As we know, Mitt Romney is not all that likeable. Now Mike Huckabee, there's a likeable guy. He used to say (and maybe still does) that he's a conservative, but he's not angry about it. It was a clever line, positing himself as the happy warrior and other Republicans as needlessly unpleasant. Huckabee has an easy smile and a friendly laugh. He plays bass. He invites liberals on his television and radio shows to have respectful discussions about issues. So how do we interpret it when Huckabee allows fundraising letters to be sent out under his name that say things like this:
"Listen, you're a person of faith and so am I. In his administration and now on his re-election campaign, President Obama has surrounded himself with morally repugnant political whores with misshapen values and gutter-level ethics."
Yeesh. Should this lead us to change our opinion of Huckabee? Or can you be a likeable guy and a vicious partisan at the same time? Now maybe Huckabee never saw the letter, but I doubt it. It's not like he's running a corporation with 50,000 employees that puts out hundreds of documents every day. And honestly, I always found Huckabee to be a contradiction, someone with a pleasant persona and some decidedly unpleasant views. But this is a good reminder that we shouldn't substitute our impressions of someone's manner for a judgment about how they'll perform in their public duties.
This works in the opposite direction, too. Let's take Rick Santorum. His views on just about everything are pretty much what Mike Huckabee's are. He got a lot of attention for his harshly judgmental opinions about gay people, but I can't remember Huckabee ever saying anything substantively different. The reason Santorum stands out is that he is a deeply unpleasant person. He always looks like he just stepped in dog poop, the dog poop being the moral sewer that is American culture. You can see him tense up when he's confronted by people who disagrees with him, while Huckabee smiles and laughs, disarming people with his affability. But they both believe the same things. I doubt a Huckabee presidency would have been much different from a Santorum presidency.
It's easy to get this kind of misleading impression about someone, particularly because figuring out the substance of what someone believes can be a lengthy and tedious process, but we're all very good at making quick judgments about whether or not we like a person. And the consequences can be serious. You might remember that when John Roberts got nominated to the Supreme Court, he was roundly praised for being so personable and reasonable. He smiled and spoke slowly and carefully. He talked in baseball metaphors. Everything about his manner made him seem moderate and thoughtful. And in the end, he turned out to be the very definition of a radical conservative judicial activist.