See update below for Governor Huckabee’s response.
Mike Huckabee offered a strange analysis of national priorities at a conference on diabetes in Washington. He told the audience that diabetes presents a bigger threat to Americans than terrorism, which is both true and utterly pointless at the same time. He also underscored the suspicion which Republican primary voters had about his nanny-state tendencies (via JWF):
An advocate for better health since his diabetes diagnosis five years ago, Mike Huckabee warned Wednesday that the illness may pose a greater threat than terrorism to the United States.
Nearly 59 million Americans are at risk for type 2 diabetes. The former Arkansas governor said the epidemic would be “the lead story” across the country if tens of millions were in danger of terrorist attacks.
“The greatest challenge to America may not be something from without, it may be something from within,” Huckabee said. “It’s our own unhealthy habits.”
Huckabee, who made an unsuccessful run for the Republican presidential nomination this year, was the keynote speaker at a conference on diabetes.
About two-thirds of Americans are overweight, a major diabetes risk factor. According to a Gallup survey released Wednesday, 24 percent of adults have been diagnosed with diabetes or are at risk for the disease.
I’m not about to dispute the fact that diabetes is a terrible disease. The First Mate had diabetes for over forty years until she got a pancreas transplant in 2005. It blinded her, caused kidney disease which led to three kidney transplants, and gave her degenerative neuropathy which plagues her to this day. We live with the consequences of it every day.
Millions of Americans suffer from diabetes in one form or another, which makes Huckabee’s terrorism comparison technically correct. However, diabetes control isn’t a primary responsibility of the federal government. National security is. And while diabetes is a manageable disease, terrorism isn’t. No tolerable level of terrorism exists for any nation.
The federal government has a Constitutional responsibility to protect us from attack, terrorist or otherwise. The people themselves have responsibility for managing illnesses and maintaining their health. Huckabee forgot the distinction at times during the campaign, sounding more like a nanny-state politician bent on imposing health-related mandates at the federal level, and it sounds like he still hasn’t learned the difference.
Update: I received an e-mail from Governor Huckabee at 4 pm CT today with the following response:
There will be 50 million Americans with diabetes by the year 2025 at the current rate. I didn’t say diabetes was “worse than terrorism” and did not at all suggest or even imply that the federal government was the one who needed to fix it…quite the opposite! The point of my remarks was that it required LIFESTYLE changes of individuals and in fact I specifically stated that government can’t force people to make healthier choices. It has to be done over a generation as we change the culture from one of disease to health.
I’ve interviewed Gov Huckabee on a few occasions and have found him intelligent, honest, and refreshing. I think, though, that this demonstrates why conducting rhetorical comparisons between anything and terrorism is problematic. When put in those terms, it implies that some kind of action should be taken by the government. Otherwise, why use terrorism at all? Why not compare diabetes to alcohol addiction, AIDS, high-school dropout rates, etc? As I noted in the first paragraph, the comparison would be apt statistically, but the implication goes much farther than what I think he honestly intended.
However, as the governor notes in his response, diabetes does require action by individuals to lower the risks for the disease, including better diet, more exercise, and a move away from high-sugar foods. And of all people in political life, the governor has the best standing to make that point — and that’s a point all of us can and should support.