"I'm a conservative, but I'm not mad at everybody over it." — Mike Huckabee
I'm writing this to say just one thing: I like Mike.
That would be Michael Dale Huckabee, former Baptist preacher, former governor of Arkansas, former GOP presidential candidate, current Fox News personality, the guy quoted above being flagrantly reasonable during an interview on The Daily Show. I like Mike.
The proximate reason I say that is his recent refusal to support a knuckleheaded idea being touted by many of his conservative brethren: altering the 14th Amendment to curtail illegal immigration. But I could have said it a few months ago when he sided with Arizona Hispanics who feared that state's new immigration law could be used to profile them. I could have said it two years ago when he dissected the Jeremiah Wright controversy with a sense of nuance and compassion seldom found among conservatives when they speak of race.
"We've got to cut some slack," he said, "to people who grew up being called names, being told you have to sit in the balcony when you go to the movie, you have to go to the back door to go into the restaurant, you can't sit out there with everyone else. ... And you know what? Sometimes people do have a chip on their shoulder and resentment, and you have to just say, 'I probably would, too. If fact, I may have had more of a chip on my shoulder, had it been me.'"
I like Mike.
And yes, I know what some of you are thinking: I like Mike because he agrees with me.
Actually, he doesn't. Yes, we have points of concurrence. But on any number of issues -- reproductive rights, guns, same sex marriage, HIV/AIDS education -- the distance between us yawns like canyons. Indeed, Huckabee has said some things I find downright appalling. For instance, he once called for people with HIV and AIDS to be quarantined. And he is unfortunately fond of the silly non sequitur likening gay marriage to polygamy.
But here's the thing:
Just when you've got him figured as another guy glued to his talking points on the issues that divide and define, he will surprise you by showing evidence of actual thought. Like the John McCain of yore, he will deviate from what his ideological kin are all tonelessly repeating like windup toys and follow conscience to some other conclusion.
In his debates with Stewart on The Daily Show, Huckabee comes across as a guy you can reason with. Not necessarily a guy you will agree with, but one who will willingly join you in an honest search for common ground. That is a rarity.
So much of what purports to be political discourse these days is instead this primal scream of self righteousness and outrage. So much of it seems predicated upon the presumption that ideology is identity and reason, treason.
How often have you heard a politician say something intellectually dishonest, and you knew it was intellectually dishonest and he knew it was intellectually dishonest and you knew he knew, and you knew he knew you knew -- but he went and said it anyway.
Because he's not trying to convince anyone of the fitness of his ideas, nor persuade them to his point of view. No, his only object is to tick off his talking points, hit his applause lines, score for his side.
Sometimes you wonder if anyone is still on the country's side. You couldn't prove it by most of what passes for leadership these days. Which is why we never seem to reach national consensus, never seem to find compromise, never do anything except boil with a free floating, self-perpetuating anger.
But Huckabee seems to have the novel idea that it's more important to find answers than win arguments, more important to speak conscience than parrot talking points. That's why, even when I disagree with him, I like Mike.
And why I wish other politicians would take note.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla. 33132. Readers may write to him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. He chats with readers every Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. EDT at Ask Leonard.