Columns » Max Brantley

Huck’s bad lib

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At a National Rifle Association meeting last week, former Gov. Mike Huckabee was speaking when there was a sudden crash. Huckabee ad libbed, “That was Barack Obama. He just tripped off a chair. He's getting ready to speak and somebody aimed a gun at him, and he dove for the floor.” A bit of nervous laughter turned to scattered murmurs and then silence.

The line rocketed around the world in a nanosecond, from blogs to mainstream media. Tim Russert asked him about it Sunday on Meet the Press.

Huckabee apologized within hours, but primarily for giving unintentional offense. He offered no insight about the mental predisposition that would suggest humor in an assassination attempt.

Later, with Russert, Huckabee said he'd merely reacted to a “Bobby Knight incident,” a reference to the chair-throwing former basketball coach. He thus followed one cringe-inducing crack with another offhand (if more supportable) slur.

Instead of simple contrition, Huckabee's various responses wandered from sympathy-seeking to defense. It was a “dumb, off the cuff remark” and an “awkward attempt at a joke.” At one point, he said, it was so insignificant, “I didn't even remember having said  it.” Right.

The timing was poor. Huckabee knew that he was to be on Meet the Press two days later to discuss John McCain's presidential candidacy. Asked then if he'd like to run as McCain's vice presidential nominee, Huckabee broke from past demurrals and, as Fox News put it, “made his pitch” to be vice president. “There's no one I would rather be on a ticket with than John McCain,” he told Russert.

What does John McCain think now? Maybe nothing. He's a man prone to verbal flatulence himself. “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” — that Strangelovian McCain utterance — didn't bother Mike Huckabee a bit. “I thought that was funny,” he told Russert. Ha ha.

Cooler heads than McCain might prefer a little judiciousness on the ticket. Huckabee's a risk and not just for gun jokes, though they are a staple of his. Remember the threat to rob convenience stores for campaign cash? The warning to reporters not to get in the way of his shotgun on a quail hunt? It's enough to make you nostalgic for his potty humor.

Huckabee's appeal to McCain has important grounding. He's the candidate of choice of the politically committed Religious Right wing of the Republican Party. A Little Rock Film Festival showing of the documentary “Silhouette City” provides graphic evidence. In the halls where the James Dobsons, James Kennedys, John Hagees and Rod Parsleys gather to preach dominion theology and the Christian battle to “retake America,” Mike Huckabee is invariably a featured speaker. McCain has attempted to throw in with this crowd, too, but Huckabee long ago earned his key to the executive pastors' washroom. He's fully prepped to wave the bloody shirt of the California gay marriage ruling.

McCain may decide that Mike Huckabee's quick lip is just part of the package. Said Huck to Russert, “… it wasn't the first dumb thing I've ever said and, let me go ahead and announce on this program, it won't be the last dumb thing I've ever said.”
I prefer how an Arkansas Blog reader put it in reworking a famous NRA slogan: “They can take Huck's mouth when they can pry it from his cold, dead foot.”

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