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Huckabee's monstrous lie 

Beware the man who runs for political office insisting he isn't a politician just as you should beware the man who boasts loudly of his own virtue and the one who says he isn't in it for the money.

Even less than the lifetime politician will he be bound by one paramount but often violated rule of public life: faithfulness to the truth.

For the political candidate who claims to stand above the scruffy world of politics, proclaiming your truthfulness and steadfastness to principle is often enough. It spreads a patina of honesty over the crafty distortions and the little lies that follow. When he's caught, the non-politician complains that he's held to a higher standard than ordinary politicians.

These old ruminations from long experience with pols and anti-pols come to mind again on reading about Mike Huckabee, the preacher turned non-politician, announcement that he's running for the United States Senate.

This is Lt. Gov. Huckabee's fourth statewide political race in four years. No one in Arkansas has devoted himself more tirelessly to running for political office than he, and no one has learned and practiced more single-mindedly the grubbier arts of politics: raising money, getting publicity and crafting messages that will grab this or that group of angry or confused voters.

Yet he wishes to be known still as not a politician.

And this is the message of this early campaign, as Huckabee articulates it in ads:

He is going to Washington to stand up for Arkansas working people, whose hard-earned money is being siphoned off in taxes to support the lifestyles of shiftless men. The working people, he says, "get up at 6 in the morning, fix a sandwich, work all day and come home after dark...[and] are tired of coming home knowing that half their paycheck will go to those who get up at 10, watch Oprah all afternoon and cruise town all night."

It is a great applause line. It taps what may be the greatest fear and resentment of Americans today--indolent young black men who account for so much street crime. That and, of course, taxes.

Those are worthy things to discuss. The only thing wrong with Huckabee's wonderful line is that it is not true. It goes far beyond even the standard shibboleths of the Republican right about welfare and taxes.

A 50 percent tax rate to pay for welfare programs for unemployed young men?

The lie is so monstrous that it cannot qualify as exaggeration, and it should not be granted the license of political hyperbole.

This disregards the question of whether the remark is a subtle racial appeal of the Willie Horton variety. Huckabee may have been talking about white men on welfare who watch Oprah Winfrey all afternoon and carouse all night killing, stealing and otherwise creating mischief, but not many voters will grasp that meaning.

That is a separate matter, though. We may be too sensitive and do Rev. Huckabee a disservice.

But not with the stated message. Are working people, through their taxes, providing a living to young men who don't want to work? To the extent they do, does it consume half a family's weekly earnings? A fourth? A tenth? All the welfare programs combined--for the elderly poor, children, poor pregnant mothers, the disabled--do not account for 10 percent or even 5 percent of a person's pay check.

Well, 1 percent?

Of course not. What welfare program is supposed to support young men? Not Medicaid, the largest program. It is mostly for the elderly, but it also provides succor for children and pregnant mothers. Some indolent teen-agers benefit from dependent children checks and some from government-assisted housing. Huckabee would be pressed to show that, even if it is too much, it amounts even to a fourth of 1 percent of anyone's pay. The amount is something more than the taxpayers ante up for housing subsidies for preachers.

America pays a terrible economic and social cost, through crime and the loss of their productivity, for the disaffection, hopelessness and anger of millions of young black men. It begs for political discussion.

If that is Rev. Huckabee's intention, he disguises it with subtlety. The way out of horrendous social problems isn't found through lies or the stirring of ignorant rage.

Print headline: "Huckabee's monstrous lie" November 3, 1995.

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