I have not yet had time to read Mike Huckabee’s new book, but I certainly like the look and the sound of it. (Actually, I was thinking of ordering it on audio and just listening to it if he did the reading. Anyone gotten it that way?) Still, I’ve seen a number of his book tour appearances, and while I don’t see that as swinging my presidential primary preferences, I like the cut of Huck’s jib on questions of what “real America” looks like for some folks. Not so National Review’s Charles Cooke, though. He’s apparently tired of the schtick.
Huckabee is essentially attempting to become to the Right what the likes of Neil deGrasse Tyson have become to the Left: namely, a proxy figure who can be used as shorthand by the lazy and the lost to signify their allegiance to a set of cherished cultural values. “We like the simple life,” Huckabee announces in his book. “Status is a Ford 150 truck; luxury is crawfish étouffée and slaw on your pulled-pork sandwich; and privilege is front-row seats at a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert.” And unlike those “misfortunate” souls in “Manhattan, the Washington Beltway, or in Beverly Hills,” we know the joy that one can get from wading “in chest-deep water to hunt mallards.”
Insofar as it goes, there is nothing wrong with this. Indeed, I like many of these things too. But the self-conscious spinning of local tradition into a national political aesthetic is invariably irritating, and, typically, electorally counterproductive. There are many wonderful things about the world Huckabee is attempting to represent. But surely, just surely, it is possible for a southerner to run for high office without dressing up as Forrest Gump?
I picked up on this from the Morning Jolt, where our friend Jim Geraghty is a bit more reserved in judgement, but still seems to pile on. One problem, as he sees it, is that Huck is awfully well off financially to be chatting up the the yokels with homespun wisdom. (Though to his credit, Jim does remind the President that Huck built that.)
Governor, I think you have to be a little careful about suggesting that you’re all about the “simple life” with a more humble definition of luxury than all those coastal elites.
For starters, your three-story beachfront house in Florida — with 8,224 square feet of living space, and 2,969 square feet of porch and deck space – is worth $2.8 million. It’s a nice house, with a built-in radio studio.
With due apologies to Jim, this isn’t the sort of argument I can get behind whether the subject is a Democrat, a Republican, a Hollywood director or a Duck Dynasty gator hunter. The amount of money somebody makes – assuming it was legally earned – is really nobody’s business but their own, and if we aspire to support conservative values we don’t need to be judging anyone for how much they earn. That’s the language of the Left and the Occupy movement and I want no part of it. Further, how they spend their money on legal pursuits – except for political donations – is none of our business either. (I only make an exception for the political donations because that puts them on the playing field in our Game of American Thrones and they should be ready to defend those donations.) If Al Gore wants to have a fleet of private jets and live in a carbon spewing mansion while lecturing everyone on global warming, I am free to call him a hypocrite, but I don’t begrudge him the fruits of his labors or a nice lifestyle.
Huck is talking about things which nearly everyone can enjoy, rich or modest in their financial status. Just because you’ve made it to the point where you can afford a house like Huckabee’s, that doesn’t mean that you can’t still enjoy a crawdad boil, a hunting trip, or taking in a southern rock concert. In fact, if those are things you still enjoy even after you’ve made it big, it probably sells me more on your credibility and how grounded you are. There’s no reason to criticize Huckabee for doing these things or writing about them. And if that appeals to a lot of Americans, that’s probably because Mike still enjoys things which are all that some of us can afford, so we’re able to relate to him.
Criticize the man for his policies all you like. And I’m not sitting here endorsing him for the nomination. But there’s no need to go after him for singing the praises of the simple life just because he no longer has to live in a shotgun shack.