Even as a child I loved to argue, and although there were many memorable debates (Could my Dad beat up your Dad? Could Superman beat up Batman?) the debate that truly fueled my passion was this one: Could Ric Flair beat up Hulk Hogan?”

Growing up in Charleston, I watched the Charlotte-based National Wrestling Alliance, where wrestlers like Dusty Rhodes, Ricky Steamboat, and Magnum T.A. would whoop-ass on TV every Saturday morning. I knew damn well that their champ, “Nature Boy” Ric Flair could take out any of those manufactured, cartoon bozos in the World Wrestling Federation up north — especially Hulk Hogan. Even though “Hulkamania was runnin’ wild,” I braved the slings and arrows of Hogan’s Hulkamaniacs until the bitter end, never hesitating to let any kid on the playground know exactly what I thought of their “fake” champion compared to a “real” wrestler like Flair.

It is amazing the degree to which my childhood squabbles now mirror my adult life.

By all accounts, Republican presidential contender and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee seems genuine in the sense that he believes what he says. Compared to former N.Y. Mayor Rudy Giuliani or former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney, painfully transparent con men who will say absolutely anything to get elected, Huckabee stands out. Sincerity has paid off as of late for Huck, and as of this writing, he is surging in the polls — even taking the lead here in South Carolina, where Romney in particular has campaigned relentlessly.

As the pundits tirelessly remind us, Huckabee is many things — likeable, witty, sincere, Chuck Norris’s pick for the GOP nomination. The problem is he’s just not conservative.

If the small government rhetoric of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan is to have any bearing on the definition of the term “conservative” anymore (which is a serious question considering the current state of the unquestionably big-government Republican Party) then Huckabee fails by every measure. Or as Fox News’ Michael Tanner explains, “As governor of Arkansas, Huckabee dramatically increased state spending … by more than 65 percent. The number of government workers increased by 20 percent, and the state’s debt services increased by nearly $1 billion. Huckabee financed his spending binge with higher taxes. Under his leadership, the average Arkansan’s tax burden increased 47 percent … including increases in the state’s gas, sales, income, and cigarette taxes. He raised taxes on everything from groceries to nursing home beds.”

But despite being an Arkansas governor who raised taxes more times than former Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, the most frightening thing about Huckabee is how he wants to use those taxes and his view of the role of government.

Charlestonians who are still miffed that our city government has the nerve to tell private business owners whether they can allow smoking might be interested to know that Huckabee has called for a national smoking ban. Why? Because smoking is bad.

Huckabee also wants to increase the federal government’s role in education, protecting and expanding current programs and creating new ones. Why? Because education is good. In fact, the National Education Association teacher’s union in New Hampshire has endorsed their first Republican candidate in their history — Mike Huckabee.

Conservatives have always weighed issues by their constitutionality and whether or not the federal government should even be involved in areas like health, education, and social engineering. For Huckabee the question is settled — the federal government can and should be a “nanny state” — and he’s the best man to rock the cradle. Hulk Hogan wanted kids to “drink their milk, eat their vitamins, and say their prayers.” So does Huckabee — and he wants to use your money to make sure they do.

Christian and conservative Huckabee supporters who ignore these glaring facts are either fooling themselves or have made peace with the notion of big government, so long as one of their own is in charge. If this is the case, then not only have they abandoned genuine conservatism, but I never want to hear another complaint about “activist courts” or federal funding for anti-Christian artwork, sex education, or the “homosexual agenda” ever again.

Simply put, Huckabee is a fake conservative if there ever was one, especially when compared to real conservatives, like fellow presidential contender and Texas Congressman Ron Paul. “Huck-a-mania” may indeed be “runnin’ wild,” but Republican voters should remember that popularity does not equal authenticity, an obvious fact every schoolboy should know — or at least tolerate my yelling about it.

Catch Southern Avenger commentaries every Tuesday and Friday at 7:50 a.m. on the “Morning Buzz with Richard Todd” on 1250 AM WTMA.