What happened to Mike Huckabee when I wasn’t looking?

Huckabee in 2007.

Huckabee in 2007.

When I interviewed Mike Huckabee in 2007, I was fairly impressed. He stood out among self-styled conservatives of the day by speaking of the obligation to govern when in office, rather than merely rip and tear at the very idea of government:

    Mike Huckabee, who is seeking the Republican nomination for president, made reference to this principle when he met with our editorial board Thursday:
One of the tough jobs of governing is, you actually have to do it.” That may sound so obvious that it’s foolish, like “One thing about water is, it’s wet.” But it can come as a cold shock.
Think of the congressional class of 1994. Newt Gingrich’s bomb-throwers were full of radical notions when they gained power. But once they had it, and used it, however briefly, to shut down the government, they quickly realized that was not what they were elected to do.
Or some of them realized it. More about that in a moment. Back to Mr. Huckabee.
Mr. Huckabee is a conservative — the old-fashioned kind that believes in traditional values, and wants strong, effective institutions in our society to support and promote those values.
Many newfangled “conservatives” seem just as likely to want to tear down as build up.
If Mr. Huckabee was ever that way, being the governor of Arkansas made him less so. “As a governor, I’ve seen a different level of human life, maybe, than the folks who live in the protected bubble of Washington see,” he said. And as a governor who believed he must govern, he was appalled when he saw government fail to do its job. He points to the aftermath of Katrina: “It was one of the more, to me, disgusting moments of American history…. It made my blood boil….

Of course, I was comparing him to Mark Sanford. Among other things, the Club for Growth — which has always adored Mark Sanford — hated Huckabee. And he wore that as a badge of honor.

He said he was “a conservative that’s not mad at anybody over it.” (Here’s video in which he said that.) And his demeanor, and the way he spoke about issues bore that out.

So it is that I was surprised at this statement from him, which Jennifer Rubin, the duty conservative blogger at the WashPost, passed on:

On the other side of the religious debate, Mike Huckabee opined: “Everything he does is against what Christians stand for, and he’s against the Jews in Israel. The one group of people that can know they have his undying, unfailing support would be the Muslim community. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the radical Muslim community or the more moderate Muslim community.” Yikes. Not helpful and only designed to provoke Christians and Jews….

Now, the president deserves criticism for what he said, and I plan to get into that in a separate post when I get my head above water for an hour or so. But this was really over the top, and off the mark.

I was sort of vaguely aware, in the background somewhere, that Huckabee had changed somewhat. I don’t know what caused that. Maybe it happened while he had that TV show, which I never saw because I have a TV for watching movies and “West Wing” and “Better Call Saul,” and not much else (and don’t tell me what happened in last night’s episode, because I haven’t seen it!).

But this really brought it home. What happened to not being mad at anybody about it?

47 thoughts on “What happened to Mike Huckabee when I wasn’t looking?

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Yeah, that’s the sense that I get. The change just seems way more marked to me, because I haven’t paid much attention to him since the nomination contest before January 2008.

      To people who watch a lot of TV “news,” it’s probably not as jarring…

      1. Matt Warthen

        It’s also worth noting that he has a book out now, called, I kid you not, “God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy”. He also has a new bit of divisive rhetoric that goes along with the book where he separates America into the “Bubbas” and the “Bubbles”. That is to say, people in the flyover states, and the Hollywood, Ivy league, gay, atheist, abortionists. If it doesn’t get him the nomination, I’m sure it’s helping his book sales.

        1. Kathryn Fenner

          Man, that is offensive. I’m sure lots of voters will lap it up. He’s positioning himself as the new Sarah Palin!

        2. Brad Warthen Post author

          Well, I’m fine with the God part, and neutral on the Gravy. I do like to shoot a firearm on rare occasions. But I gave up Grits when I started eating paleo.

          Which is hard, actually… I was really tempted to have some this morning…

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              I think those who subscribe to this dichotomy would probably call me a “Bubble,” even though I’m down with the God part, and have been known to shoot skeet with Bryan.

            2. scout

              I’m sure people see me as a Bubble too, but I get parts of the Bubba as well. Down to Earth pragmatism is not bad. Maybe Bub needs to be a category.

        3. Brad Warthen Post author

          I just got a press release from the Conservation Voters of SC headlined, “Boats, Bass, and Bubbas,” which I suppose they snapped up when Huckabee went with that other title instead…

  1. bud

    There are basically four camps in the Republican Party. First there are the old-school, country club conservatives. These are the plutocrats. Among them are Mitt Romney and perhaps Jeb Bush and Chris Christie. These folks make decisions with the ultimate goal of enriching a tiny cadre of elitists. Sure they’ll say all the right things about the need for a huge military, and make a bit of noise on the social issues. That’s necessary to garner votes from the working class. But their entire reason for being is to make sure the rich get richer, regardless of what it does to the middle class on down. It seems as though this group may be somewhat in decline.

    Second are the theocrats. Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum are prominent members of this group. In contrast to the plutocrats they are mainly focused on making sure the government pushes Fundamentalist Christian “values” onto the rest of us. They give lip service to tax cuts for the wealthy and a big military but are really in it to limit abortion rights, gay rights and impose prayer everywhere. Their true god is capitalism.

    Third there are the imperialists. War mongers through and through these folks worship at the alter of all things related to war. No matter how much money is spent, how minimal the threat and their complete and utter lack of EVER having been right they continue to push for more and more involvement in the affairs of other nations. They want the US to be the world’s policeman or, more accurately they want to bully everyone into obeying the will of Uncle Sam. Like their brethren in the plutocrat and theocrat groups they pay lip service to other conservative bromides but really they just don’t much care about balanced budgets and abortion restrictions. To them it’s a matter of building and using the most bombs. Our very own Lindsey Graham seems to be the leader of this bunch now that John McCain todders into his senior years.

    Finally we have the tea partiers. Perhaps a better term for this group is objectivism or in the extreme anarchists. This group really doesn’t stand for much in the way of principal but rather they live and breathe to oppose everything the Democrats want to do. Of late they have become more vocal in opposing many measures of members of the other 3 GOP factions. This is especially true if it involves any proactive policies that require government involvement. That even includes the military. (Hey, nobody is all bad). The Pauls, Sarah Palin, Mark Sanford and of course Ted Cruz are prominent members nationally. Our own governor seems to have leanings in that direction as well. This is the ONLY one of the four groups that REALLY cares about a minimal government. This group really doesn’t fit with the other 3 but made little headway in their own Libertarian party. So they decided to hijack the GOP. So far they haven’t succeeded nationally but in some states, Kansas for instance, they have. The result has been a disaster.

    It’s going to be fun to see which of these four groups prevails next year in the primary season. And will the ultimate winner be able to placate the members of the three losing factions? Only time will tell.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I don’t COMPLETELY buy in to any of Bud’s categories — for instance, I don’t believe Bush’s and Romney’s “entire reason for being is to make sure the rich get richer.” And of course, I can’t accept his categorization of the defense hawks, of which I believe there are too few in the modern GOP.

      But while I’d quibble over such observations as that, the overall divisions Bud describes are fairly sound, except for one thing:

      His last category, which I would refer to as the “libertarian camp,” is really two. Mark Sanford belongs to one, and Nikki Haley belongs to the other.

      The Sanford camp — which is actually fairly closely related to the country-club crowd — is where you find the more abstract theorists of the anti-government movement. Sanford’s is the more upscale, somewhat more intellectual crowd. It includes the Club for Growth and the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal. These folks are hothouse ideologues. Their theories are everything, and they don’t let reality dissuade them from their abstract faith.

      The Nikki Haley camp, which includes the Tea Party and the likes of Sarah Palin, is the more populist one. It’s less theoretical, and more about gut-level resentment of government, media, intellectuals, elites of any kind — and definitely anyone who receives any sort of taxpayer-funded assistance, except for themselves, with their Social Security and Medicare (which they by God EARNED — just ask them; they’ll tell ya). There’s great suspicion among this crowd of airy systems of thought, and of anything that an adherent of this camp regards as bigger than himself — big government, big business, big anything. This is the “keep your government hands off my Medicare” crowd, whereas the Sanford camp is more likely to construct a theoretical model that leads to doing away with Medicare…

    2. scout

      So where does Jon Huntsman fit? Or Matthew Dowd. Or David Brooks. I know those latter two are commentators rather than politicians, but I think they are considered to be on the republican side. I tend to agree with Republicans of this ilk when I agree with Republicans.

  2. bud

    Dang it. This sentence: ” Their true god is capitalism. ” should go with the plutocrat paragraph NOT the theocrats.

  3. Norm Ivey

    I used to like Huckabee. In one of the 2008 debates he responded to criticism from one of the other candidates about Arkansas allowing children of illegal immigrants to get state scholarships to attend school by telling whoever it was that “I believe we are a better country than that,” which indicated to me that he understood governing is about people. I appreciated his candor at the time, but I find him difficult to relate to now.

    His Bubbas vs. Bubbles argument is essentially the same argument that we’ve had since our founding, only it was framed in terms of more and less populous states. The way he’s presenting his argument (at least on the television machine) will play well with the Bubbas because his thesis is that the Bubbas know better. Division sells better than unity.

  4. Stan Dubinsky

    Jennifer Rubin’s best comment: “We don’t have to call him a bad Christian or pro-radical Islam to recognize he is a rotten wartime leader.”

    1. M.Prince

      What did he say? Why, nothing atall — at least not if you’re someone, like me, who tends to distrust anyone – whether they identify themselves as a Christian, American or whatever — who’s not willing to exercise at least a modicum of introspection, skepticism and occasional self-criticism.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      I will read that, before I post about it.

      But to answer your question as to why I said what I said in passing…

      Off the top of my head (and admitting that I haven’t thoroughly researched it yet), what he did that was wrong was speak of things that people did long ago in the name of Christ within the context of murderous Islamist radical actions TODAY, as though there were some one-to-one comparison that made sense. As though WE must not get on our “high horse” when people in the modern world, NOW, do barbaric things that we have to go back to the Middle Ages to find in OUR culture. As though WE are morally responsible for horrific things that people did so long ago that even if they were our ancestors, we’re probably not able to trace the family tree back that far. Dead people. As in, not us.

      And yes, he spoke of religion being used to support slavery and Jim Crow much more recently. But as Eugene Robinson (who is normally so reflexively liberal that I usually don’t bother to read his columns; they’re basically the left’s talking points of the day) wrote, that utterly ignores that the greater Christian influence was found on the OTHER side, from Wilberforce to MLK, and that THAT Christian influence was what won out.

      Finally, there’s the supercilious, didactic tone in the quotes I saw (and Phillip’s completely right; I need to read the whole thing before I do a post about this). And as weird as this may sound, it reminds me in a way of what I hear from neoConfederates and others who defend the flag, lecturing us on history because obviously WE are too ignorant to realize that, for instance, Lincoln said he cared more about preserving the Union than freeing the slaves, as though that’s some sort of gotcha that somehow invalidates the union cause. They’re saying true things (basic things, that any student of history knows), but using them to make points that don’t quite follow.

      Another thing it reminds me of is the attorney — actually, a friend of mine — who came in to see the editorial board once. His client was an Indian tribe that wanted to institute high-stakes bingo in SC. When he met resistance from us, he started lecturing us on American history, going on about how badly the red man had been treated by the white man — really basic stuff that anyone knows and appreciates, which didn’t have a damned thing to do with whether we needed high-stakes bingo in South Carolina. I was furious with him that day for presuming to tell me that I just didn’t know how badly Native Americans had been treated, and lecturing me about it, and presuming that if I just understood, I’d agree with them about the bingo thing — which was a complete nonsequitur, and intellectually insulting.

      Anyway, I was kind of reminded of that, too.

      But I’ll read the whole thing, and maybe change my mind. We’ll see…

      1. Kathleen

        Also listen if you can. You appear to have identified exactly, even without a complete reading, every objectionable point. The insulting tone, both written and spoken, was offensive enough to close a persons ears.

      2. Brad Warthen Post author

        Here’s a nice passage from that Robinson column:

        By reaching so far back into history, Obama seemed to echo those who argue that today’s turmoil and terrorism are taking place because Islam has not yet had a Reformation or the Muslim world an Enlightenment. I won’t put words in the president’s mouth. But I will say that, whatever he meant, to compare the depredations of the Islamic State with those of the Crusaders is patronizing in the extreme.

        Why? Because Muslims are not slow learners who can be held to only a medieval moral standard. Everyone in the world can be expected to know that it is wrong to burn a helpless human being alive, as Islamic State murderers did to a captive Jordanian pilot. The fact that Joan of Arc met a similar fate in 1431 does not make it improper to “get on our high horse” about unspeakable acts being committed in our time, which makes them our responsibility….

        Exactly. The issue here is responsibility. If there are people in our time who are doing unspeakable things to other human beings, it is our responsibility to stop them. In a way that what happened to Joan of Arc is NOT our responsibility.

        No high-school-level history lecture negates that fact.

        1. M.Prince

          Oh Lordhavemercy! This wasn’t a speech about military strategy. It wasn’t a speech about foreign affairs. It was an address about humility, religious tolerance, separation of church and state and the Golden Rule. In his “offending” comments, Obama cautioned folks against getting up on their high horses, yet many folks here seem to be doing precisely that. Before you do, though, maybe it would help to first investigate what you’re talking about. Fact is, those “offensive” remarks consisted of 52 words (2 sentences) out of a total of roughly 2870 words. Placed in context I find nothing whatsoever in those 52 words that any rational person could be offended by.

          1. M.Prince

            Then again, I suppose this is what happens when intellect surrenders to sound-bites and Twitter-feeds (which are just sound-bites in text form): the ability to handle long-form context or show proper appreciation for the context in which comments occur slowly atrophies.

        2. Phillip

          Agreed, if “our” means humanity as a whole. Robinson’s point is interesting but is in some sense mistaken because it views all history as one solid linear progression, which is not how history really works (except maybe from a Western modernist-historical perspective). Have you stopped to ask yourself, “hmmm, surely the guy who is conducting drone bombings on an unprecedented level and has just asked for a pretty open-ended AUMF against ISIS which wouldn’t stop him if he didn’t get it anyway, could not possibly have meant that we ‘must not get on our “high horse” when people in the modern world, NOW, do barbaric things’ “? How could that same person possibly have meant what you think he meant?

          And back to Eugene Robinson: I hate to sound like Lindsey Graham, but news flash Eugene: History does not go in straight lines. Islam had an Enlightenment of sorts centuries ago, but is now in crisis, and does have a problem with a virulent and violent extremist wing. We wouldn’t be having this 14-or-more-year debate within and across Western liberal democracies about what to do about it if that were not the case. Is that really “patronizing”?

          Christianity was founded 2000 years ago and the Crusades occurred 1100 years into its existence, the Inquisition roughly 1500 years into its existence. Islam was founded 1400 years ago, and faces multiple challenges, essentially a large-scale internal war between Shia and Sunni, but also between those seeking to reconcile Islam with the modern 21st century world and those who seek a return to the “medievalism” of absolute values and no unresolved questions, no ambiguities, no tolerance of multiplicity of beliefs. Is the fact that this is happening 1400 years into that religion’s existence so hard to acknowledge? Christianity faced that sort of challenge, one not unique to any religion or set of beliefs (to me, that seemed exactly and obviously to be Obama’s point in the “controversial” paragraph) and by and large has successfully come through that period in its history. Islam, 6 centuries younger than Christianity, may be at its own special time of reckoning, and one hopes for a similar result—but in the end that will be up to Muslims themselves.

          Robinson is right that many of the leaders of Islamic radicalism exploit their followers and seek worldly power more than salvation, but he underestimates (in my view) the true religious fanaticism of legions of their followers, born from whatever cause. You don’t blow yourself up with a suicide belt or fly a plane into a building if you are just seeking worldly power. So yes, “if there are people in our time who are doing unspeakable things to other human beings, it is our responsibility to stop them” but that responsibility is a human responsibility, borne equally among all of us, those of any or no religious belief.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Phillip sees radical Islamism as more about religion than I do.

            I think it has more to do with other conditions that people in these cultures find themselves in.

            There’s no Law of the Progression of Religions. Christians did the things they did in different times — the kinds of things we’re talking about — because of the times they were in, not because of some dictate of the faith. Medieval men interpreted their faith the way they did because they were medieval men. If you’re a knight who gets his way by whacking people with swords, you decide it’s your Christian duty to go to Palestine and whack people with your swords. It’s your particular, um, idiom, as Sir Lancelot would say.

            Christianity was 1,400 years old as we were coming out of the Middle Ages. Islam is 1,400 years old in a time when mass communication revolutions are sweeping the globe, when Hollywood washes like a tsunami across every continent — something that has, of course, caused a reactionary response in traditional cultures, who resent America for being the source of what they see as trash.

            People interact with their times. They’re not just the products of their faith constructs, however devout they may be.

            Another thing… I got a little lost in this sentence: “Have you stopped to ask yourself, “hmmm, surely the guy who is conducting drone bombings on an unprecedented level and has just asked for a pretty open-ended AUMF against ISIS which wouldn’t stop him if he didn’t get it anyway, could not possibly have meant that we ‘must not get on our “high horse” when people in the modern world, NOW, do barbaric things’ “? ”

            Are you saying that what OBAMA does, with drones and such, are barbaric things, or a response to barbarism?

            1. Phillip

              Brad, what I meant by that was simply to quote your interpretation of Obama’s line, and then to point out that the President who conducts drone attacks and is asking Congress for the AUMF to fight ISIS could not possibly have meant it in the sense that you seemed to think he did.

              But to your other point about the relevance of radical Islamism being “about religion,” etc.—you’re absolutely right that the “conditions, situations” various peoples find themselves in are at the heart of the matter. We are in agreement on that.

              But— and this is the flip side (the dangerous side) of mass movements, large-scale organized religion—religious fervor is the gasoline added to the fire, that brings with it the promise of a future paradise, the absolute certainty that God is on your religion’s (or sect within your religion’s) side and against all those other infidels who will burn in hell. For people in dire straits, religious belief and fervor can be a comfort (I suppose) but it can be also (especially with a critical mass of worldwide followers) whipped up into a frenzy and exploited by cynical (and yes, power-hungry) leaders.

              Religious fervor and numbers can accomplish enormous tasks. Throughout history, we’ve seen that borne out, both for good and for ill.

      3. bud

        He could have mentioned the recently ongoing violence between the Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. Then we wouldn’t have all this nitpicking about something that occurred soooo long ago. Unless of course you consider the 90s long ago.

        1. scout

          I think the Ku Klux Klan is a much better and more recent analogy. They did horrible things and call themselves Christian – yet their actions are not representative of actual Christian doctrine and do not reflect the feelings or actions of the majority of Christians in the world.

    3. Brad Warthen Post author

      Now, all of that said…

      I’ve finally found time to go read the whole speech, and Phillip and M. Prince will both be gratified to know that in context, the problematic passage does NOT offend me much, if at all. In fact, within the context, I’m not quite sure what he means to say. It doesn’t seem to fit well.

      And I think the fact that there’s a vagueness to what he’s saying there allows people to take it in a very negative way.

      In any case, it doesn’t seem to shout of moral relativism the way the words did in isolation. It comes across more as a matter of our all being trapped in a world with Original Sin. Or something.

      By the way, I liked this part of the speech:

      But part of humility is also recognizing in modern, complicated, diverse societies, the functioning of these rights, the concern for the protection of these rights calls for each of us to exercise civility and restraint and judgment. And if, in fact, we defend the legal right of a person to insult another’s religion, we’re equally obligated to use our free speech to condemn such insults — (applause) — and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with religious communities, particularly religious minorities who are the targets of such attacks. Just because you have the right to say something doesn’t mean the rest of us shouldn’t question those who would insult others in the name of free speech. Because we know that our nations are stronger when people of all faiths feel that they are welcome, that they, too, are full and equal members of our countries….

      Amen to that, Mr. President. As I was saying, “Je ne suis pas Charlie.” Just because you have the right to publish something deeply, intentionally insulting about the faith of others doesn’t mean you should. In fact, you shouldn’t.

  5. Bryan Caskey

    Obama’s crusades comment wasn’t offensive. I’m not offended by dumb statements. It was just dumb thing to say. It sounded like what a 14 year old kid says, trying to sound clever or deep, but it’s actually just dumb.

    I mean, what was his point in even saying that? Yes, people have done all sorts of bad things in the name of just about everything, Christianity included. Thanks, a lot Sparky, we all knew that. Thanks.

    How is this banal statement even relevant to the fact that ISIS is brutally killing, torturing, raping, and enslaving people right now? What’s the point? For a person who is supposed to be the smartest President to ever occupy the office, I’m still waiting on him to really blow my mind with his dazzling intellect.

  6. bud

    Bryan the president’s comments were aimed at those who DON’T believe ANYONE ever committed some atrocity in the name of Christianity. And there are millions who honestly believe that. You and I see that as obvious but it’s a very important point when it comes to relations with folks who don’t share your religion. I think it should have been said a long time ago. Did you see the triple murder in Chapel Hill? Don’t think that guy claimed he was a Christian but I have a hard time buying this parking space dispute as the motive. I believe he was a bigot.

    1. Bryan Caskey

      Bud, you’ve come close to agreeing with me, so I’m not going to push my luck and continue arguing. A good lawyer knows to stop arguing when the judge starts nodding along.

      Regarding the man charged with three counts of murder, here’s his Facebook page of things he “likes”.

      Go see for yourself what he liked. For those of you who don’t click the link, here’s a sampling: His “likes” include the Huffington Post, Rachel Maddow, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Freedom from Religion Foundation, Bill Nye “The Science Guy,” Neil deGrasse Tyson, gay marriage groups, and a lot of anti-conservative/anti-Tea Party pages. Oddly enough, one of the four Facebook groups he had joined was “Religious Tolerance.”

      You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce that he is a militant atheist and a liberal progressive. But most murders aren’t done for politically based reasons. They’re usually committed for lowbrow and mundane reasons by people with low impulse control. In this case, it seems that there was some dispute over a parking space, or some fool thing. Accordingly, I’m not blaming Rachel Maddow or Neil deGrasse Tyson for giving him the idea to kill these people.

      Parking problems can be frustrating. These people were just murdered by a guy who can’t control himself.

      1. Doug Ross

        But, but, but, Bryan – Fox News! All those Facebook likes were just a cover for his radical Christian cult behavior!

      2. scout

        The thing that annoys me about that whole story is the implication that it would be a less bad if it was just about parking. You don’t kill people over parking! I also don’t understand the huge reaction in the Muslim community over seemingly very little evidence – at least as far as what’s been reported.

        1. scout

          I mean either way 3 seemingly good and decent people are dead. If it’s because they were Muslim, there’s all these demonstrations, but if it’s because of parking, it’s just another murder? It’s still terrible and 3 good and decent people are still dead. It seems somehow disrespectful to them to protest in one case and not the other. They are the same good people now gone and they are still dead either way. I think I’d like to see more outrage that someone would murder three people over parking. The stupidity of it is equally or maybe more offensive.

  7. Phillip

    Robinson’s column is an interesting take on it, his view that the comments could be construed as patronizing towards Muslims. I certainly can see where he’s coming from. But I also like your friend EJ Dionne’s view on the matter .

    Much ado about nothing. “High horse” was probably not the best choice of words, but in the context of the whole speech, which was full of comments that to me anyway seemed to evoke the highest ideals of Christianity, of humility, love and compassion for one’s fellow man, this was one teensy paragraph. Goodness, he even kind of echoed your “je ne suis pas Charlie” sentiments.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I had read E.J.’s before Robinson’s. And EJ made me think maybe there was no problem. It was Robinson who really got me thinking there was a problem here. As did Andrea Mitchell — along with some of the things said by usual suspects, such as Jennifer Rubin.

      David Brooks, however, was as phlegmatic as his NPR compadre EJ.

      When E.J. and Brooks agree, I should probably take the hint and go along, until I’ve had a chance to investigate on my own. Because I have great respect for both of them.

      And remember, I did not intend to write a post on this without reading the speech. I wrote what I wrote above to explain why my initial impression was negative, in response to your question…

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