Mike Huckabee's latest book, “A Simple Christmas: Twelve Stories That Celebrate The True Holiday Spirit,” should cement the convictions of his loyalists, irritate those who aren't, and, at the very least, serve as adequate light reading for those in between. Its success depends to a certain degree on how strictly one defines “true holiday spirit.”
Those wishing a simple diet of holiday anecdotes face a few laps upstream to get to its redeeming qualities. There's gold in these hills, but a little mining is required.
From his and sister Pat's childhood tradition of prying open gifts and playing with their contents well in advance of Dec. 25, to the survival of his wife Janet, following treatment and removal of a spinal tumor, plenty of Huckabee's holiday tales resonate well; he's an adept storyteller.
Learning the origins of the first guitar that led to his lifelong love for performing is a heart-warmer, and the story of how he was forced to sell his treasured basses and amps in preparation for parenthood says something about his family priority. He's as fluid a bassist as they come.
That his Christmas trees have been topped every year since 1976 with the same Santa cap worn by his first son is another gem. The narrative of his handyman father constructing a go-kart from scratch contrasts perfectly with Huckabee's own tale of Christmas Eve misery, as he labored long into the night assembling a tricycle for his son.
But not unlike Huckabee the politician, out of nowhere he turns a full 360. Like Scrooge in reverse, the closer he gets to the present the more arrogant he is. It's been written that “Huckabee does not take kindly to journalists who practice journalism.” And within these 12 stories we're consistently reminded of his disdain for reporters. His dander goes up without notice, a brief tirade ensues and his full-frontal arrogance kicks in like egg nog heavily laced with bourbon.
Huckabee reminds us of what he truly believed to be his one true calling: Christian communications. He writes: “I realized the best way I could serve God was to work in broadcasting … I was good at it, and I figured it might be a good way to eventually land a career in politics.” At various junctions in his pre-political life, he worked for radio, ad agencies and other media, that, at the end of the day, essentially boil down to some form of journalism.
But the parallels end there, as readers soon find out how his disdain for traditional journalism is inversely proportionate to his fondness for religious media.
He takes a jab at the Arkansas Times, which reported on his use of a Mansion account to buy groceries. He writes that it's likely that both sides of his lineage had its fair share of “scoundrels”: “It's a miracle I ever got elected to anything. I think the local papers were too busy trying to conjure up controversy over idiotic nonsense like what we were eating at the Governor's Mansion to bother doing any real investigations into my bloodline.”
Huckabee complains about having every aspect of his public life open to inspection, from tax records, income, expenditures, academic and medical records to personal activities, and suggests that reporters would balk if the tables were turned: “Most of the reporters who are indignant when there is the least attempt to keep some area of life private would never accept or tolerate what they demand of candidates and officeholders, and they would of course argue that they are simply holding us accountable since we are getting a taxpayer-funded paycheck. Fair enough, but their words and opinions will directly affect how people feel about [them], and perhaps it might be nice to know how much money they have and where it comes from; what organizations they are members of; what relationships they have; what stocks they own; and what business relationships they have. I know this probably isn't going to happen, and it probably shouldn't, but the self-righteous I-have-a-right-to-demand-information attitude is often very difficult to tolerate knowing that most of the reporters who ask such questions would never answer them if the tables were turned.”
Also among the Christmas musings the former governor also finds time to criticize “certain journalists” for covering his destruction of state computer hard drives and complain that his “Herculean effort” to ease the transition of his successor as governor was “rewarded with a series of shoddily-researched articles and columns and even ethics complaints,” all, according to him, “baseless.”
The repeated digs at journalists would be better suited for an entirely different manuscript, instead of padding pages of a book about goodwill and peace. Huckabee's snide jabs at opponents both past and present cheapen his own book's redeeming qualities. One chapter devotes nearly six pages to Arkansas's political climate in 1991, and his subsequent moral obligation to save us from ourselves by entering the 1992 governor's race. How selfless. Lingering bitterness toward yesterday's enemies should feel out of place in a collection of Christmas affirmations, but here it feels strangely at home, almost natural.