Thanks to Newsweek, presidential speculation around Jon Huntsman is once again swirling, and no one could be more delighted than I. I had noticed Jon Huntsman before President Obama named him Ambassador to China (that’s why he’s in the OB&B logo), and I agreed with the cynical speculation at the time that the White House was placing its most formidable potential foe at a distance. Cynics now are snickering that he’s far too much of a long shot, but I wonder if it doesn’t have more to do with keeping Huntsman from public consideration, especially Goldwater conservatives. After all, if the press starts taking the man seriously, we the people might end up doing the same.
One of the weakest dismissals was Huntsman’s “baggage” of having served the Obama administration. He would have to sever his ties with an administration he’s served dutifully, and present a reason as to why he now feels he should replace his former boss. However, I think this presents a similar challenge to the President to criticize Huntsman, who has been a good ambassador. It has the potential to be a campaign between two men who have some respect for each other, and rather than focusing on personality clashes and mudslinging, could instead be a campaign focusing on the serious issues facing this nation. Wouldn’t that be refreshing?
Additionally, the most obvious excuse Huntsman could give for seeking the presidency is the economy, and he’s uniquely qualified as a leader on this issue. If unemployment is still high, the American people will want someone with a proven track record for job growth. Under Huntsman, Utah was one of the top states for economic development and was named the best managed state by the Pew Center. He also happens to be, you know, the current Ambassador to China. Serving the Obama administration to learn more about this important international economic relationship need not be considered a liability in this regard, because it’s not. There would be no one more qualified to discuss China’s impact on our economic situation than Jon Huntsman.
And it is this international experience that puts him head and shoulders above other former governors and eccentric personalities eyeing the White House. While most can claim to be qualified for the office on domestic policy, only Huntsman has recent international service to this country. Should North Korea come up in the GOP primary debates, some people might look a bit in over their head. If the electorate is looking for someone serious about America and its interests, serving as Ambassador to China might look a bit more serious in their eyes than a reality show and a Twitter account.
The real reason the pundits consider Huntsman a long shot is his moderate social positions but, again, what they see as a liability I see as an asset. Shortly before being named Ambassador to China, Huntsman was attacked by the religious right for supporting civil unions. Since then, polling has shown increased support for gay marriage and even large support for gay soldiers from the right. There has always been a segment of conservatives who were fiscally motivated, and didn’t concern themselves with social issues, but their numbers are growing in part to younger voters concerned about economic growth more than their neighbor’s bedroom. The same divide in the conservative ranks also exist among Tea Party supporters. Unless the economy wildly improves, I don’t believe social issues will be the driving motivation for the right and Huntsman’s position on gay rights won’t hurt him. Where the religious right should truly have their conniption fit isn’t Huntsman’s position on homosexuals, but rather his position on evolution and intelligent design.
You see, Jon Huntsman is a firm supporter in science education. He worked to develop science research and economic development in Utah, and was dedicated to improving education. Huntsman understands the need to keep religious dogma out of science classes and how a well educated citizenry is essential to a strong economy. Science could be a wedge that separates the fiscal conservatives from those more concerned with morality, especially if combined with the need to stimulate American economic growth.
Huntsman also reformed taxes in Utah, made the state government more transparent, and worked to improve infrastructure and transportation. Combined with the focus on education and science and technology development, you could get the impression Huntsman has read Adam Smith – he’s a capitalist. That is to say, he’s a person who understands a strong economy needs a simple, fair and transparent tax code; an educated labor pool able to adapt to an ever changing marketplace and capable of creating and utilizing new and improving technologies; and keeping people and commerce moving.
Indeed, “capitalist” might be the dirtiest word the Jon Stewart crowd can lob at Huntsman. His father was the founder of a large chemical company, but before any leftists sink their teeth into that, it’s interesting to note Huntsman is an environmentalist who supports cap and trade. Now – those on the right might consider this a major strike against Huntsman, but consider the growing number of industries who see climate change as an economic opportunity, and perhaps it’s not such a strange position for a chemical industry capitalist to have. Huntsman could make inroads between science, industry and the environment with a knowledge and understanding of each to find solutions that benefit everyone.
With Huntsman, the left would have to ditch their usual list of complaints about right wing politicians being too religiously fundamentalist, extreme, ignorant, bigoted, or inexperienced and they would instead be forced to defend their policies. This is precisely why they fear him. The Democrats know Jon Huntsman would appeal to the independents and moderates needed to win any election, as well as Blue Dog and Reagan Democrats, which is naturally another reason why the Democrats fear him.
Those on the right who are anxious to set the social agenda aside and focus on fiscal responsibility and economic growth should place Huntsman at the top of their list for 2012 contenders. The social issues crowd can take their ball and go home if they wish and intentionally try to hurt themselves and this country by pushing more failed economic policies through an Obama victory but, frankly, they are the reason many Americans shy away from the Republican party in the first place. Huntsman not only presents a great opportunity to get America back on the right track, but the GOP as well. No wonder the pundits want to dismiss him.