Friday, January 4, 2008

America's Love-Hate Relationship with Rural People, as Manifest in the Hucakbee Phenomenon

This commentary in the New York Times, under the title Two Buck Huck, reflects the love-hate relationship this country has with rural America. On the one hand is the "love" -- that which propelled Huckabee to victory in Iowa. On the other is the "hate," that which keeps Huckabee out of the mainstream of the Republican party and which will ultimately play a role, I believe, in preventing him from getting the nomination.

I found Timothy Egan's comment a bit painful to read. It begins:

"The rap against Mike Huckabee, the Baptist preacher and ex-Arkansas governor now doing for the Republican Party establishment what three-alarm chili does for an afternoon nap, is that he’s too inexperienced to be president, too na├»ve — a rube straight out of Dogpatch."
That had me saying "ouch," even as I acknowledged that I'd written some similarly critical things about Huckabee in the past few days. The difference was that I didn't invoke "Dogpatch" to mock him. Plus, it's a bit like being comfortable with criticizing your own mother but getting upset if someone else does so. I'm an Arkansan (by birth, upbringing, and somewhat still by identity), and Huckabee reminds me of some of my relatives. I can criticize them, but I'm uncomfortable with Egan getting too carried away with the pejorative cultural references.

Plus, Egan's commentary gets more biting still, and it's hard to say who gets the worst of it from Egan's keyboard: Huckabee or the Republican Party establishment. Egan continues with the observation that few of Huckabee's critics are being very frank about what's bugging them. Egan says the source of the discomfort is class, noting that we are more comfortable with "faux rubes," such as the Bushes, than we are with Huckabee as the proverbial real thing. He continues:

But Huckabee, despite an inept last week of campaigning, has forced the Republican party to face the Wal-Mart shoppers that they have long taken advantage of. He’s here. He’s Gomer. And he’s not going away.

"Huckabee revels in the class war. He’s Two-Buck Huck, and darn proud of it. He likes nothing better than playing the Hick from Hope. He and his wife lived in a trailer for a while, he points out. His son killed a dog one summer, “a mangy dog” at that, as Huckabee explained to the befuddled national press corps. He said he used to eat squirrels, cooking them up in his popcorn popper. Ewwwwhhh!" ***

Egan's comment has been a top-ten emailed story for about the past 24 hours, and many have offered comments on it. I wonder what is in it that resonates so much with readers. Is it the "love" of the rural and a sense of indignity that Huckabee will always be an outsider? Probably not. More likely it is the "hate" -- or to be more precise -- the disdain that so many feel for the rural culture that Huckabee so heartily embraces and so vividly embodies.

Even as Egan gets in his digs at the Republican establishment for rejecting Huckabee, his word choice and cultural references -- Gomer, Two Buck Huck, Dogpatch, and Wal-Mart -- mock Huckabee. Egan's gratuitous, Jeff Foxworthy-esque digs aside, something about Huckabee's manifestation of rural culture makes most of the nation deeply uncomfortable, even those who think
he is getting a raw deal from the Republican establishment.

No comments: