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Mike Huckabee's road show

Paul Greenberg

By Paul Greenberg

Published Jan. 27, 2015

    Mike Huckabee's road show

Michael Dale Huckabee is just Mike to those of us who have followed and admired him through his finest hours. As when he welcomed the Little Rock Nine to Central High at long last, swinging its doors wide open on the 50th anniversary of the historic Little Rock Crisis -- much too late, but in time to finally correct an historic injustice.

Then there was that long, long longest day in 1996 -- July 15, 1996 -- when Mike Huckabee so patiently, graciously waited out his felonious predecessor in the governor's office, who refused to leave hour after embarrassing hour. (Sometimes politicians go more than a little crazy and make scenes instead of sense.)

Yet the new governor remained the personification of Christian charity -- caritas -- throughout that strange day. The wait seemed endless, and tried the tempers of many of us walking the echoing halls of the state Capitol and wondering, wondering when and how the state's suspension between two governors would end, if ever.

Yet when it did, Mike Huckabee was nothing but charitable. All those years of preaching love and compassion must have taken. The Rev./Gov. Huckabee did justice to both his titles that day, and did the state proud.

Then there's the other Mike Huckabee, the one who's currently combining another dabble in presidential politics with still another book tour, which must be something like his 12th. Turn your back for a minute, and if you're not on your guard, the Billy Graham inside this good old Arkansas boy can, hesto-presto, turn into Elmer Gantry. By now the transformation no longer shocks, it's grown so familiar over the years. But it still saddens. What a waste of political talent and spiritual gifts.

These days, when the country needs uniting (when doesn't it?) the Rev/Guv is hawking a 272-page potboiler with a title that would seem to reflect the ethos of just one of the country's geographical, political, religious and social sections, right down to its cuisine: "G0D, Guns, Grits and Gravy."

Call it the heartland, the fly-over space between the two coasts, the Bible Belt, whatever appellation you like. Instead of fighting stereotypes, nowadays the Huck seems determined to emphasize them. As if he'd forgotten that the president of the United States is president of all the United States, not just part of it.

Some things about Brother Huckabee's style haven't changed over the years, more's the pity. As when he simply and simplistically divides the country between "Bubble-ville" -- places like New York, Washington and Los Angeles -- and "Bubba-ville," its heart and maybe its guts, too. He says he's out to defend the Bubbas even while perpetuating their stereotype. They're sick-and-tired of government dictating to them, he warns.

The man has an annoying, irritating attraction to applause lines, alliteration and even vulgar imagery, as when he writes: "Too many Americans have grown used to Big Government's overreach. They've been conditioned to just bend over and take it like a prisoner. But in Bubba-ville, the days of bending over are just about over. People are ready to start standing up for freedom and refusing to take it anymore."

On the whole, the not so fictional Howard Beale of the movie "Network" put it better and shorter, and without Mike Huckabee's gloss of shade-tree sociology: "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not gonna take this anymore!"

Michael Dale Huckabee would do well avoid the sad example of William Jennings Bryan -- that social, political and religious evangelist of another era and another America -- before he, too, winds up a pitiable old man roaming the Chautauqua circuit in search of ever dwindling audiences to entertain and in the end bore. Here's hoping he doesn't wind up a countrified Harold Stassen, another name from a forgotten past, a used-up man forever running/walking/stumbling for president. Lest he, too, become one of those now ever dimmer character actors in history's cast, one of those "Runners whom renown outran/ And the name died before the man."

This is no more Mike Huckabee's time to run for president of the United States than it is Mitt Romney's. The country's been there, tried that. To no great purpose. It's one thing to hustle books, another to hustle one's self. Mike Huckabee, now a Floridian like so many Arkansans/Arkies looking to retire or just escape high taxes, was pretty much where he needed to be not long ago. That was at Fox News, up in history's gallery, preaching to the politically converted, amplifying what they already believe, all their most cherished prejudices. Now he needs to fade from the presidential arena with the same grace, or at least forbearance, he showed in his -- and Arkansas' -- finest hours, which some of us still treasure.

There are some encores that only diminish the fine performance that preceded them.

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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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