Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Huck Spin

In a radio interview on Tuesday, Mike Huckabee presented a detailed fantasy about a Kenyan boyhood of Barack Obama that never occurred. His spokesman quickly said that he'd meant to say that Obama was raised in Indonesia. With Andrew Sullivan, I can't understand how Huckabee could claim just to have made an error about the country, since his full statement doesn't track if you substitute Indonesia for Kenya:
One thing that I do know is his having grown up in Kenya, his view of the Brits, for example, very different than the average American ... 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 are a bunch of imperialists who persecuted his grandfather.
Obama never lived in Kenya, and his father essentially abandoned him.

Tonight Huckabee went on Fox News (which employs him) to defend himself. He told Bill O'Reilly that he'd made a verbal gaffe after participating in 40 interviews in a row and that he'd written in the book he was promoting that Obama had grown up in Hawaii and Indonesia. Without even the hint of an apology to Obama, he quickly went on the offensive, blaming the "left-wing media" for covering the story. He made a Palinesque reference to one of Obama's own microgaffes (the "57 states" one). He said that growing up in a foreign country meant that Obama had a "different world view," the result of not being a Boy Scout or playing Little League, a point which enabled Huckabee to minimize Obama's Hawaii years to the point of insignificance, just as his enormogaffe had done. (Obama, who plays basketball, lived in Indonesia between ages six and 10.) Huckabee concluded by saying that refusing to say that Obama hates America "makes me persona non grata with some conservatives."

Huckabee's performance on Fox added some credence to the idea that he said just what he meant to say during his radio interview -- or, at the very least, that he doesn't especially regret it. As he continues to ponder whether to announce for president later this year, he candidly admitted to O'Reilly that he's mindful of those members of the conservative base who think Obama is disloyal (what other construction can one put on "hates America")? Now he's got a twofer. His Kenyan kilogaffe gave him a little boost with the fringe right. His denial gave him a chance to claim victimization by the left (as though conservatives wouldn't have howled with rage at a leading Democrat's internally coherent, 15-second-long supergaffe about the upbringing of Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush). Without being a Birther, he's won himself some Birther cred, an ambiguity that might help a candidate win the nomination and then actually contend in November.

When half of likely GOP voters believe Obama is a Muslim and liar, most candidates probably assume they have to go around the bend to be nominated. That's what Huckabee's doing, whether with his gigantogaffe or his Fox News defense of it. But thinking you have to do it doesn't make it right. You can choose not run. You can switch parties. You can even boldly denounce all toxic, paranoid fantasies, say, "I know the president loves our country no less than I do," and then disagree with him on every single issue. That's the way it used to be done.


MK said...

A very powerful piece. I riffed on it this morning at my own blog, and just put a comment up under my own essay, quoting from your concluding paragraph and saying it represented a person with a moral compass. Thanks for keeping me from falling into discouragement on what often seems like false witness, pandering, etc.

Fr. John said...

Thanks, MK. Actually, I still can't quite get over this episode.

At what point did we lose the capacity -- no matter what our views or party -- to exhibit respect for the office of the presidency and the person who has rightfully attained it?

Is the American presidency (and indeed our other institutions) still not history's greatest political miracle?

Is there not something powerful and, if you will, sacred about a free people's choice?

And yet when did the culture stop expecting people to treat the office and its occupant with respect?

Did Pastor Mike ever once, as far as you heard, apologize to his president?

Sorry to go all Boy Scouts about this, but at some point we ceased to honor what is most precious about our democratic settlement -- and never more so, as far as I've experienced, with this president.

I wonder why.