January 13, 2009

AFTER ALL, HOW CAN A NICE GUY BELIEVE ALL THAT OOGEDY-BOOGEDY?:

Mike Huckabee: The Laughing Man: It's funny, the nicest guy in a political party of not-very-nice guys is also its most unbending cultural samurai. (A.J. Jacobs, 1/13/09, Esquire)

Today he's got a speaking gig at a fundraiser for the New Jersey Family Policy Council to promote his book Do the Right Thing.

The book tells his unlikely tale: A barely known former Arkansas governor and onetime Baptist pastor most famous for writing a diet book suddenly becomes front-runner — if only briefly — for the Republican nomination for president. It's an inspirational tale. You want to win the Iowa caucuses? You don't need big money. All you need is a combination of hardcore conservative values, economic populism, a self-deprecating sense of humor, a TV ad with Chuck Norris, some Wall Street bashing, pheasant hunting, and a Tonight Show appearance with you jamming on bass guitar.

Huckabee also spells out his plan to fix the Republican party. The short answer: Return to conservative moral values, including an emphasis on pro-life issues and a ban on gay marriage, and stop spending money like Democrats. Oh, and gag Mitt Romney. Huckabee caused a mini firestorm by taking a couple of uncharacteristically harsh swipes at Romney, whom he considered phony and high-handed. ("He was usually accompanied by a phalanx of eager young aides who bullied their way through events as if they were all carrying badges, guns, and the authority to move the 'little people' out of Mitt's way. It did not go unnoticed by other candidates or by the 'little people' who spoke with open contempt of the treatment.")

Huckabee salts the pages with his trademark borscht-belt one-liners. At one point, he slams his fellow Republicans for flip-flopping. They "change positions as easily as Cher can change costumes in one of her many farewell tours." The Baptist in him apparently had a pang of guilt over the unkind words. The next sentence reads: "I think Cher is on her third or fourth 'Farewell Tour' — saying good-bye is a hard thing to do, and frankly, it would be a shame if she did quit given that I have to admit that her show is an amazing blend of rock concert, circus and fashion show."

As we head toward the Lincoln Tunnel, I ask him if he really enjoyed the Cher concert.

"It was an incredible show. One of the best I've ever seen."

"You could have been the only straight male there."

Huckabee laughs. "See? See how tolerant I am?"

In the week before the interview, I'd been told the same thing by a dozen people: He'll charm you. And half an hour in, I've already been sucked in. He's the most likable politician I've ever met. Here he is, one of the most conservative voices in a couple of decades. He's a four-star general in the battle against gay marriage. He's fervently pro-life and is dubious about Darwinism. He disciplined his kids with corporal punishment and he loves his guns. And yet, when you're with him, he's so damn folksy and kind and self-deprecating that the liberal media (i.e., me) just want to hug him.

On The View, lefty Joy Behar recently called him her "favorite Republican." A couple of weeks before our interview, he gave a speech at Brown University and got a standing ovation. Brown! That Maoist collective in Rhode Island. "I thought I was going to get pied," he says, shaking his head. If Sarah Palin is a pit bull, Huckabee is a Labrador retriever.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at January 13, 2009 9:49 PM
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