December 13, 2007
Huckabee doesn't heart gays
Posted by: Chris
Mike Huckabee's surge to the top of GOP polls in Iowa and nationwide has brought the expected scrutiny of his record and, ironically for a candidate courting social conservatives, it is on those same issues that he is withering a bit in the spotlight.
First came Huckabee's outrageous statement from his 1992 campaign for U.S. Senate in support of quarantining people with AIDS.
"If the federal government is truly serious about doing something with the AIDS virus, we need to take steps that would isolate the carriers of this plague," Huckabee wrote.
"It is difficult to understand the public policy towards AIDS. It is the first time in the history of civilization in which the carriers of a genuine plague have not been isolated from the general population, and in which this deadly disease for which there is no cure is being treated as a civil rights issue instead of the true health crisis it represents."
Advocating quarantine would have been outlandish enough in 1982, when HIV first emerged, but it was flat-earth territory to do so a full decade later -- six years after Surgeon General C. Everett Koop confirmed the already accepted view that casual contact could not spread the virus.
Huckabee's citation to the Kimberly Bergalis drama is a red herring; even if health care workers with HIV posed a risk, and it turns out they did not if they followed simple protocol, his support for "isolating plague carriers" was not limited to those in medicine.
Given the opportunity last week to distance himself from those views, Huckabee made clear that he's more concerned with being seen as a Mitt Romney flip-flopper than with alienating moderates. At a news conference, he said:
“The one thing I feel like is important to note is that you stick by what you said,” said Huckabee. “I’m not going to go around changing my opinion on everything.” …
Contesting those who say it was “common knowledge” in 1992 that AIDS could not be spread by casual contact, Huckabee said the nation was in “real panic” after the case of a patient contracted the disease from a dentist.
What's most striking is that Huckabee acknowledges the "panic" surrounding the AIDS virus but rather than clarifying how he didn't fall victim to it, he essentially advocates it as valid justification for public policy, even when the science was clearly to the contrary.
There's also no question, of course, that Huckabee's ridiculously harsh view about AIDS was informed by general animus toward gays, since he also said in that 1992 questionnaire, "I feel homosexuality is an aberrant, unnatural, and sinful lifestyle, and we now know it can pose a dangerous public health risk."
As off-the-wall as Huckabee's views may sound, they were within the mainstream among Arkansas conservatives at the time. I know because I come from a family of conservative Arkansas Republicans. Born and raised in Little Rock and just across the river in Memphis, I regularly debated a very intelligent uncle over whether AIDS could be spread by mosquitoes and whether it was, as Billy Graham had said, God's retribution against homosexuals. I was no bleeding heart, but my views were nonetheless seconded by no one.
Huckabee's refusal to budge from his 1992 views on AIDS, while endearing him to hard-core conservatives like my kin, risks alienating not just moderates but Republicans who want to nominate someone who is electable. Worse yet, in avoiding at all costs appearing like Mitt Romney or Rudy Giuliani, who have flip-flopped the other direction on social issues, Huckabee invites an even more damaging comparison: to the current occupant of the White House.
Whatever currency he gains with conservatives by rewriting the science of AIDS and sticking to inflammatory anti-gay rhetoric, he undermines his credibility with Americans -- including many Republicans -- who want a president who will unite the country and not stick stubbornly to views even when all evidence is to the contrary.
We've seen what happens when a president buys into public panic -- in Bush's case about terrorism and "weapons of mass destruction" -- ignoring the data and the qualifiers put on the most dire warnings from experts. The last thing Americans want -- or need -- is another president like that.
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