“My gosh, I’m beginning to think that there’s more freedom in North Korea sometimes than there is in the United States. When I go to the airport, I have to get in the surrender position, people put hands all over me, and I have to provide photo ID and a couple of different forms and prove that I really am not going to terrorize the airplane – but if I want to go vote I don’t need a thing.”
~ Former (and future?) GOP Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee
I just got back from spring break with my family, so I missed quite a bit, including Heartbleed, the Bundy/BLM standoff idiocy and, most recently, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee’s intentionally provocative comments to the New Hampshire Freedom Summit. It’s the latter I’d like to touch on here.
I usually think the best thing to do with intentionally provocative comments from hucksters (or, in this case, Huckster) is to ignore them, on the theory that they’re little more than the grown-up equivalent of a child’s “look at MEEEE!!” exhortation/tantrum. If anything, they’re even more annoying than the average toddler because, as annoying as a child can be with such things, they are mostly innocently in search of attention. When “grownup” (and Here, I use the term loosely) political hacks like Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh or Huckabeeexhibit similar behavior, it’s a safe bet they are either peddling books or speaking appearances, or flogging an upcoming candidacy. So, why reward such carefully-calculated attention-seeking behavior, is my usual approach.
At the NH event, however, Schmuckabee’s comments displayed something else besides the run-of-the-mill pre-campaign red meat-tossing and peacocky, something The Huckster™ probably wasn’t aware he was displaying. Namely: the longstanding, pervasive tradition of GOP cluelessness. The GOP have gone out of their way over the years to position and portray their position – white, male, straight, moderately-to-severely conservative – as the default position of American politics. Fiscally prudent, strong on defense, skeptical of newfangled, untested ideas: the GOP consciously adopt the posture of your basic harrumphing daddy-knows-best figure. It doesn’t matter that the GOP haven’t actually been fiscally prudent since Eisenhower (a President fewer and fewer of today’s Republicans can remember personally), or that their military acumen since WWII could most accurately be described as spotty at best; this is still the image of the GOP, one which they go to great lengths to convince both themselves and everyone else is true. When it works for them, it really works quite well (often, as I said, in spite of the facts). Ronald Reagan’s sunny patrician insults helped create an impenetrable, winning formula for him that propelled Reagan to iconic status even as Iran-Contra raged around him. And it continues to keep The Gipper, years after his death, a perpetual icon for legions of conservatives. Republicans’ Achilles heel with this strategy is that when it fails them, they look exactly like what the stern Daddy image they cultivate looks like when his kids see him for the fuddy-duddy he is: kinda pathetic and out-of-touch. This is why some of the “culture war” issues that had so recently worked in the GOP’s favor (think: Karl Rove’s strategic use of anti-gay-marriage ballot initiatives in battleground states in 2004) have begun to turn on them: because at the same time as demographics continue to shift away from the traditional old, white, straight, conservative GOP base, the electorate’s social ideas are also changing. Marriage equality will now happen in my lifetime in every state, or nearly every one. And views on other issues which seemed fixed in amber not long ago are similarly changing. That’s why Huckabee’s comments are worth noting: because they display exactly the sort of fuddy-duddy cluelessness which will torpedo the GOP if they continue to embrace and double down on it.
Of course Huckabee’s comments are consciously and carefully created red meat to throw not to (or not just to) the attendees at the NH summit but also to the larger wingnut Wurlitzer, that endless GOP hall of mirrors/megaphone that functions as their self-reinforcing media machine. And of course the comments are intended to attract The Huckster™ some attaboys by also being calculated to piss off liberals and Democrats. But take a closer look at what Huckabee’s words also convey (other than, as Digby notes, that the speaker is a truly nasty piece of work):
“My gosh,” (aw, shucks, I’m “jest folks,” like you are, America!) “I’m beginning to think that there’s more freedom in North Korea sometimes than there is in the United States.” (Ludicrous, but plays into the paranoia of the “Obama’s comin’ fer yer guns!!!” crowd and people who think white Christian males are the most oppressed group in society, i.e. – the GOP primary base) “When I go to the airport, I have to get in the surrender position, people put hands all over me, and I have to provide photo ID and a couple of different forms and prove that I really am not going to terrorize the airplane” (See, here’s the thing, Mike: nobody likes the TSA putdowns (just as nobody really likes paying taxes), but perhaps the group that likes them least of all are the people – mostly immigrants and brown-skinned people – who are most likely to be singled out for “additional screening.” Hearing you, an entitled white guy whose face many Americans recognize, lament your mistreatment at the hands of the TSA doesn’t make people (except people exactly like you) sympathize, it makes them think you’re clueless – which you are. While this may play among the GOP base, it won’t do a thing for you anywhere else; in fact, it’ll hinder your chances of attracting any other votes from groups the GOP desperately needs to expand into in order to stay relevant in a time of changing demographics) “but if I want to go vote I don’t need a thing.” (and THAT’S where you really lose anyone but the whitest and most paranoid of GOP voters, Mike (those you hadn’t already lost) – with whining about a program that was initially a Republican-pushed idea: the always vaguely fascist-sounding “Homeland Security Department” (which begat the TSA and their airport pat-downs and invasive scanners), while simultaneously making it HARDER to vote (but only for groups like students…the poor…people with disabilities…etc. Hey, not like you need THEM or anything, amirite?)
I realize it’s early, and the point of primary-contest appearances by candidates is to throw red meat to the base, but as the last few elections have increasingly demonstrated, the ever-further-rightward lean of the GOP primary electorate means that surviving candidates have an increasingly hard job of trying to split the difference in the general, where they need to appear not totally loony to anyone not from the primary base while simultaneously not alienating those same primary voters who just advanced their candidacy on the strength of their supposed right-wing bona-fides. Words like Huckabee’s at the New Hampshire Freedom Summit may or may not help him with GOP primary voters, but to virtually everyone else, they cement both his and to a lesser extent the larger GOP’s image as a party not just unaware of the desires and needs of a changing electorate, but often actively opposed to large parts of it. In short, it is GOP cluelessness writ large. Criticizing the TSA airport-security putdowns as “worse than North Korea” will serve only to remind most non-GOP base voters that it was the Republicans who lost their minds in the wake of 9/11 and pushed hardest for the DHS and TSA as well as the AUMF, war in Iraq, etc. And tying that to the relative ease with which (thankfully) most Americans still vote, as if that’s a bad thing that needs to be either taken away or restricted further just cements the notion that Schmuckabee in particular and the GOP in general are simply not the party for anyone not white, straight, etc. Good luck with that, fellas.