Mike Huckabee has his charms.
Though Arkansas reporters have been subjected to his mean streak, he can be as warm and folksy as a good country preacher (which he is). He can also be as slick and glib as a good televangelist (which he has been).
But don't let the packaging fool you. Huckabee's theocratic tendencies are dangerous, and he shouldn't be on any ticket, even as vice president.
With McCain permanently in the lead, many political observers believe Huckabee is angling for the second spot. After all, McCain has received precious little support from social conservatives, a vital constituency of the GOP coalition. (Indeed, McCain hasn't received much support from conservatives of any stripe. He has won several primaries because he has received strong support from moderate-to-liberal Republicans and independents.) He could shore up his base by bringing Huckabee aboard.
And Huckabee would be a lively campaigner. He plays bass guitar; he can deliver a rousing speech; his easy sense of humor might offset McCain's biting wit. Huckabee's working-class roots and authentic persona serve him well on the campaign trail, where he gets added style points for his successful battle against obesity. When he mentions improving Americans' health by emphasizing preventive care, he speaks from experience. He doesn't seem the sort of scary right-winger who chases off independents and professional women who support abortion rights.
Look more closely. He is even scarier than Dick Cheney.
Cheney has merely subverted the U.S. Constitution; he hasn't actually tried to rewrite the founding document to restrict human rights or civil liberties. (While Cheney's record includes stated support for an amendment banning abortions, the Bush White House never pushed for it.) When Karl Rove plotted to keep the enthusiasm of ultraconservative Christians by scapegoating gays and lesbians, Cheney - whose lesbian daughter, Mary, lives openly with her partner, Heather, and their baby boy - refused to support a marriage amendment.
Huckabee, by contrast, would not merely use the issue as a wedge. He believes what he says. Campaigning in Michigan last month, he declared his strong support for constitutional amendments banning abortions and gay marriage.
"I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution," Huckabee said. "But I believe it's a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God. And that's what we need to do - to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards so it lines up with some contemporary view."
The last thing we need is another president or vice president who believes he can interpret God's standards.
But let's give Huckabee credit for his sincerity, a clear contrast to the cyncism with which Rove and other GOP honchos used gay marriage and other wedge issues to divide and conquer. Further, the former Arkansas governor has a core of decency that makes his conservativism more compassionate than that of President Bush, who liked the sound of the phrase but never seemed to grasp its meaning. Huckabee's tenure as governor revealed an empathy for the poor and a forebearance toward illegal immigrants that deserve plaudits. (Those very stances, by the way, have brought him grief from some sectors of the GOP establishment.)
But Huckabee has no business being a heartbeat away from the presidency - especially if McCain is the president. If the Arizona senator were to win the White House on Nov. 4, he would be the oldest person to be inaugurated for a first term. While he has been robust enough to compete well in the grueling nominating process, his vice president matters.
My favorite president ever, Josiah Bartlet of The West Wing, expressed his support for his well-qualified vice president - despite their rocky relationship - with the simple phrase: "Because I could die." Any presidential candidate ought to carefully consider that fundamental truth.
As for Huckabee, he'd make a fine addition to the roster of high-profile theocrats currently on the political scene - James Dobson, Gary Bauer and Pat Robertson, to name a few. At least Huckabee can play Lynyrd Skynyrd.