Sunday, March 06, 2011

Strategically, A Blunder, Unfortunately


Mike Huckabee either isn't running for President, or forgot that he is. First, he responded to a question/comment from Repub talk show host Michael Medved about Natalie Portman

You know Michael, one of the things that's troubling is that people see a Natalie Portman or some other Hollywood starlet who boasts of, 'Hey look, you know, we're having children, we're not married, but we're having these children, and they're doing just fine.' But there aren't really a lot of single moms out there who are making millions of dollars every year for being in a movie. And I think it gives a distorted image that yes, not everybody hires nannies, and caretakers, and nurses. Most single moms are very poor, uneducated, can't get a job, and if it weren't for government assistance, their kids would be starving to death and never have health care. And that's the story that we're not seeing, and it's unfortunate that we glorify and glamorize the idea of out of children wedlock.

You know, right now, 75 percent of black kids in this country are born out of wedlock. 61 percent of Hispanic kids -- across the board, 41 percent of all live births in America are out of wedlock births. And the cost of that is simply staggering.

Then, on Friday morning the former Arkansas governor posted on Facebook

Natalie is an extraordinary actor, very deserving of her recent Oscar and I am glad she will marry her baby's father. However, contrary to what the Hollywood media reported, I did not "slam" or "attack" Natalie Portman, nor did I criticize the hardworking single mothers in our country. My comments were about the statistical reality that most single moms are very poor, under-educated, can't get a job, and if it weren't for government assistance, their kids would be starving to death. That's the story that we're not seeing, and it's unfortunate that society often glorifies and glamorizes the idea of having children out of wedlock.

Finally (all hope), according to Mediaite, on GOP TV's Fox and Friends Saturday morning

the former Arkansas governor revisited his comments to explain his argument was not a moral one, but an “economic” one. Giving Portman his full support and once again asserting she “deserved her Oscar,” Huckabee persisted in his point that the children of single mothers are more likely to live in poverty.

There is no need for a re-clarification of the clarification of the initial statement. All three statements are consistent with each other.

In the initial remark, Huckabee mentioned the famous actress only once, and that to comment "Natalie Portman or some other Hollywood starlet." He seemed little concerned with Natalie Portman herself, but only the highly visible Portman as representative of the (relatively few) single mothers who are wealthy and who thereby give a "distorted image" of the situation facing that demographic. Thereby, "the idea of having children out of wedlock" is often "glofified and glamorized" by society.

Huckabee has incurred a fair amount of criticism, such as this on The Huffington Post, this from Politics Daily, this from America Blog, and this from a USA Today columnist. These three, not surprisingly, have something in common with each other. No rebuttal is offered for any of the opinions expressed by Huckabee, but instead ridicule, allegations of hypocrisy, or analogies to Huckabee's inaccurate remark about Obama's background are made.

However, for Huckabee, who at this time next year either will be courting Republican (therefore conservative) presidential primary voters or continuing to appeal to conservative audiences on his weekly Fox News program, criticism from the left or even the center, or even the mainstream media, is not of paramount importance. Whether he runs for the White House or continues on television, he must build on his right-wing audience.

The remarks of the former Arkansas governor probably will not help him in that regard. While the left generally found his (initial) remarks unacceptable because they detected a disapproval for out-of-wedlock pregnancy on moral grounds, conservatives ultimately will find the man who made this statement unsatisfying for precisely the opposite reason- moral disapproval was not stressed.

Consider that Huckabee initially remarked "Most single moms are very poor, uneducated, can't get a job, and if it weren't for government assistance, their kids would be starving to death and never have health care." He followed that up with "My comments were about the statistical reality that most single moms are very poor, under-educated, can't get a job, and if it weren't for government assistance, their kids would be starving to death." Finally, according to at least one report, he emphasized that his criticism was an "economic" one.

Call me ungenerous, but I don't think an aspiring GOP nominee does himself any good by saying "hey, I'm not saying having children out of wedlock is immoral but rather that it hurts the chances of the woman and her family moving out of poverty into the middle class." Don't look now, but the Republicans in Washingtonare not aggressively promoting programs to move poor people into the middle class. Pandering to oil companies and Wall Street bankers is far more helpful to raising the cash necessary to maintain a majority in the House, regain a majority in the Senate, and take on President Obama.

For someone needing to appeal to the right, the worst was yet to be uttered: "if it weren't for government assistance, their kids would be starving to death and never have health care." A savvier or more self-interested Repub politician would have been better served charging "if it weren't for government assistance, they wouldn't be encouraged to have these children they cannot care for." The drill is clear: blame government; don't suggest that children starving to death (which even conservatives find unpleasant)is prevented by government assistance. And don't ever, ever imply that deserving children are being assisted by health care provided by government.

It's not clear, further, that Repub voters are all that exorcised by the choices made by poor women, including poor, uneducated and unmarried, women, to have children they may not be able to care for. When the single daughter of the Repub vice-presidential nominee was heard to be pregnant, some observers (including myself) thought there would be at least some disapproval expressed by conservatives. But there was little if any. With the campaign against Planned Parenthood now being conducted by Washington Republicans, the reason for the largely favorable response among conservative Republicans to Bristol Palin's pregnancy has become clear. Conception, wanted or not, within marriage or not, is always a virtue. If need be, it can be ascribed to "compassionate conservatism," though it is neither.

Once upon a time, the left was less eager to defend Hollywood starlets and more eager to address the plight of the poor and the obstacles they face. These obstacles include entering the world without a father present, thus with a mother with all the difficulties most single mothers endure. Those are not part of the world the wealthy of Hollywood must confront, but they are part of the reality Democrats and liberals must address, even in the age of Obama.



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