Monday, January 07, 2008

The Sap that Wasn't

My vote for sap column of the day goes to Paul Greenberg's latest - The Laugh's on Us - in which he tries to defend Mike Huckabee's colossally disingenuous attack ad stunt. For those of you unfamiliar with the bit, what Huckabee did was this. He called a press conference on New Year's Eve to announce that he felt deep remorse for having considered running an "attack ad" against Mitt Romney in Iowa. And just to show that his campaign really had produced one, Huckabee was kind enough to show the press the ad in question.

The press reaction was to laugh him off the stage - and rightly so. It doesn't take a political sophisticate to see through this trick.

Making Greenberg effectively politically retarded. Listen to this crap and see what I mean:

The press types' reaction to the Reverend's announcement was just brutal, merciless, and it seemed to go on forever. The Washington Post had a video of the press conference on its Web site. It was painful to watch. You could tell by Brother Huckabee's fallen face that the guy had been utterly serious ...

Mike Huckabee made a mistake, all right, but it was made out of naivete - not political cunning. If he'd been as sharp as Richard Nixon, he'd have said only that he was pulling the commercial - and then had a staffer leak a copy of it to the media on Deep Background. Instead, he became a figure of fun.

Oh please! Granted, if Huckabee were as sharp as Nixon, maybe that's what he would've done. But if he were as sincere as Greenberg apparently thinks he is, he wouldn't have held the press conference at all. I mean, what's wrong with just burying the ad, continuing with the sunshine policy and letting his record speak for itself - letting noone in the public be the wiser that he was contemplating running a negative ad? Surely that's the honest way for a candidate who truly is "above mudslinging" to approach this?

It gets worse:

Just suppose for a moment that Mike Huckabee's prayer the other Sunday for the strength to cast aside his best instincts and rise above his own standards, or rather fall below them, really had been answered. And the answer was No. As in Thou Shalt Not. And that it just took a while, like 24 hours, for it to dawn on him. (Even the Lord may have trouble being heard in the tumult of a noisy, muddy political campaign, for they say His is a still small voice.) And when the Reverend got the message from On High, he really had no choice but to reveal it in the spirit of his denomination's tradition of public confession, foolish as it might make him look, and embarrassing as open confession is to us more buttoned-down types.

Alright - let's suppose just for a moment that this is What Really Happened. Why does public confession require that Huckabee show his vid to the press? When Jimmy Swaggart confessed to sex in a car with a prostitute, did he have to recreate the scene for all to see? Didn't we take him at his word that it was all as he said? And anyway, what's so sinful about responding to attacks that Romney has made against you in the first place? Is there anything - anything AT ALL - unchristian about saying "My opponent said x, y and z, and here's why these things are inaccurate?" He doesn't have to be mean about it, after all. He can say that Romney is simply mistaken, after all.

Nope, sorry, I don't buy it. The whole thing was the cheapest, most pedestrian kind of political ploy, and the press was right to laugh at him for trying. Maybe it was stupid to do something so obvious - but that doesn't mean Huckabee didn't try it. In fact, I don't see any particular reason to doubt that Huckabee was calculating on the perception of stupidity to save him - a la "nobody would do something that dumb on purpose, ergo he must've been sincere." It's a common enough tactic to merit its own name, after all. And this is, let's not forget, the same Mike Huckabee who "innocently" - awwwwww shucks - "let slip" that Mormons think Jesus and the Devil are brothers. Here, too, he was counting on (the public perception of) his "ignorance" of Mormonism to let him off the hook for having taken a cheap shot at Romney's religion. If he were indeed ignorant of Mormonism, why choose that particular fact to ask questions about? Why not ask something more common, like whether Mormons believe in the Trinity? I mean, it takes a certain amount of sophistication about Mormonism to know that they think Jesus and the Devil are brothers - the kind of sophistication that makes it hugely unlikely that Huckabee would have missed the context of that belief (in fact, Mormons believe all angels are brothers, and since Lucifer was an angel then it just follows logically). "Jesus and the Devil are brothers" isn't exactly Latter Day Saints 101.

No, ladies and gentlemen, this is all exactly what you think it is. This Emperor has No Clothes. Mike Huckabee is a conniving, below-the-belt fighter, just like the rest of them. His "above the fray" act is working for him, but it's just an act. Just like I suspect Paul Greenberg's column is, actually. Let me come clean: I am a regular reader of Greenberg, and I don't think for a minute that he's stupid enough to have been taken in by this. He's just running cover for his candidate of choice.

Any pretense Huckabee might've had to feeling remorse over producing the ad was exposed in any case when he went ahead and ran it 10 times anyway - a fact Paul Greenberg can hardly be ignorant of, I hasten to add.

I hate Mike Huckabee. I hate his religion, I hate even more that it's all he's running on, I hate his wholly un-Republican populism, I hate his equivovating about his tax record, hate his bland substance-free answers to questions. I like his speaking style. Huckabee's nothing if not a charmer - and it's nice, for once, to see someone in the debates who thinks quickly on his feet and manages to remain positive no matter what they throw at him. But it's just unnatural at some level. The same way all the flashy packaging in the world doesn't make a bad album good, no amount of charm makes Huckabee anything other than he is: the smarmiest pol in the race. Appearances can be deceiving. Fortunately, in this case, it's a pretty thin disguise to anyone who cares to look without blinking.


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