Mick Huckabee has surprised - and even shocked - the world of presidential politics with his remarkable climb from obscurity to worthy contender. He has brilliantly and effortlessly played the role of David in "David vs. Goliath." Like his rhetoric, and his politically open even flamboyant style, his role as David is wholly and dramatically germane because it is Biblical and he is driven by his love of the Bible.
And the media has loved every Huckabee speech, every Huckabee wave, every quip, and every note on the guitar he pulls out in public and strums. Huckabee comes off not as a pushy politician, but as the dear old uncle every kid wished he or she had growing up. The kind of uncle who wouldn't be embarrassed to play Frisbee in the front yard with the kids, or go down to the creek and check out the frogs and turtles.
While on the grueling campaign, Huckabee has even brought creative attention to himself by inventing phrases that are clever, loved by the media and his supporters, and that certainly go well with his populist tone. One of those phrases he uses - "Huckonomics" - fits perfectly with the down-home pastor-toned campaign he runs. "What is Huckonomics?" he asks on his Web site? "In a nutshell," he answers his own question, "the science of economics deals with scarcity."
If a person had everything he "could ever need or desire" then he wouldn't buy or sell anything, says professor Huckabee regarding Huckonomics; he would "stay at home and live contented with all his stuff." Sounding like the Saturday morning science program aimed at middle school kids, Huckabee goes on: "The very fact that marketplaces exist is concrete evidence that no man is an island," the preacher - politician continues, cleverly embracing Thomas Merton's legendary essay "No Man is an Island" which Merton in turn took from British scholar and author John Donne. If it's good enough for John Donne and Thomas Merton, Huckabee figures it's good enough for him, and that boldness in his rhetorical style is part of what has catapulted him from obscurity to media star. His easy-to-like style, blended in with his religious and plainspoken rhetoric, make him what he is. A voter may not go along with all Huckabee's political positions - he's against abortion, for example, and most Americans in poll after poll support a woman's right to choose; and he does not advocate an immediate retreat from Iraq, which a vast majority of Americans do support - but it's hard not to enjoy watching this campaign as it continues to surprise and surge.
And although it appears at this writing, late-February, that John McCain is the likely Republican nominee for the party, Huckabee has made waves. His upward mobility in the polls and in the all-important delegate count has raised eyebrows. His preacher-like rhetoric and refusal to be placed in the "loser" column has also stirred things up in the journalism world. In fact, Huckabee has provided a wonderfully fertile field of possibilities for those political writers who are always looking for a clever angle to sell their stories.
Indeed, unlike the relative bland John McCain, Huckabee has given journalists the opportunity to craft some clever rhetoric in their stories, rhetoric that entertains readers as well as it informs them. According to the journal Reason, Huckabee was "Supposed to be dead right now, politically speaking" (Weigel, 2008). And the journal the American Conservative opened its January article in similar fashion, making Huckabee the classic underdog by using a kind of circus juxtaposition in the opening line. "Mike Huckabee was supposed to be an amusing sideshow," writes Michael Brendan Dougherty.
Just last August," Dougherty continues, everyone in politics was looking to Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani as being the top-dog heavies in the GOP race for the nomination. Indeed, "without a single reporter in tow, Huckabee wandered around new Hampshire and Iowa speaking to perhaps a dozen people at a time..." That makes Huckabee almost sound Biblical again, like a shepherd wandering through the wilderness of the Holy Land, looking for a few sheep to tend and provide stewardship for.
Meanwhile the rhetorical situation with Mike Huckabee continues to be powerful. Looking at his practical history for a moment, he is a former governor of Arkansas, and also a minister from a conservative Christian genre running for president of the U.S. On the Republican side. His constituency is the conservative wing of the Republican Party, and in particular, he reaches out to so-called "evangelicals" (conservative Christians also known as "fundamentalists" - and includes the sects referred to as the Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movements).
Therefore, to put his rhetoric into context, he uses the issues that resonate most with the far right wing of the Republican Party, and with the conservative Christian movement, so that he distances himself from the front-runner in the Republican Party's presidential campaign, McCain (known more as a "moderate" than a hard-line conservative).
Therefore, the way Huckabee frames his rhetoric is designed to make an emotional appeal to the right wing of the Republican Party, and to the conservative Christian movement. The issues that appeal to the groups Huckabee reaches out to with his rhetoric include: preventing the legalization of marriages between same sexes (he supports a constitutional amendment making it illegal for gays to marry); ending federal income taxes; promoting "faith" (religion); staying in Iraq and continuing the war; and his most strident rhetoric is directed toward immigration, which, along with his faith, will be the focus of this paper. A rhetorical analysis of Huckabee's position papers and his speeches reveals that he uses a number of hot-button words and provocative issues to frame his beliefs.
HUCKABEE on IMMIGRATION: Huckabee knows that polls show a majority of Americans are very worried about the immigration issue. On his campaign website, Huckabee uses the term "national emergency" to describe the importance of dealing effectively with the immigration issue. This puts the immigration issue into the context of war, or a terrible crisis, that has the nation teetering on disaster. He uses the phrase "illegal aliens" rather than "undocumented workers" or "undocumented immigrants" because "illegal" and "alien" are far more powerful themes, allowing Huckabee to get the attention of conservatives more forcefully.
One way Huckabee develops his rhetoric is by framing the immigration problems in the context of terrorists, bringing to mind the horrific attacks on the U.S. In 2001. "In this age of terror, immigration is not only an economic issue, but also a national security issue," he says on his website and in his speeches. "Those caught trying to enter illegally must be detained, processed, and deported," Huckabee insists. By framing the problem in the "terror" context, what Huckabee has done with his rhetoric is make undocumented immigrants in the same group as terrorists. He doesn't say precisely that, but when a politician uses the phrase "terror" the image of Osama bin Laden immediately comes to mind, along with bloody images of the most recent suicide bomber attack in Iraq.
And while Huckabee supports the $3 billion that the Senate has voted on for border security - including a 700-mile high fence, 300 miles of "vehicle barriers," four "drone" airplanes, 105 radar and camera towers - he does not sound extremist by doing so. There are many moderate and even liberal American voters who think the 700-mile fence is a good idea. But when Huckabee says that he "...will not tolerate employers who hire illegals" he steps a bit further into radical right-wing rhetoric. He insists that "employers" (including the average American who hires a Mexican landscape crew to mow a lawn, trim trees, or clean the house - and doesn't demand to see the papers proving those immigrants are "legal") should be "punished with fines and penalties so large that they see it is not worth the risk."
With that statement, Huckabee frames the American employer or homeowner who knowingly or unknowingly hires undocumented workers as criminals. So now the immigrant is a criminal and so is the person (corporate head, farmer, homeowner needing work done around the house) who hires the undocumented immigrant. Huckabee goes on to insist that if he is elected president, he will "...take our country back for those who belong here." In this framework, he is suggesting that somehow Americans have either given their country away, or the undocumented immigrants have stolen it. He takes the argument to extreme levels with this rhetoric.
Huckabee makes a strong point in his speeches and on his website that he has signed the "No Amnesty Pledge." By signing that pledge, candidate Huckabee has ratcheted up his rhetoric to a level that is not only part of the far right wing of the Republican Party, it is seemingly absurd and logistically impossible. To wit, the "Americans for Better Immigration" pledge states "The 12 million illegal immigrants now here will have to go home." Huckabee doesn't explain how the…