Friday, January 18, 2008

Huckabee Loses Gut Check

Stumping in South Carolina, Mike Huckabee has taken to embracing another nation's flag. A nation, now defunct, that existed for the sole purpose of perpetuating slavery. Yes, folks, it's Neo-Confederate time on the campaign trail.

"You don't like people from outside the state coming in and telling you what to do with your flag. ... If somebody came to Arkansas and told us what to do with our flag, we'd tell them what to do with the pole. That's what we'd do," he declared to applause at a campaign rally in Myrtle Beach Thursday, according to Thomas Edsall at the HuffPo site.

This is pure politics. Just as the Huckster came out with this new trick, John McCain was attacked by something called Americans for the Preservation of American Culture, with ads that accuse him of calling the Confederate flag a racist symbol. I don't know if he has done this or not, but if he hasn't let me do it for him. It is. And as for APAC, it is run by Mike Crane, who periodically seeks office on the "Southern Party" ticket. Let those with ears, hear.

South Carolinians use the shibboleth "states' rights" (and sometimes "Southern heritage") to defend waving the flag of their defeated insurgency. They never actually say "segregation" or "slavery" (or "lynch mobs" or keeping the you-know-whos in their place"), but those ideas are never far from the debate. Nobody with a commitment to the United States as presently constituted can seriously treat the display of the Confederate flag as a neutral matter.

On the other hand, it is just a flag -- a symbol and nothing more. A politician truly committed to freedom of expression can certainly argue along the lines of "I loathe your flag, but defend your right to display it." Same argument applies to burning Old Glory in protest, because this is really a very similar action.

But for Huckabee, this new direction marks a failure of nerve. He has been running on the basis of his gentle Evangelicalism, summed up by phrases like "I love the Bible but I'm not angry about it." While solidly clinging to Christianist pieties about, say, abortion, he has also appealed to moderates and liberals with his apparent concern for the poor and oppressed. After seven years of Bush, there is some desperation out there for leadership with an a priori commitment to human decency. For a while, it looked as though Huckabee might be that man.

Instead, he has sold his soul to the idea of electability, of "motivating the base," and so forth. McCain made the same devil's bargain in 2000, and has since repented -- whence the APAC ads. Frankly, for those of us who actually like the USA, and are glad it won the Civil War, that pretty much doomed his candidacy at the time. With any luck, this will doom Hickabee's.

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