You just can't beat some of the crack political analysis coming from some of the crack political analysts in South Carolina, today's latest epicenter of the fractured GOP primary race. For instance its governor, Mark Sanford, pondered the dicey situation for the Washington Post and "said the substantial number of undecided voters reflects uncertainty ... among Republicans."
Such high deduction is akin to Calvin Coolidge's insight that massive unemployment results when a lot of folks are out of work, and Cal made it to the very top. Perhaps one of today's contestants will similarly favor us with a few years of his intellectual penetration as chief executive, but alas, I fear Mike Huckabee, after today, won't be among them.
The cause lies not entirely with the Huck himself. Fred Thompson's stalking-horse campaign on John McCain's behalf was apparently a tactic that Jesus failed to read up on before anointing Mike, and it's doing one helluva righteous bag-job on the Huck's numbers in South Carolina. There are some things in the underhanded cesspool of politics, it would seem, that even God can't overcome.
Mr. Huckabee might survive today's crucible, but what he encounters from there is a largely secular brick wall, and, paradoxically, it's Huckabee who made it stronger.
In his immoderate desperation to motivate his one and only base -- economic populism doesn't stir the hearts of many among the GOP faithful -- Mike simply went too far. He shivered the spines of the theocratically wary, and even spooked the holy fence-sitters.
Despite what he claims as celestial inspiration, Mike was always playing a dangerous, calculated game -- knowing, that is, precisely when to moderate the message. But these things have a way of taking on a life of their own: in for a penny, in for a pound, so to speak, and once he got rolling Mr. Huckabee had very little real control over his own investment. Desperation feeds on itself, and like a gambler down a fortune, one might as well go whole hog. Indeed, one has to, if he wants to stay in the game as a major player.
Huckabee had little trouble bamboozling the profoundly ignorant, of course. For instance when asked in a debate last week about the repeatedly affirmed Southern Baptist doctrine of a wife "submit[ting] herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband," Huckabee explained that the "position required no subordination at all. It meant, he said, both husbands and wives 'mutually showing their affection and submission as unto the Lord.'"
Now, you and I see that as a repudiation of plain English; a squalid affront to the literal interpretation of church and biblical doctrine, which, according to its doctrinal wizards, is a mortal no-no. But, afterward declared Oran P. Smith of the Christian-fundamentalist Palmetto Family Council, "It was masterful." He wasn't quite sure just how Mr. Huckabee managed this rhetorical magic, but goddamn he was "like Houdini."
Amusing, yes, and to maybe five or ten percent of the Republican troops it's even convincing. But that, of course, ain't nearly enough. Mike had to kick the fence-sitters off the fence, and the only way to do that was to crank up the fanaticism.
This he fatefully did Monday, explaining to a probably rather puzzled Detroit mob that the U.S. Constitution should be amended "so it’s in God’s standards" -- meaning Mr. Huckabee's -- "rather than try to change God’s standards."
Whoops. Now that was a brazenly theocratic bridge too far, even for large and influential segments of the right-wing Christian community. Huckabee had casually popped the cork of inexorable fundamentalist logic, and one simply musn't do these things in public. It's an embarrassment to the furtive cause.
"Is the Constitution anti-God?" asked a leading commentator of the online evangelical magazine, Christianity Today. "Honestly, I’m thinking that this quote probably cost Huckabee more evangelical votes than it won him."
Yet the blunder was inevitable, and therefore not really a blunder. Religious fanaticism within a secular society was all that Mr. Huckabee ever really had to sell. And ultimately it folded like most internal contradictions do.
His brief trajectory merely followed that of all revolutionary movements. He needed to increasingly radicalize his message to ensure enduring motivation among the faithful -- who were, after all, his only hope -- but such messages always reach the snapping point. At some blessed and internal moment someone says, Wait a minute, this has gotten out of hand. So the movement retreats, leaving behind the leader's head on the block.
But his was fun to watch while it lasted. Even comforting, in a way. For it's good to see that there are some stabilizing historical verities that just can't be changed.