Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Thought While Shaving: It Just May be Huckabees Time.
As one who has either sat in an audience or on press row for 56 years auditing speaking performances from Hubert Humphrey, Everett Dirksen and Ronald Reagan and through the campaign rosters of two midwestern states including Barack Obama here I must say that the performance delivered by Mike Huckabee last night at the Illinois Family Institute (my presence due to Kirk Dillard who invited me as his guest, for which thanks) was unrivaled. Regardless of what they say about television and the modern communication arts, a successful presidential candidate today still must be able to deliver a stem-winder to a crowdnot in the tent meeting style of William Jennings Bryan but with reason, humor and good English usage.
The year 2008 was definitely not the right time for Huckabee. Then candidates were deftly hinting their opposition to abortion but not being straightforward about it. That was because the times were different. They have changed enormously since. Then he seemed too country-fied, too cornpone and he flavored his pitch with atypical George W. Bush-style moderate Republican spending proclivities, an obvious attempt to offset his strong, unalloyed social conservatism.
But the country has undergone a great change for which Huckabees views will be warmly welcomed. Not due to him but to Obama. By which I mean Barack Obamas rough-hewn leftism. Scared silly by Obama, the country has reacted greatly--gone to the right on social issues (witness the polls showing more Americans identify with pro-life than pro-abortion) and Huckabees style if he will drop the 2008 need to lard us with spending programs to prove his moderation... fits the national mood now far better now than just a year and a half ago. For America and the Republicans have changed, people. There isnt that great chasm between country club and grassroots anymore.
For one thing, for the past nine months many Americans have been scared out of their wits by Obama: both from his mindless leftism and his inability to accomplish anythingbut most of all his David Axelrod-style embrace of leftism: his public scorn of the Cold War which spared us from incineration (you see, he wasnt around so history means nothing) his insensate bargaining with the Russians for which he has received no concession after abandoning the missile defense of East Europe in a pathetic, unctuous plea for peace at any price (showing himself as dangerous as Neville Chamberlain, demonstrating he has learned nothing from history nor does he want to learn) his craven embrace of the Palestinians, his blunt put-down of Israel domestically, his rash superimposition of universal health care, energy and education k to senior high, when we cant afford it his past with ACORN his hiring Van Jones and the guy who is supposed to provide for school safety whos been anything but.
In 2008 it seemed to many that Obama was the embodiment of sweet reason on race: a highly cultured Sidney Poitier type who starred in Guess Whos Coming to Dinnerthe 1967 soft-liberal rendition that showed us a black physician who was every bit as sophisticated as the upper-class family played by Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn. But to many Obama has emerged as a dangerously unskilled president maimed by his soft-hidden but nevertheless demonstrable black radicalism to show himself as an immature, consummate narcissist really uneducatedand for all his suavity--a boob. Hes wearing very thin.
Hes even wearing thin with the Left: Howard Fineman of Newsweek and George Herbert of The New York Times editorial page not to mention Frank Rich of the NYT. In short hes beginning to be lampooned on Saturday Night Live as an unskilled orator who substitutes speech-ifying for strategy. With his speeches, he is coming very close to the caricature of Algonquin J. Calhoun, the fast-talking lawyer on radio and TVs old Amos `n Andy someone who can stretch definitions beyond the breaking point. Lawyer Calhoun was an egotist too remember, people who are old enough?... who believed he could spin words faster than listeners could compute.
. The agonizing re-awakening about Obama among the general public helps Huckabee. For one thing, even including Ronald Reagan, Republican presidential candidates have been loathe to talk much about social issues: including George W. Bush. McCain was absolutely tongue-tied about it. Now that we see his brassy, spoiled-rotten daughter Megan full of herself but lacking in social graces, we know why.
The dramatic changes on social issues in this country brings, I think, a welcome centrality to Huckabee. No more an Arkansas Jubilation T. Cornpone, he is never more polished last year than he showed himself to be last night. There, before a record crowd of 800 at the Crown hotel in Rosemont, he held them in the palm of his hand: not as a oracular minister would but as a conversational, witty, brilliant talk show host with is this countrys favorite milieu. This undoubtedly has to do with matchless experience he has honed as host of his own Fox show: not the stentorian minister, not unduly oracular and brilliantly self-deprecating and conversational.
What has helped him perfect his style? Obviously Barack Obama. When he ran in 2008 there was not an Obama who seemed to violate all the canons of the center-right from social issues to Result: Mike Huckabee has blossomed from a southern fried regional candidate into a maturity that equips him as a five-star contender for the presidency in these times. Again: when he ran for president in 2008 the Republican party was more than a little self-conscious of a candidate too strong on the social issues: abortion, anti-gay rights, anti-pornography.
Weve been through a lot in the last nine monthsnot all of it Obamas doing. It involves ACORNs outrageous agreement to enable on child prostitution and if you please the egregious defense by Hollywoodites Whoopie Goldberg of Roman Polanski (oh, well, it wasnt rape-rape) and the droll remarks of Washington Post media columnist Tom Shales (theres a difference between being 13 elsewhere than in Hollywoodtry that on for size you parents of 13 year old girls) a national move to the cultural right which still may embarrass some GOP fat cat contributors, solidifies Huckabee.
Pretty soon the left-wing media-entertainment smear bund is going to get wise and switch from savaging Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck to going after Mike Huckabee. Theyll have a much tougher time with himas they had with Reagan. And theyll have to do it without David Letterman who has been a leading artillery weapon in laughing out loud as Judeo-Christianity. Hes going to be busybusier when we find out more about his busy hot-sheet establishment above the Ed Sullivan Theatre.
In summary: I think its becoming Mike Huckabees time. Mitt Romneys too smooth, has gone through too many contortions from Massachusetts to now to be credible. Tim Pawlenty may be all right but in many ways he seems far less experienced than Huckabee who was a governor for ten yearsmore of a risk going with him. From this vantage point Id say that if Huckabee continues along this vein, hes going to be the candidate to beat for 2012 because of all of them only he can use his strong base on the social issues without being self-conscious as the others would.
And judging from what I heard last night, America is thirsting for his message. As for me, I want to hear more. Much more.