Huckabee’s anti-Beyoncé campaign has backfired among Iowa voters

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has a lot to say about Beyoncé Knowles.

In his book, God, Guns, Grits and Gravy, Huckabee praised Knowles’ talent, but submitted that her provocative style of dancing would be “best left for the privacy of the bedroom.” He also pondered whether Knowles’ husband knew that he was “exploiting his wife” and “crossing the line from husband to pimp.”

It was not long after the publication of his book that the press became quite interested in what Huckabee had to say about Beyoncé. In virtually every subsequent interview the media conducted with the likely presidential candidate, Huckabee was asked to expand on his thoughts on Knowles. He always obliged.

The press was not asking about the singer because of an overriding interest in Huckabee’s artistic criticism. They probed the former governor on the issue because of his penchant for saying controversial and inflammatory things that did nothing to advance his political prospects. The former Fox News host met the media’s expectations and provided his interlocutors with a variety of demagogic quotes about the entertainer meant to appeal to the curmudgeonly set.

Amid a raft of presumptuous judgments regarding Knowles’ cultural value, Huckabee overreached when he criticized the Obamas parenting skills for allowing their teenage daughters to listen to her work.

“With the first lady so concerned about making sure her daughters’ bellies don’t ingest unhealthy food, how can she let their brains ingest obnoxious and toxic mental poison in the form of song lyrics?” he asked. “If lived out, those lyrics would be far more devastating to someone’s health than a cupcake.”

Huckabee later defended himself by observing that Barack Obama confessed that he was too embarrassed to listen to Knowles’ song “Glamour” with his children because of the explicit nature of the song’s lyrics. “If it embarrasses you, then why would you possibly think it’s wholesome for your children to put it into their heads?” Huckabee later asked.

If the former governor’s strategy with his extended campaign against Beyoncé was to appeal to conservative social tastes (and with a subtle title like God, Guns, Grits and Gravy, how could it not have been?), his approach seems to have backfired.

According to the latest Bloomberg/Des Moines Register poll of Iowa’s Republican caucus-goers, the vast majority of respondents believed Huckabee went too far when he criticized the Obamas parenting skills. 61 percent of likely Republican caucus-goers said the former Fox host stepped over the line while only 23 percent said he was correct. This is fascinating considering that a plurality of Iowa’s GOP voters, 40 percent, agreed with Huckabee’s contention that Knowles’ music was “mental poison.” 38 percent disagreed with this contention, however, and another 22 percent weren’t sure or had better things to do than tell a pollster what they thought of an R&B singer’s catalogue.

This is heartening. Perhaps National Review’s Charles C.W. Cooke said it best when he asserted that Huckabee’s condescending and contemptuous cultural criticisms are the product of a superiority complex indistinguishable from that which afflicts elitist liberals occupying urban enclaves on the coasts.

Here on the right, we often complain that the political, media, and entertainment classes regard most of the country as rather irrelevant, and that, in consequence, they openly condescend to people who live in Alabama or who go to church or who have NRA stickers on their cars. There is much to this gripe. And yet one will not solve that problem by presenting as a countervailing force a person who sneers right back — especially when that person is seeking an extraordinary amount of power over his fellow citizens. Whatever cultural renaissance Mike Huckabee might believe is necessary in the United States, it will be up to civil society and not to the political classes to bring it about. Unless conservatives wish to join the Left in its Wilsonian quest to glue politics to absolutely everything, our would-be emissaries really need to make up their minds: Do they want to be Mark Levin, or do they want to be Calvin Coolidge?

Cooke added that modern progressivism has grown humorless and “zealously puritanical” as its members seek to enforce conformity of opinion and behavior among its members. Huckabee was seeking to tap into the frustration shared by millions of conservative parents who believe that American popular culture is openly hostile to their beliefs. That opinion is both valid and understandable, but it is not a unique phenomenon in the second decade of the 21st Century. Frustration with popular culture is as old as is the communications technology that facilitated a mass media with national reach. Marshalling grievances against its unrepresentative nature is a trite and frivolous approach to politics.

There is a war in Europe. An Islamist proto-state devouring the corpse of Iraq and Syria from within that is also threatening to usher in a new paradigm in which the Westphalian system of sovereign states is outmoded. China is constructing military bases near Japan and in the South China Sea. The Affordable Care Act faces a gutting from the Supreme Court. Even if it is left untouched, it remains a hopelessly flawed law in desperate need of replacement. The American tax code is dated and has left the nation uncompetitive. Finally, the American economy needs a steward who will lay the foundations for growth rather than to enshrine into future budgets the expectation that America’s best days are well behind it.

These are serious times and they call for a serious president. A politician who would ascend to power by agitating the cynical over an entertainer’s act is unworthy of the honor of leading this great country at a perilous time in history. It is reassuring to see that Iowans seem disinclined to reward Huckabee for appealing to this shallow tactic.