I came in late for Romney, but reporters confirmed the impression I got from the little I heard that the speech was bad. It sounded impersonal, almost robotic despite Romney's determination to push the hot buttons. It lacked personality, while Huckabee's had almost too much. Huckabee remains the most intriguing figure among the major campaigners, and tonight's speech elevated him to the level of the enigmatic. While Romney seemed completely generic, Huckabee indulged in egotistical clowning, daring to name Senator McCain as his "second choice" for the nomination and confessing his desire to give an acceptance speech. As well, he indulged in taxophobia and xenophobia, warning against bad ideas of big government that Senator Obama might have brought back from his "excellent adventure" in Europe. He offered himself as proof that Republicans aren't the party of the rich, invoking his impoverished upbringing in Hope, Arkansas, where the "sacred heroes" were "Jesus, Elvis and FDR, not necessarily in that order." He became a Republican, he said, not because he wanted to get rich but because he didn't want to stay poor waiting for the government to save him.
Huckabee closed with a nearly Kafkaesque narrative that he claimed was a true story. In fact, it is a true story, according to this source, that Huckabee first spoke about last year. Back in 2005, he related, a schoolteacher named Martha Cothren had the desks taken out of her homeroom, leaving each class standing before her. She said she'd allow any student to have a desk who could tell her how to earn one. Good grades? Good behavior? These were expected, but insufficient to earn a desk. The day went by, students called parents, word spread, and TV news crews came. The last class was as perplexed as the first, but the teacher finally explained that hers had been a trick question. They did not have to earn the desks, she said as she opened the door. She had arranged for a group of veterans, in uniform, to appear bearing the desks. Each placed a desk back in the classroom. The moral? They, the veterans, had earned the desks for the children. From this, Huckabee deduced that McCain's suffering in Vietnam had earned Huckabee his own desk, so he owed it to the Arizonan to try to get him a nice desk in the Oval Office.
I despise such parables. I question whether any Founding Father would agree that Americans owe everything to the military. Indeed, on the assumption that Huckabee attended a public school, I question which war, exactly, was fought to establish those schools? He owes his desk to specific political decisions by his predecessors in the governor's chair of Arkansas, none of which depended on political force. For that matter, to the extent that America was ever in danger of conquest, who among our possible conquerors would have denied Huckabee an education. Totalitarians were all about public education; that's how you started indoctrinating people, after all. On the other hand, had the South won the Civil War, he may have had to do without. Maybe Huckabee wants to thank McCain for the fact that he didn't have to pray to Ho Chi Minh for candy in his classroom, but I expect that McCain would think him an idiot if he ever confessed that thought.
Worse, the usual reason for telling such stories, for indoctrinating the notion of our infinite debt to military sacrifice, is to intimidate us into acquiescence in current military adventures. The perversely paradoxical argument goes: because they bought your freedom with their blood, you have no right to complain about what they do. The further implication is that freedom is always in danger, and always dependent on military force, and thus depends upon our acquiescence in any military action undertaken by the government. Call me old fashioned, but this sounds like a profoundly un-American line of thinking.
Huckabee may just be a more mellow version of Lonesome Rhodes, the hobo troubadour turned TV demagogue portrayed by Andy Griffith in the movie A Face in the Crowd. Lonesome embodies a liberal nightmare of folksy fascism while the movie provides the reassurance that he doesn't really believe in his doctrines and can be exposed as a cynical fraud. Huckabee looks like a true believer, and that makes his authentic-seeming folksiness and friendly demeanor maybe more dangerous than any fictional scarecrow.
I still can't help but be more scared by Rudy Giuliani. I was determined to ignore his speech, but I happened to hear the bit when he complained that the Democrats in Denver didn't talk about "9-11" enough. He really does have only one thing to say, and I've heard it too often by now.
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The following is a running real-time commentary on Gov. Palin's acceptance speech.
Here comes Governor Palin. She discusses her son heading for Iraq, and notes another son in the Navy on an aircraft carrier. After name-checking her daughters, she mentions the new baby. "Our family has the same ups and downs as many others," she says, giving a shout-out to families of special-needs children. She identifies her hubby as fisherman, snowmachine racer, union man and Eskimo. Enough with the personalities, already! In America, she insists, "every woman can walk through every door of opportunity." She equates comparison of herself with Harry Truman as a similar product of similarly virtuous soil. A dig at Mrs. Obama comes when she mentions that people in her town are "always proud of America." She jokes about herself: "What's the difference between a pit bull and a hockey mom? Lipstick!" She details the duties of a small town mayor as a lesson to those who look down on her "inexperience." She equates it with being a community activist, "except that you have actual responsibilities." MSNBC shows a protester being taken out of the hall at this point, while Palin moves on to denounce candidates who "talk about us one way in Scranton and another way in San Francisco," invoking Obama's infamous remarks on "bitterness." She disclaims membership in the "permanent political establishment," but doesn't that reflect poorly on veteran Senator McCain? She presses on to boast of standing up to the establishment and "good old boys" of Alaska. As governor, she did without the gubernatorial jet, the chauffeur and chef, though her kids miss the last one. She claims to have fought "oil-company lobbyists." She then calls for more drilling, claiming that Alaska has plenty, to insure the country against forms of blackmail from Russia, Venezuela, the Arabs, etc. She notes that Obama has authored two memoirs, but no major legislation at any level of government. What will he do, she asks, besides turning back the waters and healing the planet? Expand government, of course. And negotiate with terrorist states. And tax the bejeezus out of us. That means businesses will fail or not get started and farms will go belly up, but I wish that she or ANY OTHER REPUBLICAN would name a SINGLE PERSON who went out of business because of taxes. Meanwhile, veteran Senator McCain "does not run with the Washington herd." She cites Senator Reid's endorsement of the Republican nominee; he said "I can't stand John McCain." She says McCain can get no higher accolade. She adds: "For all that Senator Obama and Senator Biden talk about 'fighting for you,' [makes scare quotes in air], there's really only one candidate in this election who has actually fought for you!" Well, FYB. Next comes another display of McCain's POW pals and a final contrast of rhetoric with action. I'm sure she made a hit with the Republican rabble, since she hit all the every-man-for-himself and warmongering notes. I'd like to tell her to go live in the woods, but I can't claim that satisfaction because she already does. I have to content myself with telling her to stay there.
And here's Senator McCain, asking, "Dontcha think we made the right choice?" Actually, if you can follow my logic, I think he did.