"This is a horrible example of right-wing social engineering gone wrong, and I totally support it. Always have, actually."
"Where, O where is that great Southern Conservative Presidential candidate of yore?"
Most candidates for the highest office in the land spend months, if not years, currying favor with the rich and powerful: glad-handing at fund-raising dinners, schmoozing in mansions, pressing the flesh in Aspen and Manhattan and Nob Hill.
Not so Mike Huckabee. He ran for president in 2008 with no money, no campaign infrastructure, no professional handlers or ad gurus or wardrobe consultants. (When I interviewed him in New Hampshire, he had just ironed his own suit.) His entire campaign — which won him more delegates than Mitt Romney’s lavishly financed operation — consisted of showing up for any television program that would have him, and turning on the charm.
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Yeah, I'm quibbling, but George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, John Anderson, George H. W. Bush (who, in 1980, would have shown up at a strip mall opening, a chess opening, or an opening in the clouds), Michael Dukakis, Ross Perot; somebody "coming from nowhere" is as common as dirt, and depends more on voter dissatisfaction with the run-of-the-mill candidates than anything else. Douthat just wants to paint Huckabee, his brother in Christian persecution, as some sort of wonder, and some sort of Middle American inevitability. Bullshit. The man is charming, in that preacher-who's-not-afraid-to-let-the-unclean-in-on-the-gag-occasionally way, who'll be happy to wink at the fact that you know that he knows that you know his routine is a crock, and he's gulling the gullible, because they'll never believe you if you point it out to them, or even if you catch him with two hookers and an ozzie of blow, and you're going to Hell anyway. Then Jebus on a dinosaur pops out of his mouth.
And in this part of Middle America, this is not the point at which the audience shouts, "Hallelujah brother!" More like, "Shut th' fuck up."
Okay, a lot of 'em--okay most of 'em--don't quite put it that way. But there is a point, Mr. Douthat, when this sort of thing starts running, roughshod and butt-ignernt, over the actual Christian views of a lot of actual Christians, many of whom attend their church because they agree with its tenets, not because parking is ample. That's when people start taking this unkindly. That's the whole goddam White Christian history of the North American continent: twelve European Christians scratch a bare purchase on some foreign rock; by noon the next day there are six denominations, two sects, and a major schism. As an evangelical-turned-Roman Catholic, Ross, you ought to at least be aware of that lovey-dovey post-literate evangelical "Facts don't matter if you've got the spirit" revival of your own lifetime. Your family, when you were a teen, sorta crossed in the opposite direction, for Christ's sake, toward a more theological understanding. The suburban trans-demoninational megachurch and mall may be your political ally on abortion, crack cocaine, and dress codes, but when you in-the-know Gothamites start throwing in that Bible-believin' school curriculum crap, that "no porn on Sundays, and no close dancing" stuff, which both you and Mr. Brooks seem to imagine would help pacify the natives, though you'd never stand for it yourselves, you way overstep. Not that I imagine you'd do that on purpose, Ross.
This is Huckabee's problem, and it's Douthat's, and the Times', too, for that matter. Grab the priggish religious blowhard vote and you've got a solid 20% of the population behind you. And everyone else hates you. Easy to make pronouncements about what the "real" country thinks when you never leave New England. Easy to be gulled by this is you're a Sultzberger, evidently. Tough to find enough votes to put the whole country squarely under a massive stone Cecil B. DeMille copy of the Ten Commandments.
Yeah, Huckabee won more delegates than Mitt Romney's Empty Suit, but almost all from Dixie, and Romney, battling McCain--and Giuliani for five minutes--for the other 80% still polled more votes than Huckabee, who only had to contend with Alan Keyes and maybe Ron Paul for the unelectable crank vote. This was a race where Republicans tried desperately to gun down every last candidate before the polls did it for them.
He’ll be missed because he embodied a political persuasion that’s common in American life but rare in America’s political class. This worldview mixes cultural conservatism with economic populism: it’s tax-sensitive without being stridently antigovernment, skeptical of Wall Street as well as Washington, and as concerned about immigration, family breakdown and public morals as it is about the debt ceiling.
And if it existed in such overwhelming numbers we wouldn't be talking about why Huckabee is not running.
This combination of views represents one of the plausible middle grounds in American politics. You can find it in the Republican Party, among the evangelicals and Catholics whose votes made the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush possible.
And golly, we haven't thanked them enough. Personally, I've been hoping snake-handling and child molestation convictions do it for me.
You can find it among independent voters, particularly in what a recent Pew report calls the “disaffected” demographic, whose hostility to big government coexists with anxieties about corporate power and support for redistribution of wealth. And you find it in the Democratic Party as well — from the dwindling ranks of pro-life Catholic liberals to the “Bill Cosby conservatives” in the African-American middle class.
Shorter New York Times "moderate" "conservative" "columnists": When there's an election which looks like it might be lost (by the GOP) the nation is basically conservative, but troubled by details. When there's an election recently won (by the GOP) the nation is conservative, hence Republican, and the Party is thereby empowered to do as it pleases. And at any and all times the nation, particularly in its (thankfully distant, conveniently unseen) Heartland, basically agrees with whoever wrote the column.
I've slept since then, but the way I remember November of 2010 was it included a grass roots uprising of historical proportions (if you're thirty) defined by its hostility to big government. It had cut across party lines, because, you know, Socialism. It had no anxieties about corporate power or income disparity; such things were un-American. I guess that was before the voting. After the voting I guess it's time to explain how it really wasn't all that universal, or uniform, so that the Republican party can get back to ignoring the base and winning the next election.
Among our leadership class, centrism invariably means some combination of big-business conservatism and social progressivism — the politics of pro-choice Republicans, hedge fund Democrats and Michael Bloomberg independents.
First, what does this sentence even mean? It's another exercise in the modern practice of making the reader supply the context; the thing doesn't mean what the words mean, but what the words mean in relationship to what Ross Douthat thinks. Where exactly are these pro-choice Republicans? I think there's three, widely scattered, and the next sound they make at a Republican convention will be the first since Roe. "Bloomberg independents"? Are there as many as three of those? What are "hedge-fund Democrats", if not some bizarre lexical collision of two Evil Forces in Douthat's universe? If you're a Republican, like Douthat, and you use "hedge fund" as an opprobrium, you score Reality Points. With the New York Times. Because now you're Ross Douthat, Republican Columnist Who's Independent of Thought Sufficient to Criticize "Hedge Funds". Along with Democrats (Douthat's attitude about them seems to have been developed in the Sixties, or roughly fifteen years pre-natally; for his actual lifetime "Democratic centrist" has been a redundancy). The people we sneer at with "hedge fund" are the people who, three and a half years ago, decided to steal all the money in the world for themselves. Those people came in both flavor of Major Party, as well as all sorts of agnostics, to the extent they care, or care to distinguish; what they did have in common was their little schemes were the direct result of thirty years of relaxation of government controls as advocated by the Republican party, Ross Douthat, enthusiastic member.
This is why Huckabee’s 2008 campaign seemed to come out of nowhere.
He became the voice of the Republican voter who wants the President to say "the voice of Jesus" right out in public, in front of decent people.
He knows how to be a charming guy in public. He stood up on a couple issues and told the base to shut th' flip up. And he didn't quite get away with it, did he, Ross? But he was all those people had. Remember the groundswell for Fred Dumbo Thompson to get in the race? Or do you just remember the groundswell for him to get back out? If Huckabee had been pure, or if he'd just lied his ass off like Romney, he might've been the nominee. Because everyone else sucked.
The press was baffled, and often delighted: here was a right-wing politician who talked easily about health care and admitted that the Bush economy had been lousy for working families.
The Press is an Ass. And admitting, in 2008, that the Bush administration had been a disaster is like admitting, in 2011, that hedge fund guys are Evil. By that point bashing Bush was a mark of "conservatism", since Bush's utter failure had proven he wasn't one.
(There would have been less delight, of course, if he had actually won the Republican nomination: then all the talk would have turned to his supposedly “scary” views on issues like abortion.)
"Supposedly 'scary'". "Scary" in "scare quotes". The entire issue of abortion dealt with with scare quotes. What fucking demographic is the Times going after with this guy, again?
And, y'know, he takes it down with the same casual bad-teenage-bearded sneer those hedge fund guys took a couple paragraphs ago.
Yes, Ross, if Huckabee had won the Republican nomination, if, say, the GOP had decided to allow only states which had seceded from the Union at some point to decide, the Press would have stopped treating him like a welcome novelty, and started treating him like the Republican candidate for President of the United States. Both turn of events, i.e., the fact that the Press is overly attracted to Bright Shiny Objects, and the fact that a Presidential candidate gets his positions published, often in that Press, you were supposed to already know before you got the Op-Ed job. In fact, I think the info is in your handbook.
And so Huckabee's blend of Bronze Age superstition and an insufficient grasp on the legal question involved, if not a convenient unfamiliarity with the very concept of the separation clause, would very likely have been trotted out before the public. And perhaps sounded "scary" to folks who like their Presidents to reserve talking to the voices in their heads for after hours, but ludicrously misogynistic is the term that comes to my mind.
Still, his candidacy illuminated a path that more politicians should take. We live in an age of economic stagnation and social crisis, and the two are intimately connected. The collapse of the two-parent family and unfettered low-skilled immigration have made America more stratified. The Wall Street-Washington axis really did drive the country into a ditch.
Every so often one is reminded how youngsters like Douthat sound exactly like their parents; the passage of decades changes nothing. Single-parent families cause economic collapse, even though the divorce rate skyrocketed in the 50s, in an economic boom, and the two-parent family has remained the same percentage of the population through the boom of the Clinton years and the bust of Bush II. This is just another train wreck at Dreaded Concept Junction. Or else it's like that old Star Trek deal where the Must Serve Man probe collides with the Kill All Harmful Protozoa capsule and becomes the Must Kill Virulent Humans satellite system. You lost this argument, Ross. And sometime before you were born. I'm not sure what, if anything, you and Huckabee propose to do about it (Prevent Abortions!) besides rake in votes, donations, and prime Mass Media real estate, but it has zero percent chance of working. And you've had thirty years of the male superior position to prove it. Huckabee was a 20% candidate in the Republican party--which is still half the electorate, Ross--in 2008. If he were more than that today you wouldn't be writing his obituary.