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Stay Classy, Mike Huckabee


"The uncool subject is class," author Bell Hooks once wrote. "It's the subject that makes us all tense." What an understatement, considering the two leading "change" candidates in the latest presidential polls.

Barack Obama is contending for the Democratic nomination as a candidate who avoids focusing on economic class. He asks us to believe — nay, to "hope" — that the interests of Wall Streeters underwriting his campaign can somehow be "brought together" with the interests of workers harmed by corporate America's wage, job and pension cutbacks.

By contrast, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is competing for the Republican nomination on a call for proletarian solidarity. Next to John Edwards (D), he is the "classiest" presidential candidate, explicitly deriding "plutocracy" and "the Club for Greed" that he correctly says runs Washington.

"There's a great need in this country to elect someone who reminds [voters] of the guy they work with, not the guy who laid them off," Huckabee thunders.

This is taboo territory. Though the Wall Street Journal reports that America has among the lowest class mobility in the industrialized world, the Establishment stifles discussion about class. Why? Because those controlling the debate — from television anchors to political donors to campaign consultants — are among the wealthiest members of what Huckabee calls "the ruling class." They have an obvious self-interest in pretending class does not exist.

Not surprisingly, officialdom has reacted quite differently to the Obama and Huckabee phenomena.

The ruling class roundly praises Obama's class-averse campaign. Even George Will, the columnist-spokesman for country club Republicanism, effused that Obama is "refreshingly cerebral."

Will lambastes Huckabee as "an adolescent" for daring to "lament a shrinking middle class." Such vitriol is commonplace, from the National Review calling the Republican candidate "deeply naive" to Time's Joe Klein praying for a "monumental implosion" of Huckabee's campaign.

To those with money and power, Huckabee is committing the worst sin. His class rhetoric puts his Christian religion's altruistic, meek-shall-inherit-the-Earth tenets above Washington's free market fundamentalism. And the cultural roots accompanying Huckabee's cause are even more appalling to the limousine crowd. This Republican apostate is not an Ivy Leaguer putting on a wink-and-nod show.

He's a former Baptist minister from a low-income family who was never scrubbed by an elite brush — meaning he might actually believe in his class crusade.

This explains not just the difference in treatment of the Harvard-educated Obama and the Ouachita Baptist University-educated Huckabee, but an even more revealing hypocrisy involving President Bush.

Recall that the media portrays Bush's alliance with the religious right as proof of his convictions. Huckabee's alliance with the same religious right is subtly cast as a sign of supposed ignorance. Bush's rhetorical gaffes are often painted as endearing — evidence that despite his silver-spoon pedigree, he is the authentic "average American man" thinking "in a common-sense way," as Republican commentator Peggy Noonan wrote. Huckabee? The Weekly Standard calls him "a village idiot" and a "rube," while Noonan derides him for "populist manipulation."

Bush, you see, was always an aristocrat underneath the "windshield cowboy" veneer. He is the son of a president, a Skull-and-Bones man — ruling class all the way.

Huckabee, on the other hand, is a real-life regular guy. He views religion as more than just a convenient political cudgel, truly did pull himself "up from the bootstraps" — and his class grievances are personal. The well-heeled narcissists in the media and political Establishment are appalled. They see Huckabee as a country bumpkin getting uppity.

As UCLA professor Mark Kleiman wrote, "If you went to Harvard, it's plain embarrassing to say you're going to vote for someone as, well, unwashed, as Huckabee."

Certainly, Obama's underlying policy platform is good for working-class America — and better than Huckabee's, which is led by a punishingly regressive tax proposal.

However, the campaigns' rhetorical themes are critical to consider because they impact what will — and will not — be acceptable topics of political debate in the post-Bush era.

Personally, I want to believe Obama's vision of America as a class-free utopia where change comes without rancor or division. But history shows that most positive change in America has been about class and conflict — whether it was the battle for basic labor laws or the fight for Social Security.

That's why, whoever wins the primaries, the more class forces its way onto the presidential stage, the better.

In short, stay classy, Mike Huckabee.

David Sirota is the bestselling author of "Hostile Takeover" (Crown, 2006). He is a senior fellow at the Campaign for America's Future and a board member of the Progressive States Network — both nonpartisan research organizations. His daily blog can be found at To find out more about David Sirota and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



13 Comments | Post Comment

Evidently you didn't hear the debate last night or your characterization of Huckabee as classy would be more like "crassy". In discussion of the Straits of Hormuz "incident" he indicated that we should blow them (the Iranian speed-boaters) into "the gates of hell" if they should dare "provoke" us again. Such statements are anything but "classy". Better rethink your putting him forth as any kind of an example for a leader in my America.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Wayne Wohler
Fri Jan 11, 2008 6:05 AM
Mr. Sirota, your fawning over Mike Huckabee is already wearing thin.
Have you done any research into Huckabee's record as governor of Arkanasas? You populist preacher Republican balanced the state budget through sales taxes and fee increases. The most egregious tax is the $5.25 a day nursing home bed tax he pushed though the legislature to fund Medicaid.
And why don't you look into Huckabee's $500 belt from a well-heeled contributor? The Huckster never turned down a finely tailored suit or a $1,000 pair of cufflinks during his stay in Little Rock.
And why would a "populist" deplete "...the governor's office emergency fund in the final weeks of his administration in part to pay for the destruction of computer hard drives in his office[?]
The guy's a phony, Dave. Wake up before you look like a schmuck.
Comment: #2
Posted by: etspoon
Fri Jan 11, 2008 6:16 AM
Main Stream Media is going out of its way to ignore economic issues and defeat populist candidates. Why? Could it be they see their own economic interests threatened?
Comment: #3
Posted by: thoreau
Fri Jan 11, 2008 6:42 AM
How refreshing to have a positive liberal view of a Republican and a negative view of "the Democrats Great White Hope", Obama. Very interesting, although both carry baggage: Corporate servant Obama or pro life, pro escalation Huckabee? Have to with Obama on this one.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Simply Simon
Fri Jan 11, 2008 6:56 AM
Wow. Talk about ignoring the elephant in the room!
Huck, being a True Believer rather than a cynical political manipulator of the fundies, is the greatest threat to turn this country into a theocracy.
David's analysis is correct, but incredibly incomplete. And, anyone who thinks for a moment that the grand sachems of the GOP won't snuff out true populism in the the party is delusional. The populist tendencies of the GOP base will, once again, be misled by the media propaganda machine funded by reactionary billionares.
Comment: #5
Posted by: SaltyDawg
Fri Jan 11, 2008 7:27 AM
Mr. Sirota,

I loved your book and most of your columns. That said, I have to OBJECT to this misinformed and incomplete analysis of Huckabee. Yes, it is nice that he has true Christianaltruistic attributres. But he also has that social conservative pandering side that equates homosexuality as a choice and idolizes Justice Scalia. Ugh! These "values" seem to be in stark contrast to some fo your progressive stances. Huckabee did state, and i am quoting here, "My own personal hero on the court is Scalia." I agree with seevral others here that we need to strongly avoid steering the USA toward a theocracy. Why aren't you more strongly supprting John Edwards' campaign. He's the one to support in my opinion.
Comment: #6
Posted by: MSP Fly Guy
Fri Jan 11, 2008 8:02 AM
David, nice piece.
I get a chuckle from commenters here who either entirely missed the point, or intentionally ignore it and simply want to leverage a comment forum to make their own unrelated points. For instance, the one who wants to raise the issue of how much some belt cost that was given to Huck ... to that person I would suggest taking a look in a mirror.
It has been WE-THE-PEOPLE who have authorized and made possible on an ongoing basis such perceived abuses. Ask Bush how much his suits cost or his cowboy boots and who gifted $3K cowboy boots to him ... who knows, maybe even boots made from some protected critter ... it would not surprise me. Edwards used his own monies to pay for a $400 haircut ... but it was his own self-made-man money, so what? Congress is chocked full of stories of free vacations paid for by lobbyist, etc, etc, etc. It's our own fault. It is "We-The-People".
If WE-THE-PEOPLE really-really want to end such nonsense we would vote into office a Dennis Kucinich-type candidate who is perhaps the most honest and REAL candidate running. I have every confidence that Dennis would institute ALL the reforms we all TALK-the-talk, but don't WALK-the-walk about. Economics and otherwise. Few walk-that-walk; I don't. I support John Edwards because he's as close to Dennis on policies of the top 3, and is still, albeit remotely, electable. Edwards is my mainstream media concession candidate. It's a shame it has to be this way.

My current fantasy tickets would be John Edwards versus Mike Huckabee with Edwards coming out on top ... and precisely for the reason David's piece addresses ... to focus the debate on what really matters and those things which have the most direct and immediate impact upon WE-THE-PEOPLE. I did NOT read David's piece as an endorsement of Mike Huckabee beyond, perhaps, over the silver-spoon-in-their-mouths-crowd.
Comment: #7
Posted by: DA
Fri Jan 11, 2008 9:48 AM
I'm with DA, except the concession bit. E has already done that in the past, and I don't think anyone should fall for that again. Please, don't self-concede to a proven conceder.

I've never gotten a second-guess answer on a test correct. The first one was always right.

Did I miss something? I usually don't--not even whispered side-comments in debates (though I might have to re-wind five times to get it word-for-word). I didn't think this a pro-Huckabee story at all. Seemed much more to me a "how media and even your own party spins thingies" thingie to me.

I really enjoyed this piece, David. It was forwarded to me by another candidate, no less. LOL!
Comment: #8
Posted by: snarko
Sun Jan 13, 2008 11:27 AM
Mr. Sirota:
As Governor, inteferring in the prosection of a son who slit the throat of and tortured a helpless dog is not classy. Further, firing the DA for not helping Huckabee when he "needed him" is disgusting.
Comment: #9
Posted by: Tapia Martinez-Russ
Sun Jan 13, 2008 1:28 PM
Bigotry is never classy. I have lived next door to neighbors who are evangical "Christians" who do not allow their children to play with mine because we are of another religion than their own. We discovered that the ordained ministers of our neighbor's church was condeming certain other faiths which was not part of their "approved list" from the pulpit . I would like to ask Mike Huckabee. "Have you ever preached a sermon, taught a class or presented views to your own congregation in which you have condemned another persons beliefs?" Our constitution protects each citizens right to worship as he or she choose. As a person of faith, I am hoping we elect a president who not only professes deeply held religious views, but allows and defends the rights of others to hold religious view which may be different than his own.
Comment: #10
Posted by: J Johnson
Mon Jan 14, 2008 12:59 PM
Mr. Sirota,
I read this piece in the Seattle Times, on an editorial that on this particular day had two other pieces about Obama. The first was Charles Krauthammer's "The Second Coming derails," in which Krauthhammer pooh-poohs Obama's image as a 'uniter' based on his across-the-board liberal positions. The other was University of Puget Sound president Ronald R. Thomas' "The new Children's Crusade," in which Thomas describes admiringly the excitement that Obama is generating on college campuses. When these pieces are put together, it goes to show how much depends on the eye of the beholder.
Here's an interesting quote (selectively edited):
"It has not been the less fortunate or members of minority groups who have been selling this Nation out, but rather those who have had all the benefits that the wealthiest nation on earth has had to offer- the finest homes, the finest college education...the bright young men who are born with silver spoons in their mouths are the ones who have been the worst."
The speaker was Senator Joseph McCarthy. The point is that whether or not a candidate invokes the messages of class struggle does not serve much better as a litmus test than any of the many others we frequently apply. In the sentence "most positive change in America has been about class and conflict," I would say that the posibility of alternatives implied by the word "most" is were the hope in Obama lies.
Comment: #11
Posted by: Jonathan Kallay
Tue Jan 15, 2008 10:47 AM
Huck may be "right" on class but still a fundementalist on personal freedom (ye olde abortion, gay nonsense)
Comment: #12
Posted by: Simply Simon
Wed Jan 16, 2008 8:17 PM
Mike Huckabee, if his stated religiosity is to be believed and I think it may be, has an altogether different agenda than that of a simple Neocon. He, as a fundamentalist, does not believe in "freedom" as it is defined in any dictionaries. His idea of freedom, like that of any truly, deeply religious person, is freedom for the tenets of his faith and not anyone else's, including freedom from religion for those of no faith. The Southern Baptist Conventions beliefs, although not as severe as the more pentecostal elements, would quickly legislate their brand of morality upon rising up the power ladder. POTUS is pretty far up that ladder. As Sam Harris points out and I agree, those religious folks that would not impose their religious convictions on the rest of us are "weak in their faiths". The Bible doesn't countenance any parsing of its instructions. Non-believers must be killed, yeah, just like the Koran! Read the bloody thing, including the New Testament. Those who practice their faiths on a live and let live basis are ignoring the commands of their good book. This theocratic takeover of the country is becoming a very serious matter. Faith based initiatives are profoundly illegal under the U. S. Constitution (or what used to be the U. S. Constitution). Portraying this country as a Christian nation and the founders as devout is a total rewrite of history.
Comment: #13
Posted by: R. Hudson
Thu Jan 17, 2008 12:02 PM
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