Have you noticed how liberal white male reporters get crushes on right-wing male candidates? For years John McCain had Democratic and even left men swooning at his feet--a straight talker! A war hero! He's cool and macho, and he'll invite you over for barbecue! Never mind that McCain was basically a militaristic reactionary with occasional twinges of sanity. Even at The Nation, McCain was a popular guy with the guys. in 2004, one of my Nation colleagues argued in an edit meeting that the magazine should endorse him.
This time round, the so-called-liberal-media men's Republican sweetheart is Mike Huckabee. He plays the bass guitar! He cares! He's not a total maniac like the other evangelical Christians even though he doesn't believe in evolution and probably thinks you're going to Hell! Ari Berman declares him " humble, decent, and funny." In The New Yorker, Rick Hertzberg is surprised to find himself charmed: Huckabee is "funny," "reassuringly ordinary" in appearance and demeanor, "curiously unthreatening" in affect; he speaks "calmly" and declines to serve up "red meat" on abortion, immigration, the Clintons, and other issues dear to rightwingers' hearts.
Marc Cooper, who can't throw enough rotten tomatoes at Democrats and "progressives," or as he likes to call them "pwogwessives," writes in his blog that Huckabee " radiates a core decency." Newsweek's Jonathan Alter: He "speaks American." (oh lord, where's Mencken when you need him?) "Even on faith and politics, Mike is easy to like." Really? It's easy to like a man who tells Bill Maher that "we really don't know" whether the earth is six thousand or six billion years old? Who doesn't think human beings are primates? Who wants to outlaw almost all abortion because "life begins at conception"? Gail Collins-- yes, yes, not all Huckabee fans are men -- thinks indeed, it is.
Hertzberg ruminates so pleasantly on Huckabee's sympathy for the poor, his attacks on the Club for Growth, his lack of the spit-flecked viciousness that has characterized so many religious wingnuts, that you almost forget Huckabee is a religious wingnut himself. Only in his second to last paragraph does Hertzberg get around to acknowledging that "None of this is to say that Huckabee's policy positions are much better than those of his Republican rivals; in some cases, they're worse. He wants to replace the federal tax code with a gigantic, horribly regressive sales tax; he cannot name a single time he has ever disagreed with the National Rifle Association; he wants to amend the Constitution to ban gay marriage and abortion." But not to worry: "In practice, however, the sales tax and the amendments would go nowhere, and he couldn't do much about abortion except appoint Scalia-like Justices to the Supreme Court--which his rivals have promised to do, too."
Just so you know: One of Huckabee's first acts as governor of Arkansas was to bar state Medicaid from paying for an abortion for a retarded teenager raped by her stepfather, despite federal regulations requiring such payments. Is that your idea of a nice, decent, "curiously unthreatening guy ? As Todd Gitlin writes at TPMcafe, the media relentless scrutinizes the health-care plans of the Democratic candidates, but when Republicans say they want to ban abortion and declare that life "begins at conception,"--anti-choice code for banning most methods of contraception -- they get a free pass, including from the so-called liberal media.
Is there some weird masochism operating here, whereby left-leaning men, weary of failure and scorn, roll over for rightwingers who smile and throw them a bone? Does the issue of abortion-- which is a marker for a whole range of women's issues--just not matter to them the way it does to women with the same politics? Are they so desperate for a candidate who uses the language of "economic populism," --when he isn't pushing regressive taxation-- that they'll overlook everything else? Which is more likely: a Republican president who limits women's access to abortion, or a Republican president who limits laissez-faire capitalism? The question answers itself. I just wish more liberal male pundits were asking it.
UPDATE: Marc Cooper e mailed me to say he felt I quoted him out of context and am a good example of the "pwogwessives" he despises. He also called my attention to this staggering breaking news story from Murray Waas on the Huffington Post, a story Marc helped edit and has linked to on his blog. Be sure to check it out -- it's truly horrific.
NOTE: Apologies to John Nichols, to whom I originally attributed Ari Berman's quote. Far from being charmed by Huckabee, Nichols wrote a persuasive post on this website attacking him for applying religious tests to Romney. And before anyone else writes in to point out that the pundits I mentioned were discussing Huckabee's public persona, not his character, "decent" is a moral term that describes someone's actual character as expressed in action, not their social manners as expressed in an interview or debate. It's not a synonym for "affable," "pleasant," or "seemingly not insane, despite adherence to nutty beliefs about imminent end of world etc."