We are our heroes, and there was a time in America when everyone loved Gomer Pyle – the character played by Jim Nabors in that sitcom that ran from 1964 through 1969, the year that America finally seemed to have tired of the supremely unaware and rather dimwitted guy from the rural and unsophisticated Deep South, who really was a hero, and a wonderful person, because his heart was in the right place. Folks loved that, but the triumph of the uneducated bumpkin, a triumph over the educated and thoughtful and rational folks, who thought things through and thought that they knew so much – week after week after week – suddenly lost its charm. After the summer of Woodstock, in the middle of the worst of the turmoil over what we thought we were doing in Vietnam, CBS cancelled the show. Dumb folks who got everything wrong just weren’t that charming anymore. The show had been a spinoff from The Andy Griffith Show that had shut down a year earlier – so the Mayberry thing had finally run its course. The producer, Sheldon Leonard, moved on. He went home and counted his money.
Then things changed again. In 1994 Tom Hanks gave us Forrest Gump – the top-grossing film in North America released that year. It won Best Picture – and Best Actor for Hanks and Best Director for Robert Zemeckis. Gump, as played by Hanks, was also the total innocent – he knew nothing about much of anything, and he was too dumb, perhaps borderline retarded, to learn anything. But he loved his momma and had a good heart – and he met everyone important, and became important, and became the nation’s hero, and he changed the world – precisely because he didn’t know a thing about anything.
That touched a chord. It was a wish-fulfillment fantasy for those who really do know they’re not that bright and never really will be, and who also long ago realized that they really don’t know much about the world and never will. In this one special movie, someone just like them wins, big. Knowledge, wisdom and experience, and any kind of thoughtfulness, as important as those things might be, don’t really matter all that much. A good heart is what really matters. Everyone knows that, or insists that must be so. That had better be so.
That’s a persistent belief, justified or not, and that might explain the persistence of America’s loveable Gomer Pyle guy, Michael Dale “Mike” Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas (1996 to 2007) – that nice man who is always with us. He’s an ordained Southern Baptist minister – he proudly holds a degree in Bible studies from Ouachita Baptist University, in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. He doesn’t believe in evolution and is sure every word in the Bible is literally true, even if he admits that he, as a mere moral, doesn’t understand it all. And he is an awfully nice fellow, like Gomer Pyle. He even looks a bit like Jim Nabors – another good-natured naive country-boy, with that childlike innocence and that Arkansas accent – and Mike Huckabee loves his momma, and plays a pretty good country-rock electric bass, and he is sure to run for president again. Why not? America loves the simple nice guy. In fact, Mike Huckabee is running for president again:
Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee on Tuesday entered his second presidential contest with a familiar message, focusing on his humble roots and traditional values. But where he was the scrappy underdog with the fresh face in 2008, the former Baptist preacher faces a different set of challenges this time around. He joins a crowded field of GOP contenders, including some with similar appeal to evangelicals.
The times have changed again, so he has made minor adjustments:
What he is counting on is a message aimed at attracting working-class traditionalists wary of the influence of big money in politics. He is also vowing to preserve Social Security and other bedrock assistance programs.
“I don’t come from a family dynasty but a working family,” Huckabee told a cheering, overflow crowd of more than 2,000 at a community college here, in a clear dig at likely GOP candidate Jeb Bush. “I grew up blue-collar, not blue-blood.”
He’s still just a country boy, but this time he’s out to slap the big-money boys upside the head. Call it militant innocence but money is the issue:
After winning the Iowa caucuses in 2008, Huckabee struggled to expand his reach beyond evangelicals before running out of money. His biggest challenge in 2016 will be trying to break through in a GOP field likely to include a dozen or more credible, well-financed contenders. Among them are some young and new faces on the national stage, including Sens. Marco Rubio (FL), Ted Cruz (TX) and Rand Paul (KY).
Huckabee’s campaign announcement here, by contrast, had a sepia tone; the warm-up act was singer Tony Orlando, performing his 1973 hit “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree.”
Huckabee, 59, had announced nearly a year and a half ago that he was contemplating a second run and said that his ability to raise money – a part of the exercise that he has never enjoyed – would be a key factor in his decision.
So this time he laid it on thick:
He announced his bid here in the resonantly named birthplace he shares with the 42nd president of the United States, Bill Clinton, whose wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, is widely believed to have all but a lock on the Democratic nomination.
“Folks, it is a long way from a little brick red house on Second Street in Hope, Arkansas, to the White House,” he said. “But here in this small town called Hope, I was raised to believe that where a person’s starting didn’t mean that’s where he had to stop.” …
The former Fox News host acknowledged that he is likely to remain at a disadvantage among rivals who have lined up deep-pocketed donors.
“I never have been and won’t be the favorite candidate of those in the Washington-to-Wall Street corridor of power,” he said in his 29-minute speech. “I will be funded and fueled not by billionaires but by working people across America.”
Then it was time to attack:
His speech included a number of shots at his declared and yet-to-be-declared GOP opponents, although he did not name them.
He noted, for instance, that “some propose that to save safety nets like Medicare and Social Security, we need to chop off the payouts for the people who have faithfully had their paychecks and pockets picked by the politicians promising that their money would be waiting for them when they were old and sick.” The comment was an apparent reference to a proposal by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R).
“Imagine members of Congress boasting they will fight to repeal Obamacare and then turning around and signing up for it,” he added – a comment that describes a decision Cruz made after his wife took a leave from her investment banking job and lost her employer-provided benefits.
Huckabee also took aim at the entire array of sitting senators and governors who may be joining him onstage at the upcoming presidential debates, saying: “If someone is elected to an office, then give the taxpayers what they’re paying for and what you said you wanted. If you live off the government payroll and want to run for an office other than the one you’re elected to, then have the integrity and decency to resign the one you don’t want and pursue the one you decided you’d rather have.”
But then there’s his record, and those who despise it:
During his decade as governor, Huckabee racked up an impressive record getting legislation through an overwhelmingly Democratic legislature. Among his achievements were expanding health coverage for children and revamping the state’s education system. In 2005, Time magazine named him one of the five most effective governors in the country, and Governing magazine dubbed him one of its “public officials of the year.” …
Huckabee collected some formidable enemies along the way, including conservative organizations such as the anti-tax Club for Growth, which deemed his gubernatorial record too liberal.
That feud is ongoing. Moments before Huckabee stepped onstage Tuesday, the group’s political action committee, Club for Growth Action, announced that it will be making a $100,000 television ad buy “to remind voters in Iowa and South Carolina of the tax increases that took place in Arkansas under the governorship of Mike Huckabee.”
This isn’t going to go smoothly, and Roger Simon sees this:
Times change and Huckabee has changed with them. He senses his party doesn’t want sweet-talkin’ guys. This time around, he believes the Republican Party wants guys who will eat nails and spit out tacks.
And Huckabee has adapted.
In 2011, Huckabee said of Obama, “His perspective as growing up in Kenya with a Kenyan father and grandfather, their view of the Mau Mau Revolution in Kenya is very different than ours because he probably grew up hearing that the British were a bunch of imperialists who persecuted his grandfather.”
Obama did not grow up in Kenya, of course. He was born in Hawaii and grew up there, spending four years in Indonesia. …
“Washington is more dysfunctional than ever, and it’s become so beholden to the donor class who fills the campaign coffers,” Huckabee said.
He did not mention, however, a New York Times story from last month that revealed that a well-known Iowa political operative had formed a Huckabee super PAC “with the ability to raise unlimited donations to support the former Arkansas governor.”
Want to know how he feels about health care? Not good, that’s how he feels. “How can anyone ever trust government again if they steal from us and lie to us?” Huckabee says. “It didn’t help when Congress took $700 billion out of Medicare to pay for Obamacare.”
Foreign affairs? “When I hear our current president say he wants Christians to get off their high horse so we can make nice with radical jihadists, I wonder if he could watch a Western from the ’50s and be able to figure out who the good guys and the bad guys really are,” Huckabee says.
“As president, I promise you that we will no longer merely try to contain jihadism; we will conquer it. We will deal with jihadis just as we would deal with deadly snakes.”
Huckabee believes that “we’ve witnessed the slaughter of over 55 million babies in the name of choice” in this country and are now “threatening the foundation of religious liberty by criminalizing Christianity in demanding that we abandon biblical principles of natural marriage.”
There’s this too:
And take this, Hillary Clinton. “I don’t have a global foundation or a taxpayer-funded paycheck to live off of,” Huckabee says.
And take this, Jeb Bush. “I don’t come from a family dynasty but a working family,” Huckabee says. “I grew up blue-collar, not blue-blood.”
Last time Huckabee ran, being a sweetie didn’t get him the nomination – so this time, no more Mr. Nice Guy.
Now he’s the angry and righteous Gomer Pyle, the one no one imagined, and Time’s Philip Eliot notes he wants others to be angry too:
Citing his faith repeatedly through his 30-minute announcement speech at a community college, it was clear the former governor plans to keep his Christianity at the center of his national campaign more than he did his failed 2008 bid.
“We ought to get our knees every night and thank God we live in a country people are trying to break into, instead of trying to break out of,” the 59-year-old Huckabee said.
His will be a campaign that blends political scolding and church revival.
It is a message tailored at conservatives who decide the outcome of Iowa’s leadoff caucuses, as well as the Southern states that Huckabee is putting at the front of his electoral thinking. Huckabee is betting voters in these states help him overcome the financial heft of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a fundraising machine, or the enthusiasm of Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s libertarian supporters.
But even among Christian conservatives, Huckabee faces competition. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas launched his campaign at the Jerry Falwell-founded Liberty University, for instance. And many influential pastors continue to eye other alternatives, including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is the son of a pastor.
That leaves Huckabee swinging further right with an increasingly religious message.
“This exceptional country could only be explained by the providence of God,” Huckabee said.
In a speech that advisers say will be the core of his political message, Huckabee rejected the Supreme Court’s authority to decide whether gay and lesbian couples can marry or women can have access to abortion rights. He also called for term limits on justices, as well as members of Congress.
“We’ve lost our way morally. … Many of our politicians have surrendered to the false god of judicial supremacy, which would allow black-robed and unelected judges the power to make law and enforce it. … The Supreme Court is not the Supreme Being, and they cannot overturn the law of nature or of nature’s God.”
That will play well in Iowa and South Carolina – so he could have a strong start – but elsewhere, the idea that when Mike Huckabee is sworn into office as our next president he only swears to uphold and defend the Constitution conditionally, when it doesn’t contradict the Word of God, might not fly. He might have to refuse to take the oath.
It won’t come to that. No one thinks he has a chance. In fact, Ed Kilgore argues that Mike Huckabee had finally turned himself into Sarah Palin:
Palin will hang around the periphery of conservative politics for some time (she’s a relatively young fifty). Her essential role of stimulating resentment and then promising vengeance, however, has been taken over by more conventional and respectable pols, much as George Wallace’s raw demagogic appeal in the 1960s was co-opted and refined by Richard Nixon. Indeed, one of the more notable developments of contemporary politics is the widespread preemption of Palin-style posturing against elites by other Republicans. These include potential 2016 presidential candidates ranging from Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who has been seeking to brand himself as the champion of conservative Christians besieged by secularists and Muslims, to Mike Huckabee, whose new book, God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy, is a seething cauldron of resentment toward those who do not inhabit what Palin once memorably called “the real America.” But to a dangerous extent the whole party has absorbed some of the poison. …
Though it did not “sell” well enough to elect McCain and Palin at a time when the bottom was falling out of the economy, the pure politics of resentment spilled over into the Tea Party movement, which from the very beginning drank deeply from the right-wing populist well of belief in an overclass-underclass alliance of financial elites and bureaucrats and looters seeking dependence on federal benefits and the destruction of middle-class mores and virtues.
One of the Tea Party’s great conspiratorial myths became viral after a Palin Facebook post argued that Obamacare would introduce “death panels” that would determine the fate of people with disabilities like her son Trig. At the peak of Tea Party influence, millions of conservatives had a tightly integrated view of Obamacare as representing an effort to cut “earned” Medicare benefits in order to vastly expand “welfare” and “socialized medicine” while attacking the sanctity of life from two directions through guaranteed, subsidized insurance for abortion services and (of course) death panels.
Yes, it got hot:
By the time of the 2012 campaign, Obamacare’s contraception coverage mandate became the target of a particular cultural resentment epidemic that embroiled the entire GOP: the religious liberty campaign, based on the idea that conservative Christians who viewed (against the scientific consensus) certain contraceptives (e.g., IUDs and Plan B pills) as abortifacients were being forced to subsidize homicide, and were thus being “persecuted for their faith.” The religious liberty campaign also became a pity-party for those opposing same-sex marriage, with the victims being conservative elements of the wedding industry and a few TV personalities. At about the same time, a “scandal” swept the conservative media making the alleged slow walking by the IRS of applications for tax-exempt status by conservative groups who wanted to run election ads without disclosing donors into a frightful totalitarian specter of doors being kicked down and assets seized. And a remarkably large group of respectable Republicans – including new national GOP star Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa – embraced the John Birch Society’s “Agenda 21” conspiracy theory holding that local land-use regulations are part of a United Nations plot to kill private property rights.
From the point of view of constitutional conservatives (an ideological grouping that is rapidly absorbing both the Christian right and the Tea Party movement, which heavily overlap to begin with), you can add another important count to the indictment of liberal elites, bureaucrats, and their underclass clients: an unpatriotic determination to undermine rights and overthrow governing norms set down eternally by the Founders of this exceptional nation under the direct inspiration of Almighty God. So liberals were not only mocking the religion and culture of good white middle-class folk, and stealing their hard-earned money (and richly earned government benefits) to buy votes from the lower orders – they were also spitting on the foundational principles of America and defying God.
That about sums it up, and that explains Huckabee’s book:
Huckabee’s new pre-campaign book is a significant step in the direction of full-spectrum cry for the vindication of Real Americans. It is telling that the politician who was widely admired outside the conservative movement during his 2008 run for being genial, modest, quick-witted, and “a conservative who’s not mad about it” has now released a long litany of fury at supposed liberal-elite condescension toward and malevolent designs against the Christian middle class of the Heartland.
That’s what we have here:
Huckabee is explaining to powerful and arrogant elites of “Bubble-ville” – New York, Washington, and Los Angeles – the sturdy folk virtues and beliefs of “Bubba-ville,” by which he means the rest of the country, though it often sounds like just the Deep South as viewed by its older and more conservative white residents. But the book is clearly meant for “Bubbas” and it is meant to make them very angry.
Kilgore has read the book so you don’t have to:
The first chapter is entitled “The New American Outcasts,” and it asks readers to identify with the martyrdom of Chick-fil-A’s Dan Cathy and Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson for defending the “biblical” view of marriage and homosexuality. Huckabee actually launched the very successful idea of a “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” on his Fox News show, giving conservatives the opportunity to show their contempt for “political correctness” by giving the chicken sandwich chain a record day of sales. And he’s long competed with Bobby Jindal in promoting Phil Robertson (a Louisiana native). But aside from these totems, the idea that “Bubbas” must fight back against people who would rob them of all liberty and property permeates nearly every page of Huckabee’s book.
Huckabee very quickly (in the second chapter, on guns) introduces the idea that people like “us” may need to resort to revolutionary violence to stop the assault on our traditions. He warms to the task at the end of a chapter of rants against the Transportation Security Administration and the Internal Revenue Service…
That is what Huckabee says here:
If the Founders who gave up so much to create liberty for us could see how our government has morphed into a ham-fisted, hyper-controlling “Sugar Daddy,” I believe those same patriots who launched a revolution would launch another one. Too many Americans have grown used to Big Government’s overreach. They’ve been conditioned to just bend over and take it like a prisoner. But in Bubba-ville, the days of bending are just about over. People are ready to start standing up for freedom and refusing to take it anymore.
This threat does not exactly reflect the sweet reasonableness of Jesus, but then Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, has a bad habit of identifying Christianity with his own narrow views, without acknowledging that there are actual American “Christians” – many tens of millions of them, mostly in “Bubba-ville” – who do not share his biblical literalism or his cultural conservatism. In this respect he’s less radical than fellow culture warrior Rick Santorum, who has openly argued that mainline Protestants are no longer Christians.
But beyond the obvious culture-war issues, Huckabee has appropriated Sarah Palin’s distinctive sneering tone toward the liberal-elite enemy:
“For those of us from the land of God, guns, grits, and gravy, being told we need to ride a bicycle and live in a tree stump by an environmental lobbyist in a Gucci suit or an aging hippie who hasn’t been outside the San Francisco city limits since Jerry Garcia died goes over about as well as Pee-wee Herman lecturing George Foreman on how to throw a punch.”
While this sort of rhetoric is Palinesque in its hippie-punching contempt for liberals, it also hearkens back to the original model of right-wing “populist” demagoguery, George Wallace, who loved to talk about “pseudo-intellectuals” and “pointy-headed bureaucrats” riding their bicycles to work. If this is what the most “genial” Republican presidential candidate is peddling, who needs Sarah Palin?
Of course he’s not alone:
Aside from Huckabee and Jindal and Santorum, there’s Ted Cruz, whose father, Rafael, a conservative evangelical minister, warms up crowds for his son with culture-war bromides punctuated by comparisons of liberals with communists who share an “evil agenda” for “destroying what this country is all about.” The surgeon turned politician Ben Carson has become a huge crowd favorite via a stock speech that focuses on the supposed loss of fundamental liberties to the sinister power of elites imposing rules of political correctness to suppress dissent. Texas Governor Rick Perry has managed to turn economic development into a culture-war weapon via his constant “raids” on companies in liberal states, especially California, which has replaced New York and Massachusetts in the conservative imagination as the epitome of alien territory.
And in the first big cattle call of the 2016 cycle, the Iowa Freedom Summit, sponsored by Steve King and Citizens United, the big winner was Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker for a speech in which he boasted of winning three elections in a “blue state” without compromising with his enemies, who, he suggested, had descended to making death threats against his family.
This has become the party of Sarah Palin, and now Mike Huckabee, the somewhat goofy but wonderful person, because his heart was in the right place, is just more of the same. He incites resentment. That’s the job now – but Mayberry wasn’t real, was it?