Huckabee on Obama vs. “Average Americans”

There’s been a lot of discussion of Mike Huckabee’s comments on the Steve Malzberg radio show yesterday, in which Huckabee didn’t dispute Malzberg’s musings about the president’s birth certificate, and mistakenly said Obama was raised in Kenya. I’ll let Steve Kornacki explain:

After accusing Obama of failing to produce adequate records about his own education, health and birth, Malzberg asked Huckabee, “Don’t you think we deserve to know more about this man?” To which the former Arkansas governor replied:

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, [is] very different than the average American.

The reference to the Brits is by now a storyline that has reached fever pitch among conservatives: as part of the standard personalizing of the Oval Office by new presidents, Obama returned a bust of Winston Churchill — which was on loan to former President Bush by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair — and replaced it with a bust of his own choosing, of that notorious un-American figure… wait for it… Abraham Lincoln.

Huckabee realized later that Obama spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, not Kenya, and despite failing to take on Malzberg’s birtherism on the air, admitted that he knows Obama was born in Hawaii. Here’s Huckabee’s statement, in which he goes on to wonder if Obama is a real American:

“Governor Huckabee simply misspoke when he alluded to President Obama growing up in ‘Kenya.’ The Governor meant to say the President grew up in Indonesia. When the Governor mentioned he wanted to know more about the President, he wasn’t talking about the President’s place of birth — the Governor believes the President was born in Hawaii. The Governor would however like to know more about where President Obama’s liberal policies come from and what else the President plans to do to this country — as do most Americans.”

Dave Weigel, I think, is too kind in his assessment of Huckabee. To sum up Huckabee: Obama certainly was born in the United States, but has lived someplace other than the Arkansas of dirt floors, Lava soap, and fried squirrel. So where does he get his ideas of America? Someplace foreign. An anti-colonialist Kenyan father perhaps?

But there’s a lot more embedded in Huckabee’s comment about Obama’s “view of the Brits” and the supposed snub of returning the Churchill bust. First, in suggesting that Obama is anti-imperialist, Huckabee intimates that the president, in what conservatives frame as a civilizational war between the west and the rest, doesn’t embrace the superiority of western civilization (which can also be read as Obama doesn’t embrace “American exceptionalism.”)

Second, and probably even more important, for an evangelical and Christian Zionist like Huckabee, Churchill is a figure of enormous symbolic power. In this scenario, Obama is an appeaser like Chamberlain — whether it’s on Iran’s nuclear ambitions, or in failing to address the “Holocaust” of abortion — Churchill is an Esther-like figure who finally intervened for the Jews (much as Christian Zionists see themselves as protecting Israel from Iran) in a Holocaust (much as ardent anti-choice crusaders see themselves protecting fetuses from what they attempt to portray as genocide).

There was a lot packed into Huckabee’s comment, and his self-correction enables him to have it both ways: he can assure the reality-based world that of course he knows Obama was born in Hawaii, while still winking and nodding to his base that wonders if Obama is a “real” American or a “real” Christian.

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