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Obama, Kenya and Natalie Portman: Is Huckabee Letting 2012 Slip Away?

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TV and radio host Mike Huckabee is embracing his true inner talker. You can't buy the kind of attention he has attracted in the past week, and just when he's pushing sales of a new book.

Huckabee is also trying to stay on the public radar screen as a potential late entry into the 2012 presidential race -- and why not? The former Arkansas governor leads in polls of the nascent Republican field, both nationally and in the key states of Iowa and South Carolina.

But there's a price. The further Huckabee goes down the road he's on, the less seriously he's taken as a presidential aspirant.

Already he has departed the sober company of governors and former governors -- Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels, Haley Barbour, Jon Huntsman -- and moved into a polarizing, stir-the-pot group that includes Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich.

Huckabee's 2008 presidential campaign had a few unusual aspects, such as the co-dependency with Chuck Norris and his acknowledgment in a 2007 debate that he does not believe in evolution (along with his highly arguable contention that evolution is irrelevant to a national campaign). But back then his identity was rooted in his well-regarded decade as a southern governor. He was a pragmatist who raised taxes to pay for roads and schools in Arkansas, a bassist who championed arts education in the schools, a populist of humble origins who said in a TV ad that "most Americans want their next president to remind them of the guy they work with -- not the guy who laid them off." That ad also featured Time magazine calling him one of America's best governors.

Now, three years after quitting the 2008 race, Huckabee is a highly paid author and speaker with a syndicated radio show, a top-rated Fox News weekend talk show, a $3 million house being built in Florida, and a taste for cultural dust-ups. To recap his week: He said twice in a radio interview that President Barack Obama was raised in Kenya, and agreed that it made Obama anti-American, anti-British and a backer of the anti-colonialist Mau Mau Uprising ("his story," Huckabee wrote in the book, though it happened before Obama was born), the anti-Brit sentiment proven when he removed a bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office and "boorishly" sent it back to Britain (except that it's still in the White House).

Huckabee doubled down in subsequent interviews on everything except the false "raised in Kenya" part -- which made the rest of his comments incomprehensible (Brits and Mau Mau revolts in Jakarta?) until he made clear that he still believed Obama was in thrall to the Kenyan grandfather he never knew, and the father he barely knew.

For good measure, Huckabee also revived the Murphy Brown unwed mother controversy by criticizing Academy Award winner Natalie Portman for being single and pregnant (for some reason Bristol Palin went unmentioned). Huckabee revisited that furor on Friday and tried to walk it back, saying he did not slam Portman and is glad she's engaged to her baby's father. But he also added that most single mothers are so poor their children would be "starving to death" without government programs.

Huckabee's casual talk of an anti-American president brought up in Africa, his repeated assertions about Obama's allegedly alien boyhood ("Most of us grew up going to Boy Scout meetings and, you know, our communities were filled with Rotary Clubs, not madrassas"), even his judgment on a Hollywood star, are not extraordinary for a talk-show provocateur. Yet for a White House hopeful, they are worthy of note, as is the way he handled the situation -- escalating it rather than defusing it as the week went on. "He kept repeating the charges or saying something new that was controversial," said a Republican strategist who is not involved in the incipient 2012 race. "For once his powers of charm weren't successful."

Shockingly, the media is all over Huckabee's comments, and he is miffed. But surely he knows, from having run before, that presidential prospects are subject to presidential-level scrutiny. It's disingenuous for him to complain that the New York Times, the AP and other news outlets (including Politics Daily) are paying undue attention.

The mainstream media coverage is, to be sure, quite different from what Huckabee is encountering in conservative media as he pitches "A Simple Government," his new book. Conservative radio host Bryan Fischer, for example, said the book makes a "legitimate point" about Obama's Kenyan father and grandfather instilling "fundamental anti-Americanism" in Obama. Bill O'Reilly of Fox News likewise told Huckabee that the book made "a valid point" about the influence of Obama's Kenyan roots.

Huckabee says "left-wing" media would understand the case he's making if they'd read the book, and also understand that his Kenya "slip" was just that -- because he wrote right on page 183 that Obama spent part of his childhood in Indonesia. The liberal watchdog group Media Matters found that there's no reference to Indonesia on page 183 or anywhere else in the book. Beyond that, there's considerable irony in Huckabee deploying his book in his defense. If he had read Obama's autobiography, "Dreams From My Father," it would be hard for him to insist that Obama's Kenyan father and grandfather shaped his views.

In fact, Obama, 49, was born and grew up in Hawaii except between 1967 and 1971, when he lived in Indonesia with his mother, stepfather and half-sister. From the book: Barack Obama Sr. abandoned the family when Obama was 2 years old. The child saw his father only once after that, when he was 10 and Obama Sr. visited Hawaii for a few days. Obama Sr. died in a car crash in Kenya in 1982, while Obama was in college. Several years later he made his first visit to Kenya to meet that side of his family.

Obama also writes that he was in a Boy Scout troop in Indonesia (page 50) and he attended two parochial schools in Jakarta -- a Muslim school and a Catholic school (page 154). He did not attend a radical Islamic madrassa, despite rumors that surfaced in 2007 during his primary campaign against Hillary Clinton. As for Rotary Clubs, as Media Matters pointed out, the Honolulu Rotary Club says right on its website that it was chartered in 1915.

Huckabee's strong poll showings against other Republicans and Obama rest in large part on his appeal to religious conservatives. But even before his detour into March madness, he was going to face challenges from primary rivals on his Arkansas tax hikes and the 2009 murder of four Washington state police officers by a man whose prison sentence Huckabee had commuted. Now he's in the process of squandering his leadership credibility and likable image.

The bottom line is that Huckabee spent the week rewriting history, twisting facts, tossing off comments with racial and xenophobic overtones, and then complaining that people noticed. He could stop the media attention at any time, and be free to be his best talk-show self, by announcing he won't run for president. But he hasn't done that -- because then the media would stop paying attention to him. Right when he's trying to sell a new book. And might run for president.

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Filed Under: Analysis

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Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman are just a few examples that you can fool a lot of the people a lot of the time. Just like Beck and Limbaugh, they are capitalizing on feeding a sense of victimization imagined by a right-leaning segment of this country. A segment largely silent in recent years over the abuses of their right-leaning political representatives. Where was the Tea Party, for instance, while "W" openly manipulated deficit spending figures by NOT including the expenses of two poorly handled wars? But now, on waves of foolish and baseless accusations that President Obama is a socialist, Marxist, Nazi, Muslim, un-American, not American, racist, anti-Christ who exhibits “Kenyan anti-colonial behavior,” etc., its concocted outrage knows no bounds. "Take back our country," from whom? -- your fellow Americans? Right-wing politicians and polemicists are playing potential conservative voters like a game of jacks: Easily, without a lot of effort, and little real concern for the “values” right-leaning voters claim to cherish. And, the willingness of conservative “leaders” to muddy and inflame (Death Panels? The Kenya/ Mau Mau comments were really about Indonesia? Headless corpses in the dessert? 2nd amendment remedies?) the public discourse to DESTROY a President's efforts to help all of the nation's citizenry, after the previous administration cavalierly drove us into a ditch, is pretty shameful. Is there no such thing as conservative integrity?

March 10 2011 at 12:58 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

If Huckabee is telling the truth about meaning to have said Indonesia, where do the Mau Mau come in. And when was Indonesia part of the British Empire? Is the ex-governor, that as far as I know, served his entire term, really mean to imply that the Brits weren't imperialists and agressive colonialist? I'd say that's a deal breaker right there, for a would-be Pres.

"But then if you think about it, his perspective as growing up in Kenya with a Kenyan father and grandfather, their view of the Mau Mau revolution in Kenya is very different than ours because he probably grew up hearing that the British were a bunch of imperialists."

The architects and administrators of the British Empire were imperialists? Perish the thought."

That pesky liberal media trying to make Huckabee look ridiculous. Yep, noted socialist stooge, Geoge Will:

And on the subject of Natalie Portman's upcoming blessed event, well, shut it Huckster and educate yourself on the family history of your hero Ronald Reagan. Kid conceived out of "wedlock" while the gipper was still married to a different woman than the new mother.

March 08 2011 at 4:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

And the circus begins.........Huckabee openly stated he mispoke about the Kenya comment (allthough Obama has yet to explain going to college off a foreign student scholarshiP) the media is going to drive this everyday until the election. Forget about Obama visiting all (57) states......forget about Obama waffleing on GITMO for 2 years......Forget about Obama siding with the muslims of New York and condenming a Florida pastor for his excercise of his rights..........Forget about the debt Obama has run up (BUSH DID IT)........the media will work 24 / 7 until November 2012 to be sure their great messiah gets elected keeping them all in jobs reporting what a miserable failure he is.

March 07 2011 at 4:11 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to scott7841's comment

Scott, Huckabee did not misspeak. Look at his entire statement. He references the Mau Mau revolt which took place in Kenya and how it's effect on Obama's grandfather shaped Obama during his upbriinging in Kenya. Liar..Then he tried to lie his way out of it by saying he really meant Indonesia. Liar. Then he rips a perfectly lovely person as being a bad person because she wasn't married when she got pregant. Did he rip Bristol Palin for being a mother out of wedlock? Nope. Hypocrite. He is a shylock who was spouting the far right garbage so that the uneducated and uninformed will buy his latest book and make lots of money for him.

March 07 2011 at 6:52 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

According to the Wisconsin protesters and many others , "FOX NEWS LIES" . Governor Huckabee seems to be following the FOX tradition with his recent comments.

March 07 2011 at 4:00 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Huckabee has very effectively cut himself out as a contender for the presidency. It looks like OBAMA is going to run unopposed as their is not even one serious Repub candidate.

March 07 2011 at 10:59 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Having watched his interviews and listened to his radio interview, I am stunned that you would intentionally take his comments out of context or accept his apology/explanation of the Kenya comment. He explained he meant Indonesia and has been very clear about that in his book. The policy of personal destruction is starting already!

March 07 2011 at 1:07 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

The Republican party is just one sex scandal away from running Earl down at Muffler King as their Presidential hopeful...

March 06 2011 at 10:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

America desperately needs far more qualified choices than Huckabee, Romney, Palin or Obama. That much is crstyal clear.

March 06 2011 at 10:00 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to tistolaugh's comment

I can't even imagine why you would lump Mitt Romney in withthe other three. He's the most dignified, intelligent and well-prepared candidate we've seen in decades.

March 08 2011 at 6:52 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Ron & Dolores

we need not worry, this is the same crew who ran in 2008, not one will get elected

March 06 2011 at 9:52 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

The guy is increasingly off the wall, and getting nasty to boot. Haven't the Republicans got anyone with intelligence, education, dignity and reason? Someone who can make complex arguments and stay within the realm of ideas and not gossip or people-bashing?

March 06 2011 at 9:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jancf's comment

Do the Democrats have someone like that?

March 08 2011 at 6:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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