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Who's parsing now? 

Gov. Mike Huckabee has always had much in common with Bill Clinton. An audience-attuned glibness is but one of their shared characteristics, along with a Hope birthplace, Baptist upbringings, big appetites now curbed and at least one obvious moral blind spot. (In The Huckster’s case it’s a love of money, perks and power that has periodically put him in compromising positions.)

Today the subject is wordplay and Huckabee’s need to learn, as Clinton did, that presidential candidates’ words are generally recorded and subject to cross-check.

Huckabee visited the editorial board of the Concord (N.H.) Monitor last week, one of many such stops he’s making as he prepares the ground for a 2008 presidential bid.

You should know, as Huckabee probably did, that the Concord newspaper endorsed John Kerry in 2004. You should know, too, that New Hampshire’s motto is Live Free or Die. There’s a strong live-and-let-live streak in the state’s voters. They haven’t approved same-sex marriage or civil unions, but they haven’t hurried to pass a law or constitutional amendment banning them either. A 2003 Granite State Poll by the University of New Hampshire showed 54 percent willing to support civil unions of same-sex couples.

With that context, we now turn to the Huckabee editorial board interview. In a news account of the interview, Huckabee was quoted as calling himself a “paradoxical Republican.” Afer all, he's backed both tax cuts and expensive government social programs. Indeed, the strongest growth in Arkansas during the Huckabee era (the weakest economic record of a modern governor, according to a recent study) was in the government jobs sector.

The article also said this: “He’s against gay marriage — ‘That’s not marriage,’ he said — but open to state-supported civil unions.”

“Open” to state-supported civil unions? I was surprised. In a 2002 candidate survey by Project Vote Smart reported in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Huckabee said he opposed civil unions. He endorsed the Arkansas constitutional amendment that outlawed both same-sex marriage and civil unions. This month, he’s enthusiastically endorsed a South Carolina proposal that would similarly ban civil unions as well as gay marriage.

I asked the newspaper for the direct quote. I received a transcript of a tape recording of the session. Huckabee’s comment on civil unions came when he was asked if he would leave such matters as gay marriage to the states.

“I think we should. . . . If people want to live a certain way, that’s their business. I can respect that. If they want to change the definitions of institutions, then that needs to be thoroughly aired in the public square and decided upon by the whole culture.”

He went on to say “ … I don’t have a problem with there being a federal marriage amendment, in fact I would support it. Because then you’d have uniformity in that definition. …”

What about civil unions, he was asked by the newspaper.

“I would tend to leave that to the state, as long as they wanted to not call it a marriage. Now if they’d call it a marriage, then I’d have a problem with it, because again, you’re redefining an institution, you’re not simply allowing people to live.”

So. It appears that Huckabee is open to civil unions (when speaking in more tolerant New Hampshire) except when he’s against them (in Arkansas and South Carolina and undoubtedly other states with a less pronounced live-and-let-live streak). And they said Clinton was slick.


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