Fox News’ Mike Huckabee: Won’t someone cast him in a remake of ‘Face in the Crowd?’

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If you’ve never seen Elia Kazan’s riveting 1957 film, “A Face in the Crowd,” you should make time soon. It’s more timely than ever. The film, written by Budd Schulberg, is about Larry (Lonesome) Rhodes, a hobo turned country singer whose folksy humor and personal charm helps catapult him to TV stardom and national political influence. The movie is a cautionary tale about how, in America, cynics use idealism to promote their own personal agenda, which should already look pretty familiar to anyone who spends any time watching Fox News.

If any current political figure bears a striking resemblance to “Face in the Crowd’s” Rhodes, it’s Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and current Fox News host who, if you believe the latest popularity polls, is the leading 2012 presidential candidate among Republican voters. Huckabee, who’s been out promoting a new book, has certainly been acting like a GOP presidential aspirant, selling himself as an alternative to President Obama. Huckabee makes no bones about opposing Obama’s healthcare plan and bashing unions in their fight for collective bargaining in Wisconsin, but he couches his rhetoric in the affable, unassuming manner of someone who runs a local hardware store.


Still, the more you watch him, the more he looks like Lonesome Rhodes. That dark side was never more in evidence than when Huckabee went on “The O’Reilly Factor” this week to walk back some nasty remarks he’d made earlier in the week about Obama on a right-wing talk radio show. Huckabee stated (erroneously) that Obama grew up in Kenya, arguing that the president had a negative opinion of the British because from “his perspective growing up in Kenya with a Kenyan father and grandfather, their view of the Mau Mau revolution in Kenya is very different than ours.”

Huckabee says he misspoke, claiming he meant to say that Obama was from Indonesia, not Kenya (even though Obama actually spent the majority of his youth growing up in Hawaii). But it seems clear from the Mau Mau reference that Huckabee’s real point was to paint Obama as a radical outsider. As if to make the point clear, in the course of apologizing for his “verbal gaffe,” Huckabee told O’Reilly that his real point about Obama being raised in a different country was to say “that it creates a different world view. This is not a kid who grew up going to Boy Scout meetings and playing Little League baseball in a small town.”

So in the course of supposedly apologizing for unfairly painting Obama as a radical outsider, Huckabee cannily once again painted him as an suspicious outsider who didn’t play Little League baseball or go to Boy Scout meetings. That was another whopper, since its pretty well known to anyone who followed Obama’s path to the presidency that he played basketball on his high school team in Hawaii. But it was classic Lonesome Rhodes, using a folksy image of Americana to paint a dark portrait of a political opponent.

Obama wasn’t Huckabee’s only target this week. He also went after Natalie Portman on “The Michael Medved Show” because the visibly pregnant Portman thanked her fiance during her tearful best actress acceptance speech at the Academy Awards, saying he had given her “my most important role of my life,” referring to motherhood. After making a point of proudly saying that he didn’t watch the Oscars (it’s apparently political suicide for any Republican candidate to show any interest in any movies made in Hollywood or music that doesn’t come out of Nashville), Huckabee said he found it “troubling” to see a Hollywood starlet like Portman “who boasts of, ‘Hey, look, you know, we’re having children, we’re not married, but were having these children, and they’re doing just fine.’ ”

Of course, that wasn’t Portman’s message at all. If Huckabee had actually been watching, he would have seen a radiant woman, looking forward to raising a family with someone she loved. It was a classic Lonesome Rhodes moment from Huckabee. If you want to see why his view of the world is so troubling, watch “A Face in the Crowd,” which reminds us that the people who are often the most vociferous advocates for homespun family values are often the people who don’t practice what they preach.

--Patrick Goldstein