Sunday, December 30, 2007

Random notes on the last dose of Sunday morning noise of 2007:

Mike Huckabee, looking for a way to prove that he really believes that God has his back and unable to find a cannon that he can have himself shot out of, settles in for some face time with Tim Russert, with only four days to go before he starts getting buried in the primaries. I stare at Huckabee's mouth moving for about four minutes before I remember something that Pauline Kael once wrote about the Jean-Luc Godard movie Alphaville: "It seems to give off powerfully soporific vapors." (This is the only time in your life that you will ever see Mike Huckabee and Jean-Luc Godard mentioned in the same sentence. I hope you've enjoyed it as much as we have.) Huckabee's sleep-inducing qualities are a fairly effective weapon against Russert's jabbing; Huckabee seems to be juggling wet noodles while he tries to simultaneously counter the impression that he's clueless about foreign-policy and assure us that it would be no big deal even if he was, and you get a sense of how far in over his head he might be when Russert invites him to square his line about how we're too good a country to punish the children of illegal immigrants for their parents' mistakes and that our economy would collapse without illegal labor with his plan to give said parents and laborers 120 days to git out of town. But even Russert seems too drowsy to care much. He must have gotten some caffeine and a steroid injection during the commercial break, though, because that's when he comes out swinging.

However, his main line of attack in the second half of the interview is Huckabee's religion, an area where I admit to finding him deeply unscary. Russert pulls out a line from a speech that Huckabee gave at the 1998 Southern Baptist Convention, where he said that we need to "take this nation back to Christ." Huckabee simply reminds Russert of the audience he was speaking to at the time, and insists that the line "certainly" was "appropriate to be said to a Christian gathering." This kind of thing may strike you as mealy-mouthed, which is part of why I find it reassuring. Huckabee is saying that, like most politicians, he emphasizes different sides of himself according to who he's trying to win over, as in "No duh." Maybe he once told an audience of dog-catchers that pet control is the most important thing in the world, but that doesn't mean that, if president, he'd pull the CIA off the search for bin Laden (if the CIA was looking for him, that is) and put all their best agents on canine duty. He also says that he has no intention of having his religion influence public policy, and I believe him. There are two main points of comparison here: Jimmy Carter, who talked about his religion very much as Huckabee does, who also alarmed the media because of it, and who made good on his pledge not to try to turn the United States into a theocracy; and George W. Bush, who spoke in easily identifiable code to religious fundamentalists about how he was going to run a "faith-based" presidency, has done just that, and was never sussed out by the reporters on his trail in 2000. (It's amazing to me that the religious right, which has been a major political force in American politics for close to thirty years, has its own language, and hardly any major journalists think they have a duty to learn it. If these same people were in the mood to do so on a certain day, they'd crucify a presidential candidate they don't like for not speaking fluent Urdu.) I don't want Huckabee to be president, and I can't see him winning the nomination, if only because his lack of money has got to look a lot more sinful to most religious Republicans than Bush's casually signing off on executions and wars with both hands, but I do think that people with a sinister secret agenda lay it out on the table with less openness than he seems to.

That said, that religion of his serves as a justification for some nasty attitudes, such as his homophobia. He does make a more plausible show of hating the sin but not the sinner than, say, Jerry Falwell ever did; he seems as surprised by Russert's suggestion that he might have trouble hiring atheists for his administration as Bush would be flabbergasted by the thought that there might be some more important qualification for public service than fitting in at daily prayer meeting. And in his efforts to meet the rest of us halfway by coming up with secular reasons for his opposition to abortion, he shows that his mind can really perform some cockeyed somersaults. In terms of what's considered mainstream political boilerplate, the biggest jaw-dropper of the interview may be his saying, in a tone that implies suppressed ridicule of anyone who'd dare to disagree, that the idea that "life begins at conception" is an undisputed scientific fact. "I don't think it has any biological credibility" to think otherwise, he says. Making what was probably either a topical reference or a metaphor that went over my head, he also says, "If I value your life and respect it with dignity and worth because it is human, then that's what draws me to the inescapable conclusion that I should be for the sanctity of each and every human life. That's why we go after that twelve-year-old boy in the woods of North Carolina when he's lost." If any newspaper editors are planning to cover this appearance and are looking for an attention-getting headline, I urge them to consider: "HUCKABEE SAYS HE GOES AFTER TWELVE-YEAR-OLD BOYS IN THE WOODS OF NORTH CAROLINA."

Over on Chris Matthews' show, the body politic has become so schizoid that it's threatening to come apart at the seams. While Andrea "Mrs. Greenspan" Mitchell, who I swear looks fifteen years younger now that she did when I used to watch her on the NBC Nightly News thirty years ago, sits in the corner wondering if that portrait of herself that she keeps in the attic has started to look like her husband, Matthews confirms that John Edwards is now a true populist by acting as if the man's first name were "Millworker'sson"--remember, it used to "Triallawyer"--and does a segment making fun of Huckabee for leaving his prayer tower long enough to bag some birds. Who decided that the Republican nomination should depend on who shot the most birds, Matthews chortles? I dunno, Chris. Remind me: Who was that pumpkin-headed straw-haired jackass with the donkey laugh who kept insisting that the true measure of heroism was strutting manliness, as measured by the padding in your flight-suit jockstrap? He might have to shoulder some of the blame for it.

If Matthews is (maybe unconsciously) announcing his willingness to shift with the winds if cement-headed macho turns out to be out of fashion this coming year, Joe Klein is sticking to his guns; he made it clear with every stiff twitch of his Ricky Jay face that he still hates them Clintons for having had the tasteless, white trash audacity to move to his beloved Beverly Hills and deposit all that money in his husband's bank. Most anti-Hillary pundits are content to equate her "experience" with staidness and corruption while lauding Barack Obama's "freshness", but Klein has no use for such wimpiness; he lauds Obama and sneers at Clinton for being old news while also insisting that she doesn't have any experience to speak of. Seven years in the United States Congress, plus eight years in the White House, during which time he and everyone else who hated her guts always claimed that she was secretly running the country behind the scenes? Hell, my five-year-old could paint that! Of course, an Obama presidency would be much better for Klein's career. Then, ten minutes after Obama is sworn in, Klein can claim to have been brutally disappointed in him and write Primary Colors II.

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