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Huckabee nice? What day is it? 

The presidential campaign's conventional wisdom asserts that Mike Huckabee is the nicest and most decent guy in the fray.

One theory goes so far as to say that Republicans are loath to nominate him because he'd surely get eaten up by the rougher, tougher Hillary Clinton.

Barack Obama, asked last week by Jon Stewart to say what he thought of the Republican field, replied that some of the GOP candidates struck him as sincere and decent. Challenged to name names, he came up only with Huckabee.

These judgments probably amuse or dismay former U.S. Sen. Dale Bumpers, whom Huckabee challenged unsuccessfully in 1992 in part with advertising that characterized Bumpers as a pornographer. That was because Bumpers had voted for money for the National Endowment for the Arts.

These judgments probably amuse or dismay the reporter for the Little Rock newspaper whom Huckabee likened to Jayson Blair and Janet Cooke, famously disgraced journalistic frauds. That was because the local reporter had dared to disclose plain facts that Huckabee, in his last days as governor, crushed his office's computer hard drives and depleted his emergency fund.

And these judgments surely outrage the editor of the liberal local weekly, the Arkansas Times, which found itself cut off from routine notifications — i e., professional and human courtesies — by Huckabee's taxpayer-provided press office.

They said George W. Bush was a nice guy. They still do. But he didn't seem so nice when agents in his behalf smeared John McCain in South Carolina with false rumors that McCain's Bangladesh-born and dark-skinned adoptive daughter was his own illegitimate child. Bush didn't seem so nice to New Orleans, and still doesn't. He doesn't seem so nice barreling ahead with a falsely justified and politically doomed war.

Nice guys can finish first, it turns out, but maybe because their seeming niceness is neither thorough nor deep nor defining.

As we discussed here the other day, we all take life's journey as competing parts of an imperfect whole.

The assessment of Huckabee's nicenesss and decency is about 75 percent on target. It's operative three out of every four days, give or take.

It's usually interrupted on that fourth day by his ethical blind spot, hypersensitivity to criticism, general tackiness and hyperbolic counter-offenses. All perhaps were formed and influenced by his pulpit career, which nourished a sense of entitlement and made him accustomed to moral praise.

He can be metaphor-addicted and obsessed with the idea of himself as martyr and victim. So Arkansas becomes a “banana republic” if Democrats are turning out black votes. Just the other day he said being a Republican in Arkansas was like being Michael Vick at the Westminster dog show. One could only surmise that this meant Vick would get repeatedly elected to high office by dog lovers.

Maybe Huckabee can improve his niceness ratio. With those three children out of college and with a better salary as president or vice president, Huckabee might be less inclined to keep his hand out to undisclosed benefactors and for free suits. That class-based chip on his shoulder might even disappear, unless it festered like Nixon's.

Huckabee is a laudably accomplished lower middle-class son of small-town Arkansas. He genuinely is compassionately conservative — which is to say moderate — about the disenfranchised and underprivileged.

As governor he was brave on immigration and school reform. He sincerely champions art and music education for kids. The weight loss and emergence as a marathon runner — those provide evidence of admirable will and discipline.

He made public-private partnerships work when the state got an influx of Katrina evacuees.

Huckabee's tragically turning Wayne Dumond loose revealed his contradiction: He was compassionate toward the castrated man's plight, but thoroughly paranoid and over-reactive in deeming through partisan blinders that Dumond was a victim of Clintonian Delta corruption.

Hillary probably is altogether rougher and tougher, actually. On those three days, that is.

But she'd better watch out on the fourth.

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