Columns » Max Brantley

Talking the talk

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Can presidential candidate Mike Huckabee rouse the conservative base necessary to win the Republican nomination without scaring away the moderates who decide elections?

He’s trying, in the fashion favored by a political adviser, Dick Morris, who’s served both Huckabee and Bill Clinton.

The third-way Huckabee spoke last week at the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit in Washington. Council head James Dobson told one reporter that he hoped the session would inspire a base not sufficiently energized to elect Republicans this year. The Republican Party is, after all, God’s Own Party.

In that setting, you have to give Huckabee a few points. According to the account by Aaron Sadler of Stephens Media, the governor urged the group, despite disagreement on many issues, “to ally with feminists, gay-rights advocates and labor unions to attack social problems”

Huckabee said feminists might enlist in a fight against pornography; same-sex marriage proponents could fight the spread of AIDS, and unions could work to improve wages and working conditions.

According to Stephens Media, Huckabee’s brotherly love outreach puzzled some of the good Christians, including Donald Wildmon. He’s the Mississippi preacher who boycotts anybody kindly toward gays and whose outfit helped rid Arkansas Governor’s School of an excerpt from “Angels in America.”

“I don’t know where we’d sit down in the room with [homosexuals] and iron out an AIDS policy,” Wildmon said of Huckabee’s proposals. “This is fine in theory. I just don’t have any examples of it in real life.”

At least part of Huckabee’s pitch was about image (read: voter appeal). “What we may do is help them to realize that we’re not demons. We don’t have horns and pitchforks and tails,” Huckabee told Stephens Media. Well, yeah. But will gay people feel comfortable joining hands with a person who makes jokes at their expense in almost the same breath? Because, of course, Huckabee had to toss some red meat to this crowd. On marriage said Huckabee: “Until Moses comes down with two stone tablets from Brokeback Mountain saying he’s changed the rules, let’s keep it like it is.”

A gauge of Huckabee’s sincerity is to ask him if he’d employ a gay person who lived in a committed relationship. Or if he’d employ a woman who was an active member of Planned Parenthood and publicly endorsed abortion rights.

If this was a Sister Souljah moment for Huckabee, it fell flat with the press. Most coverage lumped Huckabee among a number of politicians seen as catering to the crowd. A blogger for American Prospect, a liberal publication, noted that Huckabee’s call for cross-cultural partnerships got tepid response. Then the blogger commented:

“It was only toward the end of the speech, when Huckabee finished off his appeal for the welfare of children by calling on the audience to imagine ‘what we could do if instead of paying half their income in taxes, but gave a dime of every dollar to their church or charitable organization,’ that it became apparent what Huckabee’s real game was: speak the language of compassion while resolutely opposing any governmental action to address those in need. He even miraculously spun the government’s incompetence in dealing with Hurricane Katrina to that end. The audience, clearly relieved, gave Huckabee an enthusiastic standing ovation.”

Huckabee speak out of both sides of his mouth? Do tell.


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