Perhaps you are too young to remember Mike Huckabee’s 2008 presidential run. If so, you’re definitely too young to remember Tony Orlando.
If you were alive (and sentient) in the 1970s, you must have heard Orlando’s smash hit (with his partners, Dawn) “Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree,” which shot to the top of the pop music charts the same year that Roe v. Wade was decided. Forty-two years later, Huckabee thinks abortion is like the Holocaust and slavery. For Huckabee, Roe v. Wade is out; Tony Orlando is still in.
At Huckabee’s campaign announcement speech today in Hope, Arkansas, Orlando, now 71, performed “Yellow Ribbon,” as well as a song he composed for Huckabee, a hackneyed ode to why he loves America, “our home town.”
Huckabee is widely seen as the evangelical’s candidate–not an just an evangelical candidate, but the candidate who speaks to and for evangelicals. But not all evangelicals agree, and it’s in part because of his aw-shucks-I’m-a-just-a-country-boy-who-made-big-money-on-Fox-News-but-am-still-one-of-you-circa-1974 routine, in part because he overplays his status of speaking for evangelicals, and in part because he’s simply not cool. He’s a gifted orator, to be sure–that’s his preacher roots, parlayed into politics–but not all evangelicals find his particular iteration of the bi-vocational pastor appealing.
Huckabee has squandered his considerable expressive talents. Version 2016 has ditched the most winsome aspect of version 2008: “I’m a conservative, but I’m not mad about it.” And in ditching his 2008 political self, Huckabee cast aside what made his political resumé unique and potentially attractive: not the preacher Huckabee, but the pastor Huckabee. It’s his pastoral–that is to say compassionate–side as Arkansas governor that drew the ire of the state’s hard-right.
Today, in the culmination of the last eight years of his rebranding to the right, Huckabee played down any pastoral political persona in favor of an angry ideologue who thinks the government is a tyrannical overlord bent on “criminalizing Christianity:”
[W]e’ve lost our way morally. We have witnessed the slaughter of over 55 million babies in the name of choice, and are now threatening the foundation of religious liberty by criminalizing Christianity in demanding that we abandon Biblical principles of natural marriage. Many of our politicians have surrendered to the false god of judicial supremacy, which would allow black-robed and unelected judges the power to make law and enforce it-upending the equality of our three branches of government and the separation of powers so very central to our Constitution. The Supreme Court is not the Supreme Being, and they can’t overturn the laws of nature or of nature’s God.
Huckabee has not simply gone full religious revanchist. He has also wasted potential wells of political acumen: he’s a musician, but for warm-up entertainment today he chose a performer anyone under 40 will have to Google. More to the point, he’s a politician, but he chose a performer anyone under 40 will have to Google.
In eight years, Huckabee had a chance to evolve from an ardent opponent of abortion to one who sees contraception as a way of mitigating it. Indeed Huckabee has no theological roots that would reject contraception out of hand. But his religious orientation has evolved; he’s a Southern Baptist preacher who so identifies with charismatics and Pentecostals that in 2008 he called himself a “Bapti-costal;” he’s a religious liberty crusader who so identifies with Catholicism that he has said, “we’re all Catholic now.” That was in 2012, discussing his opposition to the contraception coverage benefit in the Affordable Care Act. He doesn’t just oppose the benefit because, in his view, it violated the religious beliefs of certain employers. Last year he blamed “Uncle Sugar” for handing out free contraceptives to women who “cannot control their libido or their reproductive system.”
Huckabee announced his anachronistic candidacy just as a video about access to contraception–and religious efforts to block it–has gone viral. In this Comedy Central send-up, a satirical birth control pill commercial, comedian Amy Schumer tries to get a one-month prescription filled. “Ask your doctor if birth control is right for you. Then, ask your boss if birth control is right for you. Ask your boss to ask his priest.” And so on.
Maybe Huckabee is counting on us not remembering what the ’70s were really like. After all, Orlando’s other hit was “Knock Three Times.” Remember that one? It’s about a man longing to have sex with his downstairs neighbor: “I can hear your music playin’/I can feel your body swayin’/One floor below me/You don’t even know me, I love you/Oh, my darling, knock three times/On the ceiling if you want me/Twice on the pipe/If the answer is no.”