Monday, March 7, 2011

Mike Huckabee Is Full of … Doggie Pooh! And He’s Playing Dangerous Politics

We’ve all misspoken before. We’ve all said “yes” when we meant “no” or “salt” when we meant “pepper” or “fifty-seven” when we meant to say “fifty” or “Sally” when we meant to say “Becky” or whatever. A simple mistake like that is simply part of what it is to be human. And if the misstatement has consequences, usually a simple, “Oops, I made a mistake; I apologize,” is sufficient to rectify the situation.

So, if my friend asks if I liked a particular book and I say “yes” when I meant “no”, then that was a simple misstatement. An accident, if you will. But when I follow up my “yes” with a detailed explanation of why I liked the book, talking about the characters and their motivations, then my simple “yes” must have been something more; after all, if I really didn’t like the book, then why would I talk about the reasons that I did like the book? To claim that my “yes” was simply a misstatement would be … well … a lie. It’s hard to claim as a misstatement something that you say and then offer supporting information about.

Which leads me to Fox News Contributor, likely Republican Presidential Candidate, and general right-wing blowhard Mike Huckabee (emphasis added).

I’m sure you’ve heard by now that last week, in an appearance on a right-leaning (or far right, depending on the source) radio program, Huckabee said that President Obama was raised in Kenya:

HOST: Don't you think it's fair also to ask him, I know your stance on this. How come we don't have a health record, we don't have a college record, we don't have a birth cer — why Mr. Obama did you spend millions of dollars in courts all over this country to defend against having to present a birth certificate. It's one thing to say, I've — you've seen it, goodbye. But why go to court and send lawyers to defend against having to show it? Don't you think we deserve to know more about this man?

HUCKABEE: I would love to know more. What I know is troubling enough. And one thing that I do know is his having grown up in Kenya, his view of the Brits, for example, very different than the average American. When he gave the bust back to the Brits —

HOST: Of Winston Churchill.

HUCKABEE: The bust of Winston Churchill, a great insult to the British. But then if you think about it, his perspective as growing up in Kenya with a Kenyan father and grandfather, their view of the Mau Mau Revolution in Kenya is very different than ours because he probably grew up hearing that the British were a bunch of imperialists who persecuted his grandfather.

HOST: He despises the west, he despises the Brits, and I think he could take it all out on Israel and that's why he despises Israel. He's not too thrilled with our history either. But let me just try to get an answer from you. Would you say to him, or at least ask him in a debate, why did you go to court and spend millions of dollars on lawyers to prevent from having to show your birth certificate. If you have one and it's there, why not show it?

HUCKABEE: The only reason I'm not as confident that there's something about the birth certificate, Steve, is because I know the Clintons [inaudible] and believe me, they have lots of investigators out on him, and I'm convinced if there was anything that they could have found on that, they would have found it, and I promise they would have used it. 

When people pointed out to Huckabee that President Obama was not, in fact, raised in Kenya, Huckabee claimed that it was a simple “slip of the tongue” and that he meant to say Indonesia:

On Monday, while on Steve Malzberg's radio show on New York's WOR Radio, I was asked about the President Obama's birth certificate issue. In my answer, I simply misspoke when I alluded to President Obama growing up in ‘Kenya’ and meant to say Indonesia.

As I have stated on page 1 of my new book 'A Simple Government' and in numerous interviews with dozens of reporters — I don't believe there is an issue with Barack Obama's birth certificate. However, I do believe there are serious issues with the President's policies, and I have been openly opposed to the President's world view.

I'm not surprised the NY Times chose to sensationalize this story. In fact, the New York Times, the AP, and other news organizations ran with the “sensationalized story” despite being specifically told by Steve Malzberg himself that they were incorrect in their assessment of the sound bite. You just can't help but laugh when my simple slip of the tongue, becomes a huge story — and a certain Presidential candidate claiming to visit all 57 states, gets widely ignored.

But that explanation simply doesn’t hold water.* Why? Because Huckabee didn’t just say, “President Obama was raised in Kenya” when he meant to say “President Obama was raised in Indonesia.” Nope. Huckabee said it not once, but twice. And, more importantly, Huckabee then offered an analysis of what it meant to President Obama’s worldview having been raised in Kenya.

[H]is perspective as growing up in Kenya with a Kenyan father and grandfather, their view of the Mau Mau Revolution in Kenya is very different than ours because he probably grew up hearing that the British were a bunch of imperialists who persecuted his grandfather

And note that the explanation of the impact on President Obama’s worldview is not some kind of generic “raised outside the US” or “raised in a third world country” discussion. Huckabee’s discussion of President Obama’s upbringing was quite specific with regard to events in Kenya and young Barack Obama’s relationship with his father and grandfather. And that discussion is absolutely false. Obama only met his father once after his father left young Obama and his mother. He never met his paternal grandfather. And he didn’t even visit Kenya until he was in his 20s. Huckabee could have spoken about President Obama being “raised” (if living somewhere for 4 or 5 years can be considered being “raised” there) in Indonesia and having been exposed to Islam as a child. That discussion would at least have had some basis in reality (though the extent to which President Obama was exposed to Islam [he attended a Catholic school, not a madrassa] can be debated). But that wasn’t what Huckabee talked about. Rather, he talked, quite specifically, about Kenya, about President Obama’s father and grandfather, about the Mau Mau revolt, and about how that impacted President Obama’s views about Britain and colonialism (and note that British colonialism has absolutely nothing to do with Indonesia, which had been a Dutch colony).

So when people pointed out that Huckabee’s explanation of having “misspoken” didn’t make sense, Huckabee doubled down and continued to lie, this time going even further. Huckabee went on to explain that he misspoke in saying Kenya when he meant Indonesia, but that the analysis that he gave was consistent with the explanation in his new book (he’s apparently making all of these public appearances to get people to waste some of their money and line his pockets). He quite specifically told Bill O’Reilly that in his book, he says that Obama grew up in Indonesia (emphasis added):

If I'd read from my own text, page 183 of my book, I clearly said he grew up in Indonesia. It was a verbal gaffe.

You can see where this is going, can’t you? Of course. You see, apparently Huckabee is simply too stupid to think that someone might, just might, you know, actually look at the text of his book to see what he actually wrote (or perhaps Huckabee didn’t really write the book and doesn’t really know what’s in it…). Well, Media Matters decided to look at page 183 of Huckabee’s book:


Oops. There’s a lot in there about Kenya (including quotes from a British newspaper), but I don’t see Indonesia mentioned at all. Not once. Of course, people who realized this noted that Huckabee was once again lying. So appearing on yet another radio program did he retract the comments about his book? Of course not. He reiterated that his “misstatement” was consistent with what he said on page 183 (emphasis added):

I made a verbal gaffe. Here's what I did.  I was quoting, actually, from page 183 of my book, A Simple Government. In that chapter, I talk about that Barack Obama has a different sort of perspective because of his unique background.

Now, look, all of us have a perspective based on who we are. I have a perspective having grown up in Hope, Arkansas, the son of a fireman. That has marked me, and given me a different perspective than someone who grew up in Manhattan.

So what I said was, that as a kid — and here was my gaffe. And it was my mistake and I corrected it immediately when I realized I said it. I said as a kid who grew up in Kenya, and I meant Indonesia, which is spelled out clearly in my book, word for word, but I did mention that his father and his grandfather were Kenyan. And I quoted directly.

Of course, observant readers might be thinking to themselves, “Well, gee, maybe he just got the page wrong; maybe Huckabee talked about Indonesia elsewhere in the book.” Guess what. Media Matters searched the Kindle edition of Huckabee’s book and did not find the word Indonesia, Indonesian, Jakarta, or the name of the neighborhood in which Obama lived while in Indonesia).

I guess if we want to understand Huckabee just to be saying that everything he says about Kenya and how President Obama’s worldview would have been impacted had he been raised in Kenya is true, then I suppose we could say that Huckabee wasn’t really lying; instead he was just making shit up and saying that real facts don’t actually matter as much as the bullshit narrative because the real facts might demonstrate that the bullshit narrative is wrong.

Writing for Salon, Justin Elliott manages to distill Huckabee’s “analysis” of the derivation of President Obama’s worldview to this:

So a fleshed-out version of Huckabee's theory would go like this: Obama's grandfather hated the British because he was (supposedly) tortured in prison under the colonial regime a few years before the Mau Mau uprising. Therefore, President Obama must take a different view of the Mau Mau uprising — in which his family played no part — than Huckabee, who apparently supports the brutal measures used by the British to defeat the rebellion. And because of all that, Obama replaced a bust of Winston Churchill — who himself wanted a peaceful solution to Mau Mau — with a bust of Abraham Lincoln.

One more point worth mentioning. Why is Huckabee even talking about President Obama’s childhood in the first place? I note that he doesn’t spend time talking about President Obama being raised for the majority of his childhood in Hawaii by a single white mother. Might that have impacted President Obama’s worldview, perhaps just a little? Huckabee talks about President Obama’s Kenyan father and who President Obama barely knew and the grandfather he never met, yet Huckabee spends no time talking about how President Obama’s worldview might have been shaped by his white grandparents who were actively involved in his upbringing — a military veteran and a bank executive from Kansas (Huckabee is from next door in Arkansas). Huckabee doesn’t mention President Obama’s academic prowess that led to scholarships to Occidental, Columbia, and Harvard. But in other discussions he does mention madrassas (even though young Obama did not attend a madrassa). And Huckabee repeats a long-debunked tale about President Obama offending the British by returning the Churchill bust. I mean, think about it: Huckabee is claiming that Obama’s having been raised in Kenya Indonesia for 4-5 years under the influence of his father and grandfather gave rise to Obama’s worldview while completely ignoring that the rest of Obama’s childhood was spent in the United States with his white mother and white grandparents and attending top quality universities in the United States.

So ask yourself why any of this is important to Huckabee or the audience that he’s talking to? Might any of it have to do with the fact that … gasp … President Obama looks different from Huckabee and most of those who support him? If we talk about President Obama’s Kansas roots, his white mother, his white grandparents, or his upbringing in Hawaii, then he doesn’t seem quite so … um … foreign and scary, does he? But by highlighting words like “anti-colonial” or, worse yet, making reference to the “Mau Mau Revolution” (come on, be honest, when you hear the term “Mau Mau” the image that comes to mind is scary African men with machetes and spears, right?) then Huckabee is clearly casting President Obama as something very foreign, even un-American. Add to the that Huckabee’s suggestion that Obama attended an Islamic madrassa (it was actually a Catholic school, but remember that facts are optional), and the impression that Huckabee’s intended listener is left with is that President Obama may be a lot of things, but an American just like them is clearly not part of that impression.

In politics, the term “dog whistle” is an oft-used phrase that describes simple words that have a particular meaning to a particular group of voters for whom those words are intended (and quite often, those same words will sound innocuous to voters outside the intended audience). And usually, dog whistle politics have a strong, underlying racial component. Huckabee’s discussion of President Obama’s upbringing in Kenya (or even Indonesia) is just that sort of dog whistle politics. He’s talking to the far right, to the Tea Party. He’s telling them that President Obama isn’t like the rest of us, that he isn’t as American or patriotic as they are, that he isn’t white like them. This is the kind of divisive, race-based politics that is — or at least should be — anathema to our system.

A few other tangentially related points. In addition to lying, it’s worth noting that Huckabee also gets his history wrong (not to mention mixed up). For one thing, last time I checked, America was founded by a group of anti-colonialists. I seem to recall this little thing called the American revolution in which a bunch of colonists sought to break their ties with their colonial masters in England. Apparently, in Huckabee’s world, white anti-colonialism should be respected and glorified while black African anti-colonialism (with the same colonial master, it should be noted) is … ooh … scary. Moreover, remember that whole bit about President Obama resenting Winston Churchill because of the Mau Mau revolt (or some such mumbo jumbo)? Yeah, well guess what. Historian David Anderson (in that same Salon article) notes:

To portray the Obama family as being part of Mau Mau is stir-fry crazy. Let me explain why: The Obama family come from western Kenya, which is about as different from Nairobi and the Kikuyu area as Utah is from New York City. And it's almost as far way. They come from an area where there was no rebellion, there was no Mau Mau. So while his father and his grandmother may well have been nationalists — I'm sure they were — they weren't directly involved in the Mau Mau rebellion.

The other thing is, if you've read anything about Churchill, you'd know that, although he was the head of the government at the time of the Mau Mau rebellion, he was trying as best he could to get the British in Kenya to negotiate and to end the fighting. Churchill was not supporting or condoning the violence. He is actually one of the few British politicians who comes out of this smelling of roses.

So, had President Obama been raised in Kenya by his father and grandfather, he might have had fond thoughts of Churchill. Thus, it is not even clear that if President Obama had been raised in Kenya he’d have the sort of anti-colonial, anti-British worldview that Huckabee ascribes to him on the basis of a lie. Of course, even raising the issue of the Churchill bust is part of yet another lie, too.

[T]he decision to return the Churchill bust to the British — it had been presented by former Prime Minister Tony Blair to Bush on loan — had been made before Obama even arrived.

"It was already scheduled to go back," [White House curator William] Allman said.

And according to Newsweek:

Intended as a symbol of transatlantic solidarity, the bust was a loaner from former British prime minister Tony Blair following the September 11 attacks. A bust of Abraham Lincoln — Obama's historical hero — now sits in its place. A White House spokesperson says the Churchill bust was removed before Obama's inauguration as part of the usual changeover operations, adding that every president puts his own stamp on the Oval Office.

So the return of a bust of Churchill, loaned personally to President Bush, that was removed prior to Obama’s inauguration and replaced with a bust of Lincoln, somehow gives credence to the notion that President Obama harbors ill will toward Britain because of events that happened in Kenya in the ’50s and ’60s to the father Obama barely knew and the grandfather he never knew, even though Churchill might have been the “good guy” in those events. When your analysis is based not on facts but on lies, half-truths, or just incorrect facts, that analysis isn’t worth much.

Furthermore, note how Huckabee responded to some of the points raised by the radio host. When the host claims “He [President Obama] despises the west, he despises the Brits, and I think he could take it all out on Israel and that's why he despises Israel. He's not too thrilled with our history either” how does Huckabee respond? Does he come out and say, “No, that’s not fair; I disagree with President Obama’s policies but he doesn’t hate the west or despite the Brits and Israel?” No. Huckabee simply lets those statements stand. To me (and I suspect to many listeners, both supporters and opponents), Huckabee’s silence, his failure to take issue with those statements, is tacit agreement or approval.

And when the host invites Huckabee to go full-scale birther and brings up President Obama’s birth certificate, does Huckabee push back and say, “But President Obama has produced a birth certificate; the birther conspiracy is stupid and wrong?” Nope. Instead, Huckabee says (my emphasis): “The only reason I'm not as confident that there's something about the birth certificate, Steve, is because I know the Clintons [inaudible] and believe me, they have lots of investigators out on him, and I'm convinced if there was anything that they could have found on that, they would have found it, and I promise they would have used it.” You see, Huckabee can’t really distance himself from the birthers; that might cost him right-wing, Tea Party support. Instead, Huckabee says the “only reason” that he is “not as confident” in the birther conspiracy theories is because Hillary Clinton would have found evidence that Obama wasn’t born in the US. Yet to Huckabee — and his supporters — facts and truth simply don’t matter as much as the story created on the basis of nothing more than lies and false suspicions.

Anyway, should Huckabee decide to run for President, we all need to remember this incident for it demonstrates the complete lack of character (not to mention candor) that Huckabee exhibits. If he’s willing to lie this brazenly and repeatedly on an issue as small as this one, what can we expect of him on important and difficult matters? But at least we know why Fox News keeps him around; apparently his worldview is as much “facts optional” and “lies are true” as the rest of Fox News and its stable of reporters and not-yet Presidential candidates. It doesn’t matter if the attack on President Obama or a Democratic policy is based in lies or truth, sound policy or no policy at all. No, the only thing that matters is attacking President Obama, even it the attack is based on pure bullshit.

For a roundup of all of this, please check out this video compilation from Media Matters (note that I came across it after I’d nearly completed this post):


*I want to briefly touch on Huckabee’s comparison of his “misstatement” to President Obama’s famous slip of the tongue regarding having visited 57 states. To me, that is just the kind of real misstatement that the term “slip of the tongue” describes. To equate that statement to Huckabee’s, would have required President Obama to follow up his reference to 57 states by listing places like East Virginia, West Dakota, Ontario, and some of the other “extra” states that he’d visited. But that isn’t what happened. Obama didn’t follow up his misstatement with support for his misstatement. Nope. But that is what Huckabee did. Again and again. Obama made a mistake; Huckabee lied and then lied about lying.

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