that he has won re-election each time he has sought it. Politicians with such firm principles don’t come around that often.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has emerged as the most traditional Republican candidate, who seeks to put back together the Reagan coalition of defense hawks, economic free-marketers and social conservatives.
His big problem, for many conservatives, however, has been the lack of credibility he brings as a tried-and-true conservative, given his former pro-choice stance on the abortion issue and his promotion of a government-driven health care system in the Bay State.
Romney has at least a plausible argument — he governed as conservatively as possible given that he was running the country’s most liberal state.
From a freedom perspective, probably his most appealing moments came during his successful Michigan primary campaign, when he positioned himself as a can-do executive who can revive the state’s economic fortunes. That has become a campaign theme.
Unfortunately, as Michigan went down to the wire, his free-market principles morphed into a cross between corporatism and pandering.
He promised he would bring jobs back to Michigan and promised to sit down with corporate and union leaders to fix things. Old industries that have been the foundation of the Michigan economy have moved to less-costly areas of the country and the world, places less burdened by high taxes and union work rules. That’s the market at work, and there’s nothing even the best government manager can do about it.
Romney has taken welcome shots at Democratic big-government liberalism: “I think they (Democratic candidates) take their inspiration from the Europe of old, big government, Big Brother, big taxes.”
But he has pledged to increase the size of the military, an irresponsible promise given economic realities. We believe instead the problem is America’s overcommitment in military endeavors. We’re also troubled by his refusal to allow even the slightest reduction in the “war on drugs” and his heavy-handed approach on immigration policy.
But Romney’s traditional Republican appeal — if he can shed the image of flip-flopping — could win him the nomination if John McCain’s strategy of winning over independent and moderate voters falls short.