Paul Waldman

Paul Waldman is the Prospect's daily blogger and senior writer. He also blogs for the Plum Line at the Washington Post, and is the author of Being Right is Not Enough: What Progressives Must Learn From Conservative Success.

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Mike Huckabee Is Your Candidate Of Cultural Resentment

I'm going to confess an unpopular opinion (among liberals at least) and say that as much as I enjoy The Daily Show, Jon Stewart is usually not that good an interviewer when it comes to political figures. He's about two-thirds of a good interviewer—there are always some good questions, but he usually misses opportunities to ask critical follow-ups, and when his interviewee is struggling, he'll often jump in with a joke. Which is his job, of course—it's a comedy show, and he's a comedian—but it also has the effect of letting his subject off the hook.

Last night though, Stewart did an extremely revealing interview with Mike Huckabee, one that cast into sharp relief what Huckabee's 2016 presidential campaign is going to be about. Huckabee's chances of becoming the GOP nominee are pretty small, but he's still going to be an important candidate, one who is likely to stick around after many others flame out. You can watch an extended version of the interview here, but this is what aired:

 

The topic is Huckabee's new book, God, Guns, Grits and Gravy. The book comes out today, so I'm going to have to rely on what Huckabee has said about it and not the actual text, but the topic is what we might call his version of the Two Americas: not the haves and the have-nots, but the heartland and the coasts. Huckabee refers to these two worlds as "Bubbleville," made up of the bubbles of Washington, D.C., New York, and Hollywood, and "Bubbaville," where the real people live.

This is a familiar dichotomy often presented in conservative politics: you have the real Americans who live in small towns, go to church, love country music, wave the flag, and have "values," who are contrasted with the pretentious, licentious, condescending urbanites. But one of the fascinating things about this interview is that Huckabee—perhaps conscious of the audience watching—won't even take ownership of the very thing on which he's basing his campaign:

Stewart: It sounds like there's an idea that the people who live on the coasts are not real, that you're talking about—the Bubbas are real, and we're not.

Huckabee: No, it's not a matter of reality, it's a matter of different perspectives. I'll give you an example. There's a big difference between people who are well-educated and people who are smart. And a lot of people who are very well-educated—say, the Harvard faculty—believe that the people who live out in this part of the world where I live, in flyover country [note: Mike Huckabee actually lives in Florida], those red states that people think, "Those people are nuts"...

Stewart: But you believe that the Bubbas are better than the Bubbles.

Huckabee: No, different.

Stewart: No, better. You believe they're better. You wrote a book called God, Guns, Grits and Gravy. You believe they're better.

Huckabee: Here's the point. I want to explain who we are to the people who live in the Bubbles. Because those of us who live in Bubbaville, we get the people in the Bubbles, because all the television shows and movies are all about the people in the Bubbles.

Stewart: No, you don't get it.

Huckabee: Six and a half years, I've come to New York, and I've seen the difference in the attitudes and lifestyles and culture. It's not that one is better.

Stewart: Yes it is. You believe one is better.

Huckabee: Well if it is, it would be Bubbaville.

That sure took a lot of effort to wring that admission out of him. But let's move on. Later, Stewart brought up the fact that Huckabee has criticized Jay-Z and Beyonce for the former's vulgar lyrics and the latter's suggestive dance moves. He previously said about Jay-Z, "Does it occur to him that he is arguable crossing the line from husband to pimp by exploiting his wife as a sex object?" (because when the two appear on stage together, it must be Jay-Z making the decisions about what they'll perform and how).

Stewart then played a clip of Huckabee on his show playing bass for Ted Nugent performing "Cat Scratch Fever" ("Well I make the pussy purr with a stroke of my hand/They know they gettin' it from me…") and said, "You excuse that type of crudeness because you agree with his stance on firearms, but you don't approve of Beyonce because she seems alien to you. Maybe the problem is Bubba is in a bubble." He went on to note that country music is full of crudeness. "Johnny Cash shot a man just to watch him die!" Stewart said. "That's some gangsta shit!" Huckabee tried to argue that "Cat Scratch Fever" is "an adult song, geared for adults." Right.

And as the interview closed, Huckabee added one more pitch for Bubba's superiority: "There's a difference between education and smart. If your car breaks down in the middle of the night on a country road, who do you want coming by: an MBA in a beamer, or do you want a couple of good ol' boys in a pickup truck with a tool box in the back?"

Before I get to the politics of all this, let me say: Oh for frack's sake. Seriously? That's supposed to tell us something about the cultural superiority of the red states? You can come up with a million different situations in which you might need some assistance requiring specialized knowledge. If I need my car fixed, I want someone who knows how to fix cars. If I'm having a heart attack, Huckabee's good ol' boys probably aren't going to be able to help.

In any case, this all makes clear that Huckabee is going to be the candidate of cultural resentment. He wants to be the spokesperson for those who feel that they're looked down upon by the elites, and for years, what politicians like Huckabee have fed those people is a narrative that says, "No, you're the ones who are better, and it's the coastal elitists who are worthy of scorn. The places where you live are brimming with virtue, the cultural products you prefer are superior to those preferred by other people, you are the real Americans. Those bastards are nothing compared to you." I particularly like Huckabee's repeated invocations of the Harvard faculty, a stereotype that among his intended audience will simultaneously evoke insecurity and contempt.

There is without question a sizeable market within the Republican Party for this kind of appeal. The problem is that it isn't large enough to get you the presidential nomination. If it was, then Sarah Palin would be the most popular politician in the party. But she isn't. In this CBS poll a few days ago, 30 percent of Republicans said they'd like to see Palin run for president, but 59 percent said they wouldn't. The numbers were almost exactly reversed for Mitt Romney, who's nobody's idea of an authentic culture warrior.

But no one can speak to those insecurities and resentments in a more folksy and appealing way than Huckabee, which is why he'll be a serious player in the presidential race. Then when it's over he can go back to Fox.

 

An earlier version of this post misquoted Huckabee as saying "NBA in a beamer," not "MBA in a beamer." It has since been corrected.

Google Glass Is Dead, But It's Also the Future

Flickr/Karlis Dambrans

Google announced today that it is ceasing production of smartphone-on-your-face Google Glass, and although they are characterizing it as just an end to the beta version, everyone else seems to be calling it a failure. There were certainly some reactions the company didn't anticipate, like the fact that most people thought they look ridiculous, the coining of the term "Glasshole," and the sometimes violent reactions people had to being recorded by someone else's glasses. Jake Swearingen says the camera was the problem: "it turns out very few people are willing to be viewed as walking, talking invasions of privacy."

But I promise you, wearable augmented reality will return before long. I looked back at what I wrote when the device was first announced two years ago, and I still hold to what I said then:

...one of the consequences of this being a technology we've all expected for a while is that its first iteration inevitably looks like a clunky preliminary version of what it will eventually be. We're spoiled by how small electronics have gotten, so the fact that the glasses need to have a rectangular hunk of plastic on one arm that houses the components is a little disappointing. In 2013 we aren't able to make it all fit into the frame of a regular pair of glasses, though we will be eventually. And at some point, it will all fit into a contact lens, so no one even knows you're augmenting.

If that sounds like this incredibly disturbing episode of the terrific British series "Black Mirror," that's not because I'm some kind of genius futurist, it's because it's the almost inevitable endpoint of this technology, the convergence of electronics miniaturization and immediate access to large quantities of information. As the "Black Mirror" episode demonstrates, when you can put a camera and the entire Internet in a contact lens, there are going to be enormous and profound social consequences. And someday, we will.

But between now and then, I'm guessing this technology in its next widely-used form could be specialized versions of Glass-like devices for certain professionals with much more specialized needs, like firefighters, police, and the military (they're already working on it). Once that becomes common, it'll start to spread to other professions, and eventually it'll make its way back to consumers. And once you can put an Oculus Rift in a pair of contacts, watch out.

The Entire Conservative World Has Turned On Mitt Romney

Flickr/Gage Skidmore

Well that sure was fast. At the beginning of this week, Mitt Romney 3.0 was the talk of the political world, and while it's certainly unusual for a candidate to lose a general election and then come right back and run again, it didn't seem absurd. I myself wrote a column titled "Why Not Mitt?", arguing in part that from where Romney sits, the idea seems perfectly reasonable. He never went away like most presidential losers do, but kept going around the country endorsing and stumping for candidates, and he was well-received. Republicans kept telling him what a great president he would have been. The field of potential opponents doesn't look intimidating at all. And so on.

But within just a few days, the entire Republican world, from conservatives to moderates, from office-holders to pundits, from strategists to hangers-on, has turned on Romney with a spectacular fury. Five days ago it was, "Huh, another Romney run—interesting." By today it's "Depart this land and never return, accursed one." Right now it seems like the only people left who want Mitt to run are his family members and people who he's employed in the past (and not even all of them).

The floodgates may have been opened by this editorial on Wednesday from the Wall Street Journal editorial page, which is as close to an official voice of American conservatism as there is. The Journal laid into Romney for being a bad candidate in 2012 and not showing much reason why he'd be better in 2016, and that may have made other conservatives feel like they had permission to speak out, to reporters and on their own, in opposition to him. There has been a wave of articles quoting Republicans both on and off the record against Romney, with headlines like "Republican activists widely say Romney should sit out White House run," "Mitt Romney faces skepticism, frustration as he looks to 2016," and "Mitt Romney backlash intensifies." As conservative reporter Byron York wrote last night, "In the last day or so, [conservatives have] all gotten their boots on and publicly reacted to Romney 2016, and their preliminary verdict is not at all favorable." Even Peggy Noonan, relentless chronicler of Americans' gut feelings and secret longings—who on the eve of the 2012 election assured readers that Romney would win despite what the polls said because "All the vibrations are right"—has today turned rather viciously on the man she used to hold in such high esteem:

There is no such thing as Romneyism and there never will be. Mr. Romney has never encompassed a philosophical world. He has never become the symbol of an attitude toward government, or an approach to freedom or fairness. "Romneyism" is just "Mitt should be president." That is not enough.

He is a smart, nice and accomplished man who thinks himself clever and politically insightful. He is not and will not become so. He should devote himself to supporting and not attempting to lead the party that has raised him so high.

Hard to argue with that. On the other hand, are there any potential GOP candidates about whom one could say they "encompass a philosophical world"? Is there a Jebism or a Christieism or a Walkerism or a Jindalism or a Rubioism? There may be a Cruzism, but as philosophies go it's repugnant.

So what happens to Mitt now? He could say, "Well, the trial balloon didn't float, so nevermind," and find something else to do with his time (keeping in mind that it's been eight years since he last held a job, and that entire time was spent running for president). Or he could decide that this is just another hurdle to climb over on the way to his ultimate goal, no more daunting than all those behind him. He could just persevere like he always has, not letting the skeptics get him down, keeping his chin up and his eyes forward, heading with strength and optimism toward that brighter day that he knows deep in his heart is coming.

That's what I'm guessing he'll do, because that's who he is. 

Photo of the Day, Sports Proletariat Edition

 

Michael Russell competing in the qualifying rounds of the Australian Open. Qualifying is a tournament-before-the-tournament, where players not highly ranked enough to get automatic berths compete for the last few spots in the main draw. Russell, a 36-year-old American starting his 18th year on the tour, is currently ranked 156th in the world (his career high was 60). While the winner of this year's singles tournament will get $3.1 million Australian ($2.55 million USD), by winning the first match of the qualifying, Russell has guaranteed himself only $8,000 Australian, or $6,568 USD, which is probably barely enough to cover his expenses in making the trip down under. If he makes it through the qualifying rounds, he will likely have to play one of the top-ranked players in the first round of the main draw, and his chances of beating a player like Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal are extremely small. A first-round loss, however, would get him a purse of $34,500 ($28,325 USD), which would make the trip more than worthwhile.

Are the French Free Expression Hypocrites?

Last week, I suggested that while the outpouring of support and unity in the wake of the horrific murders of staff members of Charlie Hebdo in France seems to be about free expression in the abstract and not about defending particular kinds of expression, we might be misleading ourselves a bit on that score. Many people said that while they realize that the magazine's work is often offensive to many, you don't have to like all their cartoons to honor the courage of the staff in continuing to publish in the face of very real threats, and to proclaim loudly that no one should be killed for saying what they think.

True as that is, the content does matter. Let's be honest: if you declared "Je suis Charlie" (privately or publicly), then you probably weren't that offended by their work. Maybe it's because people like you weren't among their targets, or because things like blasphemy don't bother you all that much. Even if you didn't approve of some of their cartoons, your reaction to them was more intellectual than visceral.

That doesn't mean you don't believe in the principle of free expression, just that how you react to people paying a terrible price for their expression will depend in large part on what you thought of the expression. It's the difference between saying, "What happened was wrong" and actually going out to participate in a rally or making a public show of solidarity. As I said in that post, if the creators of the white supremacist magazine Stormfront had been murdered, we'd all agree that it was unacceptable, but we wouldn't be putting on "I am Stormfront" t-shirts.

But what's important about the American version of freedom of speech is that even the most abhorrent views get the same First Amendment protection as any other speech. It isn't that our laws and jurisprudence don't set limits on what you can say, but those limits aren't very limiting. You can't directly incite violence, but you can do it indirectly. In America, you can say, "All Zoroastrians should be killed," you just can't tell an angry crowd, "Hey, that guy on the corner looks like a Zoroastrian—go get him." Similarly, you can lie about lots of things—for instance, you're free to publish a tract claiming the Holocaust never happened—you just can't lie intentionally about an individual (if I proclaim that my neighbor killed Kennedy when I know it isn't true, he can sue me).

The looseness of these limits on speech is a pretty recent development in American history. For most of our country's existence, you could get tossed in jail for advocating certain political ideas. In 1920, socialist Eugene Debs ran for president from prison, where he was serving a sentence for sedition because he opposed the draft in World War I. In the 1960s, Lenny Bruce was arrested multiple times and charged with violating obscenity laws, because in a comedy club with only adults in the audience he said dirty words that today you can hear every night on HBO. Today, those prosecutions seem absurd to us. In fact, we've all but stopped prosecuting people for obscenity, when for decades it was a constant topic of debate and legal wrangling.

Although First Amendment jurisprudence is still somewhat complicated, we've essentially come to a place where we allow almost any speech that doesn't do direct and demonstrable harm to specific individuals. But in most countries, even those that you might think share our commitment to free speech, they're much more comfortable outlawing speech that they've decided is harmful in a much broader, more long-term way—not because it injures a specific person, but just because they think it isn't good for society. And one of those countries is France. In the last week they have arrested dozens of people for violating speech laws by doing things like "condoning terrorism." Most notably, the French government is considering charges against the incredibly popular anti-Semitic comedian Dieudonne, who wrote on his Facebook page "je me sens Charlie Coulibaly," (I feel like Charlie Coulibaly) combining the "Je suis Charlie" with the last name of the man who killed four hostages in a Jewish market.

As an American, you probably think, "Wait—how can that be a crime?" But in France, it can be. It's also a crime to deny the Holocaust, as it is in a number of other European countries. Does that make the French hypocrites? They'd probably argue that there are certain classes of harmful speech that they've identified and outlawed, and the Charlie Hebdo cartoons don't fall into those categores, while other kinds of speech do. Like you Americans, they'd say, we draw a line between speech that's allowable and speech that isn't; our line is just a bit different from yours.

To return to where we started, you probably think it would be ridiculous for the French to put Dieudonne in jail for a Facebook post, but if they do, you also probably won't be organizing a march to proclaim "Je suis Dieudonne," because his views are despicable and you don't really want to associate yourself with him. So does intellectual consistency demand that we defend someone like Dieudonne with a vigor and energy equal to that with which we defend Charlie Hebdo? Not really. You can take the position that French speech laws are too restrictive and even someone like him should be able to say whatever he wants, but you don't have an obligation to put those abstract ideals into some kind of political action every time you take a position. We all pick and choose.

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