Mike Huckabee on the (Book Tour) Trail

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Eric Thayer / Getty

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, whose new book is A Simple Christmas

There's a stop that would-be Presidents make even before Iowa: a visit to a New York City publisher. Political books are usually written to attract voters, not to mention make money for a campaign war chest. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, a 2008 contender for the White House, is a publishing veteran. His seventh and latest book, the decidedly nonpartisan A Simple Christmas: Twelve Stories That Celebrate the True Holiday Spirit (Sentinel), harks back to Huckabee's roots as a Southern Baptist minister. (Let it be noted, however, that a paperback edition of his fiercely political 2008 best seller, Do the Right Thing, is being published simultaneously.) TIME senior reporter Andrea Sachs talked to Huckabee about his electoral plans and the political scene.

You're going on one heck of a book tour. How many cities are you going to?
Fifty-nine. I think I must have been heavily medicated when I agreed to that schedule.

That's like another campaign to go to that many cities.
The campaigns weren't nearly that intense.

Is that prelude to a run for the presidency?
No, it has nothing to do with that, despite people making that connection. It's really about promoting the book. It's simply a way to get into as many bookstores as possible and meet as many readers as possible. Whether I run or not is a decision for me that is a long way away. A lot of people make that assumption that everything I'm doing is moving toward that. The truth is, I'm having a great time doing what I'm doing on [ABC] Radio five days a week, on television on the weekends with Fox News, with my writing and speaking. I'm enjoying the fact that I'm not getting hammered every day by political opponents. It's kind of nice, actually.

Health is one of your big issues. What you think of the health care bill that just passed out of committee?
It's very problematic because it's not addressing the root causes of the health crisis in America. As I've said, we don't have a health care crisis in the country — we have a health crisis. Our health care system is not nearly as broken as [our] health. Eighty percent of the $2.4 trillion [in U.S. health care spending] is on chronic disease. When you consider that what the Congress is attempting to address is more about covering people, not changing the culture, they're missing the point.

As a Republican, do you feel angry at Maine Senator Olympia Snowe for breaking ranks? 

I don't personally because Olympia Snowe is Olympia Snowe. She tends to vote as much with the Democrats as she does with the Republicans. I'm more disappointed — not angry, but disappointed — that President Obama has not lived up to almost any of his promises. Bipartisanship, that has not happened. Transparency, that's not happened. Putting bills out for the public to read five days before he would sign them, that has not happened. Focusing on preventive care rather than just trying to push a bill, that hasn't happened.

Is there a mood, though, of bipartisanship among Republicans?
If there is an honest attempt to involve them, but there hasn't been. When Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid make it clear that their attitude is, 'Look, we won the election and, whether these guys participate or not, we don't care,' they made that very clear. The Republicans have offered very specific ideas, such things as medical malpractice reform; they've talked about portability where you could buy insurance across state lines, they've talked about making sure there were incentives for people to go into general medical practice. There are a number of ways in which the system can be addressed that would get Republican support. Republicans have offered very definite, concrete ideas, but they're not being seriously considered. I think there has been no real attempt on the part of the Administration or particular leaders in Congress to make this a bipartisan effort.

What do you think about the fact that Sarah Palin left her governorship?
That surprised me, mainly because being governor is a terrific job and it's one at which you can accomplish significant things. She didn't consult me about that, so I can't attest as to why she did it or what her thoughts were, but it caught me off guard. I understood that she would not run again. That was one decision. But the decision to step down after 2½ years or two years in office, or whatever it was, that was a surprise.

Do you see her as your rival? Your constituency is somewhat the same.
Not at all. I feel that any time somebody has views on issues that are similar, that doesn't make them a rival. That makes them a colleague.

The tone of the debate, the town halls, the "death panels," the tea parties — did you worry that things were becoming too extreme?
I worried more that Congress wasn't listening to people who are very angry and frustrated. I thought that the smug, condescending attitude that many members of Congress had toward people who attended town halls was the very reason that the town halls were getting so much momentum. There is a tone deafness by members of Congress who breathe the rarified air of the Beltway and tend to think that they, in fact, are getting a full whiff of what America is thinking. I just truly believe that some of them need to get out more and spend time in the aisles of grocery stores and talking to people and they'd find out that there is a world of frustration and anger. It's not politically based. These are not people who are being prodded by the Republican party. In fact, I would say that the Republican party right now, for the most part, doesn't have enough organizational capacity to put together a two-car funeral, must less a major protest.

Were you surprised about President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize?
I think everybody was, no more so than he. I almost felt sorry for President Obama. You can't blame him for getting it. It wasn't his fault. He didn't apply for it. He didn't ask for it. I thought it was really more of a statement about the political correctness of the committee than it was about Barack Obama. Along with many other people, I had some fun with it, talking about that we're now going to give out the Nobel Peace Prize not for what someone has done but for what we hope they do. If this is the case, since I'm a musician, I'd like to go ahead and get a Grammy. I haven't been on Broadway, but I did see Jersey Boys a couple of weeks ago. I think a Tony would be nice. From this latest book, I appreciate my Pulitzer in advance.