Updated at 11:14 a.m. on February 22.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s new book, A Simple Government, reads like “Conservatism for Dummies.” Part manifesto and part how-to manual, it provides a step-by-step guide to applying conservative principles to executing the responsibilities of the federal government.
The subtitle of the former (and perhaps future?) GOP presidential candidate's book -- "Twelve Things We Really Need from Washington (and a Trillion That We Don’t!)" -- gives the reader a pretty good idea of what they’re getting themselves into: a 12-step program from a onetime Baptist preacher on how to fix the government Americans seem to love to hate. Huckabee tackles everything from faith to foreign policy, from education to debt and health care.
Huckabee manages to make his case while maintaining his image as the most likable of Obama's potential Republican opponents. Right off the bat, he declares that he doesn't intend to write “a campaign book or a slam against the Democrats.” He later adds that he doesn’t “doubt for a minute that Barack Obama loves our country and wants to make it better,” noting that “respect and civility go a long way in campaigns and governance.”
That said, Huckabee wastes little time going on the offensive.
“I believe that every American has a right and responsibility to speak up when they’re unhappy with the way our government is run, and that’s why I’m writing this book," he says in the introduction. "Because as much as I respect President Obama as a human being, I can’t help but think that just about everything he thinks is good for America is actually bad for our present and worse for our future.”
While the book prescribes a number of specific treatments for the country’s fiscal and social ills, Huckabee’s broader argument is that America in 2008 elected a president who installed a bigger, more bureaucratic government that smothers American innovation and saddles future generations with insurmountable debt. Had the country had elected someone more conservative, he argues, the federal government would have gotten smaller -- and the private sector would be sizzling instead of sputtering.
But will readers have a chance to swap Obama for Huckabee in 2012? While he doesn't say so directly, there are plenty of indications in Huckabee's book that he's iffy about another White House run. Indeed, Huckabee told reporters on the eve of the book’s release that he’ll be anxious to gauge its reception as he promotes it in some of the states that will hold the earliest presidential eliminations, such as Iowa and South Carolina.
“Quite frankly, part of the process is to be able to gauge reaction to the message,” Huckabee said.
But while the book doesn't take a bullish tone on running for president in 2012, Huckabee isn't shy about comparing Obama's record as president with his as governor and suggesting that most Americans prefer his vision to the president's.
“I spend a lot of time talking to voters -- from all over the country and both sides of the fence -- and I’ve found that people actually want much less from their government than politicians think,” Huckabee writes.
The book does very little to shed light on how Huckabee is approaching the 2012 cycle -- except for his unequivocal ambivalence about the media-driven process.
“America will be looking for a thoughtful, mature, seasoned, and tempered leader, but that search will likely be lost in a sea of ‘gotcha’ games while political hacks and media hit men look for the slightest aberration in a candidate’s history," he writes. "I actually dread the process, having been through it before and contemplating whether to enter it again.”
Huckabee is one of the few potential candidates who doesn’t boast longstanding personal wealth, and he would have to forfeit his lucrative contract with Fox News before declaring his candidacy. That's one reason the former governor, who grew up poor in Hope, Ark., a birthplace he shares with President Clinton, and recently built a mansion in Florida, is thought to be leaning against another run.
One passage puckishly underscores Huckabee's preoccupation with providing for his family. After saying his book “is intended for about 80 percent of the American people,” Huckabee writes: “And if just half of that group would read it and take it to heart, my wife and I would be set for quite a few of the golden years!”
Notice he doesn’t say, “And if just half of that group would read it and take it to heart, together we can take our country back in 2012!”
Certainly that’s just one interpretation of one potentially prescient passage pulled from a book with hundreds of them. But it does little to alter the impression that this is a book written by a man whose primary interest is in prescribing conservative governing principles, rather than implementing them.