Hollywood couldn’t have scripted it better. Dirty Dancing and Strictly Ballroom pale in comparison.
The American GOP Forum at Morgan State in Baltimore. A chance for Republican presidential wannabes to strut their stuff for a largely African American audience in attendance — and with, maybe, hundreds of thousands more courtesy of PBS, who televised the debate. Tavis Smiley moderating. Who’da thunk it? What self-respecting conservative president-in-waiting would pass up such an opportunity to make his case?
Well, the four top tier Repubs took a pass. McCain, Romney, Giuliani, Thompson, all of ’em. Seems they thought “the audience might be hostile and unresponsive.”
The event organizers deserve an Emmy for turning the snub to “Best Dramatic Effect in Reality TV.” The six “second tier & lower” candidates, Mike Huckabee, Ron Paul, Sam Brownback, Tom Tancredo, Duncan Hunter and Alan Keyes took their places at their six slick, see-through podia. You could see every inch of ’em. Interspersed on stage, for all the world to see every minute of the debate, were the four empty podia of the front runners. A constant reminder of who cared enough to show up — and who didn’t.
I was mesmerized. For a crusty old Liberal like me, the visual message on that stage was mind-blowing. Then Tavis Smiley elevated the debate format to stellar heights. The first question? He asked each of the candidates to address the absence of the Big Four. If I’d had a bottle of champagne handy, I’d have popped the cork right then. There’s no way out of this, I thought.
I was wrong.
Huckabee was first to respond and was inclusive — and utterly brilliant. “I’m embarrassed,” he said. “I want to be president of the United States, not president of the Republican Party…” He was clearly incensed at the shameful behavior of his fellow GOP candidates and made no bones about it. His take no prisoners attitude, delivered with all the sincerity and zeal of the Baptist preacher he is, had me on my feet.
While the others also shook their collective heads in disapproval and spoke to it, none of them came across with the same depth of feeling Huckabee evidenced. Besides, he was first and had no time to gather his thoughts. Nor did he have a response to model his own after; he had to wing it and he did. Beautifully.
It’s not easy for a committed white guy who’s anti-social programs for the needy (If we’d all just be responsible for ourselves, keep Dubya’s tax breaks for the wealthy, privatize Social Security and let big business do it’s thing without a lot of silly regulations, everybody would be just fine…) to relate to a room full of minorities. Most of the candidates proved that to be true.
When the question of what legacy each of them might leave the African American community if they were elected, the answers were revealing. Brownback waxed eloquent about his effort, already underway, to see an African American museum constructed in D.C. — and he would be the president who, at long last, officially apologized for slavery and segregation. Duncan Hunter jumped in with a notion of doing away with pornography, although he failed to make celar why this was an urgent African American issue. He extolled “less regulations and less taxes” as a shiny new legacy for Black America. Alan Keyes said he did not believe there actually is “this deep divide in this nation” and seemed to feel that a same-sex marriage moral compass and “faith” in schools would pretty much do the legacy trick.
It was Huckabee, again, who hit the high point: Access to decent housing, a justice system that’s not weighted against African Americans. I was on my feet again. Whoo-hoo! Housing! All that social justice and justice justice! Honey, I was ready to pull the lever. Or touch the screen. Or lick the #2 lead and put a big old X in the box next to his name.
But something went wrong for me when the subject of Darfur was raised and Huckabee said we didn’t need to be tinkering with genocide there until we dealt with the genocide here–abortion. Scratch the benevolent surface and something’s not quite what it appears to be.
Mike Huckabee may prove to be a real threat to the top tier Repubs. He actually is the “compassionate conservative” the GOP touted so loud and proud back in 2000. He preaches love and he means it, all that “love” stuff. Sincerity is not his problem. He’s Baptist. He can prance and preach, wrap himself in the mantle of Christian love, open his arms wide and hug us right into a born-again stupor.
But he’s that kind of Baptist. Therein lies the flub: A singular religious perspective defining public policy, impacting the law, packing the Supreme Court. That kind of love, no matter how well-intended, will narrow the moral landscape and priorities to same-sex romanticism, save-the babies, preach the biblical version of world history and science in the classroom…
And ignore world poverty, illiteracy, hopelessness, rage and genocide as lesser problems (after all, we want to get to heaven, here) and deny healthcare to all those babies we’re supposed to be saving and send them off to Iraq to fight in the endless bloody occupation/holy war against (t)errorism — because, under GOP management, we’ll still be over there fighting when the next generation is cannon-fodder-aged.
This man is not a change in direction. He’s the same old social sins agenda in a spiffy new outfit. With a cross.
The religious right could well rally ’round this fella. God help us.