It’s not often we think about Mike Huckabee. True, he has a talk show. But so does half the world. Kelly Ripa has a talk show. Geraldo Rivera has a talk show. How often do they come up in conversation?
Now, Mr. Huckabee is suddenly in the news, thanks to a speech he made at a Republican Party gathering in Washington, in which he dismissed the idea that the GOP has a “war on women” by ...
Actually, it’s pretty hard to encapsulate what he said. Here’s the most dramatic part:
“If the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it. Let us take that discussion all across America.”
Say what? Basically, Mr. Huckabee seems to be telling us that the Republican Party will not insult women by suggesting the federal government should require health insurance policies to include birth control pills in the prescription drug coverage.
He appears confident that women will find that an attractive proposition.
Mr. Huckabee was at a meeting of the Republican National Committee that was supposed to be pondering ways to close the gender gap. Instead, he laid bare a fact that the party has always tried desperately to hide — that its anti-abortion agenda is also frequently anti-contraception.
Once upon a time, Republicans took the lead when it came to helping women get access to birth control. Now, the whole party is hostage to an anti-abortion movement that harbors a wide-ranging contempt for sex outside of marriage, combined with a strong streak of opposition to any form of artificial birth control, even for married couples.
“What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right?” Rush Limbaugh said of Sandra Fluke, the law student who was lobbying for inclusion of contraceptives in health care plans. However garbled his language, Mr. Huckabee’s control-their-libido harks back to the same mindset.
This is a super political strategy. Let’s target all the voters who waited until they were married and then practiced the rhythm method.
The Huckabee speech also raises the question of what happened to Mike Huckabee. Remember him in the old days? Like Bill Clinton, he was a popular governor of Arkansas.
Unlike Bill Clinton, he used to fry squirrels in a popcorn popper when he was in college. That has absolutely nothing to do with this story, but I couldn’t resist bringing it up.
Mr. Huckabee was always a social conservative — as governor he once tried to stop a mentally disabled girl who had been raped by her stepfather from getting an abortion. But he also signed a law requiring Arkansas employers to cover contraceptives under their insurance plans.
This version of Mike Huckabee ran for president in 2008, and he was a front-runner for a while, because he was the most likable candidate. Mr. Huckabee was the one who smiled and wanted everybody to get along. He also calmly accepted flak from his opponents for having supported the idea of allowing the children of illegal immigrants to qualify for state scholarships in Arkansas. (“We’re a better country than to punish children for what their parents did.”)
That Mike Huckabee was the author of a book — well, actually he is the author of an entire library of books. But the precampaign book for 2008 was “From Hope to Higher Ground” in which he suggested that the best solution to illegal immigrants was a path to citizenship. (In his to-do lists for readers, he suggested attending a naturalization ceremony — along with buying Girl Scout cookies and always saying “thank you.”)
Well, the lovable Mike lost and went on to a career as a radio commentator and a Fox TV host. Perhaps he wanted to juice ratings. Perhaps he wanted a new path to the presidency in 2016. But over the past five years, as his party got raw and angry and mean, Mr. Huckabee got raw and angry and mean.
In his 2011 book “A Simple Government,” he railed about everything from giving illegal immigrants a path to citizenship (Amnesty!) to subsidized school breakfasts. He compared President Barack Obama to “an arrogant nerd.”
Last summer, he said that when Muslims go to a mosque to pray “they come out of there like uncorked animals — throwing rocks and burning cars.” After the school massacre at Sandy Hook, Mr. Huckabee asked why Americans should be surprised since “we have systematically removed God from our schools.” He later tried to roll that one back a bit.
And there was no backtracking after the “Uncle Sugar” speech. In fact, Mr. Huckabee sent an email to his supporters replaying his remarks. Then he asked for a donation.
Gail Collins is a syndicated columnist for The New York Times.