It’s the end of the show and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is letting loose. A house band appears on the stage of Huckabee, his weekend Fox News talk show, and Huck picks up his bass guitar and starts jamming away to Blondie’s “Call Me.” The audience, mostly white, thoroughly conservative, eats it up, oblivious to the vast cultural divide between the song’s writer and its current performer. His guests on the show were actress Rosie Perez and three Miss America’s, and the show feels like a cross between a NASCAR rally and Jerry Springer, complete with Huck giving a long monologue on his thoughts of the day.
Lately, Huckabee has been sharing his thoughts to anyone who will listen. He’s had a profile in Esquire and he’s appeared on The Daily Show and The View, all in promotion of his new book, Do The Right Thing, which weaves his own personal story in with his political ideology in a way that’s stylistically, if not politically, reminiscent of Mein Kampf. But Huck’s not just selling a book—he’s on a campaign to gain influence and control of the levers of the Republican Party. Or, barring that, create his own Christian social conservative wing of it. And he’s winning. The Washington Post lists him as one of the “10 Republicans to Watch” (he’s number seven, Sarah Palin is number one), and his show, by some measures, is the number one cable show in its time slot.
It’s easy in this season of liberal dominance to dismiss the Republican Party as one of nutjobs and followers of a failed ideology, but for gays and lesbians, Huckabee should be considered a unique threat. He’s the leader of a new and virulent brand of homophobia that serves up bigotry with a genial smile. What differentiates Huckabee from the usual cadre of social conservative homophobes is that he’s charismatic, and the MSM has gobbled up his aw-shucks accessibility, lending him and his beliefs a dangerous air of legitimacy.
On the surface of it, the Republican party is in the midst of becoming more moderate. The new Republican Chairman, Michael Steele, holds the party line about being against same-sex marriage, but the Log Cabin Republicans claim that his ascension to the head of the party signals a more inclusive, broad-based strategy. LCR’s Patrick Sammon glows:
”It’s a great day for our Party. Steele is an inclusive leader who will bring a new energy and a new vision to the GOP at a critical time. … While we do not agree with Chairman Steele on every issue, we look forward to working with him to help rebuild the GOP. Republicans got wiped out in November with non-white voters, young voters and self-described moderates. Michael Steele understands the base doesn’t equal a majority.”
He may be kidding himself, but Steele does signal that the Republican party faithful want to move beyond social conservative issues like abortion and gay marriage that conservatives like former Bush speechwriter David Frum believe are keeping them from achieving mainstream success.
But under the surface, there are cracks in the party and Huckabee is looking to exploit that to his advantage. Social conservatives, especially Christian evangelicals, feel burned after eight years of supporting George W. Bush, who promised them social conservative policies, but were handed an unpopular war and fiscal irresponsibility. Conservative columnist Michelle Goldberg writes:
“The irony is that the more marginalized the GOP becomes, the more powerful the religious right becomes within it because it’s one of the last constituencies standing. The 2006 and 2008 elections each left the party more socially conservative than before, as moderates were defeated. The remaining voters seem to like it this way: According to a recent Rasmussen poll, a plurality of Republicans think their party has been too moderate during the Bush years, and fully 55% of them want their party to model itself more on Sarah Palin. The conservative intelligentsia has spent the past generation hymning the virtues of simple heartland believers indifferent to the opinions of coastal eggheads and cultured cosmopolitans. Now, they’re going to have to realize that that includes them.”
Sites like The National Review and The Free Republic now regularly deride “the Republican elite” and demand that the party represent true social conservatives and Huckabee, sensing an opportunity, is remaking himself into that guy.
During the presidential primary, Huckabee played down his social conservative roots, but is now using his stance on gay and lesbian issues to highlight them, going where few mainstream Republicans dare to tread.
In a recent Esquire profile, he compares homosexuality to bestiality, telling reporter A.J Jacobs:
“The problem with changing the definition of marriage is that once you cross that line, then there’s no stopping,” he explains. He tells me that when he spoke recently in Japan, there was an American student there who objected to his views on gay marriage. “This was right in the middle of what was going on in west Texas, and I thought, Okay, how can we say that what those polygamists in west Texas are doing is wrong if we allow same-sex marriage? Who are you to tell them that that man can’t have fifteen wives? [The student said] ‘Well, it’s not the same!’ And I said, ‘Okay, well, here’s another one: bestiality. Now I know you’re going to have a problem,’ and he just went berserk on that. But there was recently an actual news story where a man wanted to marry his animal….I think it was a sheep.”
He goes on to compare homosexuality to alcoholism, saying, “Some people have a predisposition to alcoholism. Does that mean they’re not responsible for getting drunk? No.”
On The Daily Show, Huckabee went tête-à-tête with John Stewart on the issue of gay marriage:
“Stewart: “It strikes me as very convenient, to go back to the Bible and say, “Hey, man… we gotta look at the way they define marriage…” Why don’t we look at the way they did slavery, in the Bible?
Huckabee: But if we change the definition, then we really do have to change it to accommodate all lifestyles. We have to say to the guy in West Texas, who had 27 wives, that’s okay. And I’m not sure that I hear alot of people arguing that that’s a great idea.
Stewart: I don’t know why polygamy has an issue here. It seems like a fundamental human right. You write in your book that all people are created equal, and yet, for gay people, you believe it is corrosive to society to allow them to have the privileges that all humans enjoy.
Huckabee: Well, there is a difference between the equality of each individual and the equality of what we do and the sameness of what we do. I mean, the fact is, marriage is under our law a privilege; it’s not an absolute defined right…Words do matter. Definitions matter. And I think that we have to be very thoughtful and careful before we say that we are going to undo an entire social structure. I mean, let’s face it, the basic purpose of a marriage is not just to create the next generation but to train our replacements. And it is in the context of 23 male and 23 female chromosomes coming together at the point of conception to create the next human life.”
He even finds himself trying to out social-conservative Anne Coulter, saying “there’s many things I may be, but pro-sodomy is not one of them”:
Homophobia is wrong in any guise, but Huckabee’s stance – that being gay is a choice (or at least, as he puts it “engaging in homosexual acts is a choice”) and that it’s “an aberrant, unnatural, and sinful lifestyle” – puts him in the same category as extremists like Fred Phelps, Focus on the Family and the American Family Association. Gays and lesbians can take comfort that through education and activism, many of these extremists have lost their political influence and have been marginalized.
If only we could say the same about Mike Huckabee, whose gay-hating, bigoted star continues to rise.