BEFORE I forget, almost lost in the excitement of yesterday's premier of Joementum II: First as a Farce, Then as a Slightly Different Farce, was the welcome return of Tom Ridge, the man who put the Department of Homeland Security on such a solid footing before
I later learned that Lieberman had explained his endorsement of someone "across the aisle" by saying no Democrat had asked him. Which certainly has the ring of truth, but let's stop for a moment to consider the implication, which is that Lieberman thought his endorsement was worth something. The late Norman Mailer once said something about the World's Heavyweight Champion arising each morning with the somewhat unsettling knowledge that he was possibly the toughest man in the world; McCain shares with Lieberman the existential purgatory of knowing that, but for the other, he might be the sorriest-assed egotist in the United States Senate.
But then none of this heaps scorn on Mike Huckabee or his supporters, and so fails to advance the current agenda. John Dickerson, who may be the toughest questioner in American journalism, just as someone must be the best archer in NASCAR, frets that the Huckster just might be too funny, in the ha-ha sense, to be Commander-in-Chief:
Mike Huckabee is occasionally funny, but he is always the funny guy. "If you think that Medicare is expensive now, wait until 10,000 aging hippies a day find out they can get free drugs," he said in one GOP debate. "I may not have any foreign policy experience," he told Don Imus, "but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night."
Hear us, O Lord, and smite the man who dares mock Thy Hippies in a Republican debate. Who dares be unserious on Imus! Give us the man of gravitas, Lord, who will shackle the Bitch of Gotham, who will chain the Dog of Chelsea, and who will Bomb Bomb Bomb, Bomb Bomb Iran. Seriously, I kid the Faithful, but they're our most important supporters. So long as they remain Faithful, if you know what I mean. Speaking of which, the other day Hillary Rodham Clinton walked into a lesbian bar, and...
There is a limit, though, which the Udall examples thunderously show, to how many jokes a candidate can tell before voters think he's not serious.
Yeah. Mo Udall, Thunder of the Desert, Template of the modern American presidential campaign. Funny how the memory plays tricks. I supported Udall in '76, and I can't for the life of me remember when he led a single state before it didn't matter anymore. Makes a welcome break from all those Huckabee=Dean stories, though. Big Mo does remind us that one may campaign for President while Mormon without making a major speech about it, and while exhibiting a genuine sense of humor. If only he'd had nicer hair...
The attacks work on several levels. They suggest Huckabee is too light for the job and also that he makes jokes because he's hiding something. Behind every quip is a troubling reality on taxes, immigration, or his criminal justice record in Arkansas, the subject of Romney's brand-new ad. The strategy seeks to transform Huckabee's best asset into a liability.
Troubling reality? Because, in the first two instances, Huckabee has been something other than staunchly unreasonable like his peers pretend to be? Wouldn't Troubling Reality make a fitting name for the Romney campaign bus? Or Giuliani's bio?
Look, it may well be that the people who control the Republican party will brook no tax increase under any circumstances or admit any sympathy or concern for illegals nor their children. But when did that become part of the membership pledge, and why is public opposition "troubling"? As I understand it, they have no problem (yet) with white people voting in the Republican primaries, and god knows there aren't enough black people to worry about. Why don't we let the voters decide what's "troubling"? And if Hurtlin' Mitt Romney or any other candidate would like the Republican nomination to turn on Mike Huckabee's record of pardons, let 'em do so, their own closets being so notably spic-and-span.
Hucakabee also can't joke his way past inexperience, and he has a problem with his party in this regard on the subject of national security and foreign affairs. His lack of any background is dangerous in a commander in chief, say critics, and worse, if he becomes the nominee, Republicans will give away what has been their national security trump card since the Cold War and especially after the attacks of Sept. 11.
Don't look now, but the last seven years have actually reduced this to "Republicans think Republicans hold the national security trump card". And polling indicates that Republicans already plan on voting Republican.
Given this sobering worry, Huckabee may have given his opponents an opening this Sunday with his article in Foreign Affairs, in which he criticized George Bush for having an "arrogant bunker mentality." He also described international relations in terms of the school playground (America is the stingy straight-A student and therefore despised). Not a joke, exactly, but a metaphor that's on the juvenile side.
Sure, the Grand Old Mature Metaphor Party.
Bosh. Here's what Huckabee wrote:
The United States, as the world's only superpower, is less vulnerable to military defeat. But it is more vulnerable to the animosity of other countries. Much like a top high school student, if it is modest about its abilities and achievements, if it is generous in helping others, it is loved. But if it attempts to dominate others, it is despised.
Once again you'll have to forgive my memory, because I could swear that when Ronald Reagan said something like this it was hailed as a master course in Communications, and that when Fred Dumbo Thompson lovingly puts that sort of thang in his Dear Ol' Biscuit-Bakin' Mama's mouth it's "folksy". Juvenile? Okay. Shockingly misemploying the third-person neuter pronoun in place of the masculine? To some cranky blogger, maybe. Unserious? Only in that it--along with the "bunker mentality" line--is too mild a rebuke to the Republican foreign policy disaster his fellow candidates try desperately to ignore.
I have no brief for Mike Huckabee. Quite the contrary. I just think the impulse to Gore the national political process is a lot bigger threat, and its fingerprints are all over the anti-Huckabee crusade, which has offered up the objections of the Republican economic elite under the guise of "increased scrutiny of a front-runner". Is Huckabee really a worse candidate than his fellows?