Columns » Max Brantley

A new leader of the band

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Another young man from Hope rises to the governor's office next week and he has more than a hometown in common with the last chief executive from Hope.

The former and coming governor both are musically adept. Bill Clinton plays the saxophone. Mike Huckabee plays the drums.

Both were stars in Boys State, an incubator of many a future state leader. Clinton was a delegate to Boys Nation, scene of the famous Kennedy handshake. Huckabee was governor of the American Legion program.

Both are Southern Baptists. Huckabee joined the clergy. Clinton joined the Immanuel choir. Huckabee led the State Baptist Convention through a divisive period in which uncompromising conservatives came to rule the denomination. Clinton is also at ease in the pulpit, particularly those of the more liberal black National Baptist churches, where congregations rock to the religio-political cadences of an uncommonly soulful white boy.

Both men give a good extemporaneous speech. Huckabee is funnier, if you like corny puns and the occasional Rich Little-style impression. Clinton's deeper, but his quick absorption of complexities borders on trickery.

Clinton and Huckabee both like to eat. Huckabee has bested Clinton lately in paring off the excess pounds. Neither has a taste for alcohol--Huckabee on theological grounds; Clinton on account of allergies.

Both men rely on the political guidance of the Connecticut Yankee, Dick Morris, a chameleon reviled by political operatives in both parties for his willingness to place victory above any principled consideration.

Morris' moderating, accommodating, triangulating style of politics helps explain the high negatives Clinton and Huckabee share. Their perpetual campaigns--in which only days, if not hours, separate public appearances--produce both great familiarity and its byproduct, contempt. Heavy exposure in the video age tends to illuminate directional changes and overweening ambition.

The busy speaking schedules have positive benefits. Clinton measures his in votes and contacts. Huckabee also accepts cash and checks.

The people who hate Bill Clinton believe he is a fraud. They think he is a dedicated liberal whose opposition to the Vietnam war is but one outward sign of the usual liberal weaknesses. His moderate tendencies are, they think, only an electoral device, the Trojan horse for a gay-loving, knee-jerking socialist who, once the final election is won, will cram his one-world view down the throats of us all.

The people who hate Mike Huckabee believe he is a fraud. They think he is a Jerry Falwell-style conservative whose opposition to abortion is but one outward sign of the usual Religious Right intolerance. His moderate tendencies are, they think, only an electoral device, the Trojan horse for a gay-hating, knee-jerking theocrat who, once the final election is won, will cram his religious beliefs down the throats of us all.

Finally, this: Both men are far too complicated for such simplistic analysis. Bill Clinton's record provides volumes of illustration. The book on Huckabee has only just begun.

Print headline: "A new leader of the band" July 12, 1996.

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