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January 05, 2008

Explaining Huckabee

I've spent a lot of time trying to figure out the seemingly inexplicable rise of Mike Huckabee as a presidential candidate. The Mark Steyn column that Jack M. linked and wrote about expresses much of it, especially this part.

There is a potentially huge segment of the population that thinks homo economicusis missing the point. They're tired of the artificial and, indeed, creepily coercive secular multiculti pseudo-religion imposed on American grade schools.
I think Steyn is on to something, but the backlash is against a target much bigger than simply education. What Huckabee has successfully tapped into is a deep-seated anger that many evangelicals and social conservatives feel at the culture at large. Peggy Noonan captured it in her column as well.

He's the first happy culture warrior to have a legitimate shot at the presidency. I would be willing to bet that Jack M.'s boss gets mail not just about multi-cultural issues, but about bad language on television shows and on the radio, increasing social acceptance of homosexuality, the availability of skank wear for kids and other hot-button social conservative issues that groups from the Moral Majority to the present-day Family Research Council have been talking about for years. When these folks talk about the culture war, they aren't talking about the struggle against radical Islam.

As many have stated, Huckabee has tapped into this deep-seated frustration with the cultural direction of America and has built his support by being the candidate who feels their pain and he's doing it with a smile on his face and a joke on his lips. Most culture warriors are dour people who seem to have a perpetual scowl on their faces - they don't seem as though they're having fun. These modern-day Comstocks are largely ineffective because no one wants to follow the unhappy.

Huckabee is different. With his bass-playing and his quips and his references to popular culture, he seems to be saying "I like this stuff, too...but let's clean it up a bit, okay?" His message regarding culture is much the same as that of a Pat Robertson or a Gary Baeur, but his style is much different, much happier. He's connected not just on an emotional level, but in the gut as well - with the fears and frustration evangelicals and social conservatives feel about the culture.

Huckabee is appealing to anyone who's ever shut off their television in frustration after a promising show turns out to have too much talk of sex, or too much foul language. He's connecting with those angry with contraceptives being passed out in junior high school, or halter tops being sold to toddlers. For those who grate at being told to say "happy holidays," Huckabee is a welcome anomaly, a guy who communicates exactly what they're feeling, but in a way that makes them glad to be in agreement rather than embarrassed about being associated with the culture-warrior ranters, the Comstocks.

That's where I think Huckabee's appeal really is, and it's what's going to make him hard to beat. It's what keeps evangelicals and social conservatives voting for him despite his liberal-tinged rhetoric and his record as governor. If he goes to South Carolina and does well, he's going to be hard to beat because none of the other candidates offers what he has. None of them connect on that level.

I think Noonan is right, though - the folks who feel frustrated with culture (and at times I'm one of them - having a daughter does that to a guy) are deserving of a better leader. Huckabee may attract, but as we've seen he also repels. His economic populism turns off the fiscal conservatives and his complete lack of foreign policy knowledge scares the dickens out of national security conservatives. As I've written, his use of faith as a selling point grates on many of us who share that faith, and his subtle (and not-so-subtle) appeals to religious bigotry regarding Mormonism are irritating. I think Huckabee would split the GOP coalition, and be a terrible president. I should add, especially in the area of national security - that is the most important issue facing our country, and Huckabee is not at all prepared to be the Commander in Chief.

Like Bill Clinton, this is a man of considerable political gifts. Also like Clinton, though, it's unfortunate how he chooses to use them.

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posted by Slublog at 12:11 PM

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