“It is trying on liberals in Dilton,” reads the first line of Flannery O’Connor’s story “The Barber,” which could with tweaking aptly apply to the unfolding 2016 presidential campaign season for those maybe uninclined to vote for one of the score or so of potential Republican candidates. The GOP’s field of declared and undeclared are riding the usual hobby horses--Obamacare, “big government,” Obamacare, public schools, moral collapse, Obamacare—with some already honing their grievances into slogans, sound bites, and hashtags. Does “Bubble-ville vs. Bubba-ville” work for you?
Best-selling author Mike Huckabee thinks it will. Well, maybe not for you, but hopefully for the fractious choir he’s preaching to with his newest book, God, Guns, Grits and Gravy. “Bubble-ville” describes the population of Americans associated with the iniquitous and elite “nerve centers” of Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, D.C.; “Bubba-ville,” everywhere else—“the flyover country” that “more often than not votes red instead of blue, roots for the Cowboys in the NFL and the Cardinals in the National League, and has three or more bibles in every house.” (The characterization invites debate, but, to use a construction for which Huckabee shows fondness: I digress.)
GGG&G, in short, makes use of a simple construct to capitalize on resentments by reaffirming the preconceptions and prejudices of its intended audience. Neither polemic nor screed, it’s mainly a book-length unspooling of commentary that’s also needlessly broken into chapters, though if it weren’t, then readers would be deprived of nominally edifying (if not necessarily organizing) headings like “The New American Outcasts: People Who Put Faith and Family First” and “Bend Over and Take It Like a Prisoner!” (this following one bemoaning “The Culture of Crude”). His musings are at times entertainingly wrought. In places he risks naughty ethno-religious offense: “I can see the look of horror on the faces of friends of mine who have spent their lives in New York City when I talk about owning a wide variety of firearms: It’s the look one would get announcing in a synagogue that one owns a bacon factory” (it’s an image he uses more than once). In places he’s more plainly insulting, as when contending that Beyoncé is unwittingly allowing herself to be pimped out by her husband, Jay-Z. Sometimes he’s hilarious:
It’s infuriating to be lectured about how you are destroying the planet when the one accusing you is an environmental pressure group attorney who lives in a Manhattan town house, whose bare feet haven’t touched grass since he dropped his joint in college, and whose idea of getting close to nature is to let the nanny use the Prius to take the kids to Central Park.
(Come on—no one drives to Central Park!).
He’s also a man with a seemingly limitless store of pop cultural references guaranteed to ingratiate himself with certain voters, from TV’s MacGyver and Captain Kirk to TV’s Perry Mason, "The Beverly Hillbillies," and "Leave it to Beaver," and even TV’s Emily Litella (“of the original Saturday Night Live”). He’s proud of the spacious new home he’s built on the Florida Panhandle, of the smartphones and tablets he’s acquired and apps he knows how to use, of all the frequent flyer miles he’s racked up: “I reach Delta’s Diamond Medallion status (highest level of frequent flyer) by April or May of most years.” And in places he’s unintentionally self-revealing, as when writing about the scourge of political correctness:
Being offended is a full-time job … It’s a tedious task, for it requires enormous amounts of imagination and creativity, relentless pursuit of an audience willing to swallow the notion of the offense, and then a never-let-go nursing of the manufactured hurt until the protagonist actually begins to believe his or her own grievance.
Mostly, though, Huckabee is like that rarely seen uncle who at Christmastime writes the family-newsletter-cum-rant, laboring to demonstrate he’s still with it (sometimes too hard, as in a perhaps good-faith but sadly uninformed attempt to name-check seminal New York rap group Public Enemy), while passing along anecdotes and tidbits of suspicious-sounding data picked up from Fox News. Except Huckabee until recently really was a star on Fox News, and like that uncle or star on Fox News, he saves a lot of his fire for New York City, cloaking complaints about its crowds, crime, and “trashy women” in the familiar rhetoric of those who refuse to let ignorance be an impediment to pronouncement: “Now I like New York, but…” or “New York is a lively and exciting city, but….”
Nothing new there, and it goes both ways—otherwise, no book. The dynamic had already been established when H.L. Mencken was writing on the candidacy of Al Smith nearly ninety years ago:
For years New York City has been sliding away from the rest of the country, and today it is almost as much foreign soil as Paris or Warsaw. In ideas as in manners it is the complete antithesis of the Middle West, the West, and the South. What Kansas or Tennessee or Utah venerates, New York laughs at. What New York esteems is diabolical to Kansas, Tennessee, and Utah. This split, it seems to me, has been productive of much good. It has made New York a refuge for civilized Americans, and so saved them to the country. But it has also made the typical New Yorker the narrowest of provincials.
I’d take issue with the last. In my perhaps generous reading of Huckabee I’ll summon the generosity of O’Connor, whose writing, as Leonard Mayhew said in Commonweal in 1964, was “profoundly marked” with sympathy for the "evangelism of the rural South…. [T]he religious mentality of the freewheeling preachers [Huckabee is an ordained Southern Baptist minister] and self-anointed prophets contained for her a kind of truncated sacramentalism…. O’Connor saw the people of this mentality as spiritual émigrés of the Old Testament, furiously digging and searching for real and operative sacraments. The outward signs they have at hand are recalcitrant and must be forced to reveal the salvation they contain.”
Huckabee will not be president or the GOP nominee. But he'll remain with us, in some form or another, well past the day this book is forgotten.