Sunday, January 6, 2008

Mike Huckabee Using a "Mary Poppins" Strategy

Having spent some time examining the speeches, positions and history of Mike Huckabee; it recently struck me that his combination of Populist concerns (more often raised by Liberals) and Conservative solutions to those concerns seems to utilize the same strategy described in the song "A Spoonful of Sugar."

This song was sung by Julie Andrews as the title character in the classic Walt Disney film "Mary Poppins." In the film, Poppins magically poured medicine from the same bottle in three different sweet flavors. In real life, the lyricist is reported to have been inspired by his son receiving a polio vaccination by swallowing a sugar cube to which the vaccine had been applied.

In the same way the use of sugar was a useful method of getting children to swallow polio vaccine, I think Mike Huckabee is being very shrewd when he talks about what he calls "Vertical Politics." One such recent quote comes from his appearance on Jay Leno's Tonight Show:
"Everything in this country is not left, right, liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican. I think the country is looking for somebody who's vertical, who's thinking, let's take America up and not down. And people will forgive you for being left or right"

This minimizing of "left, right, liberal, conservative" as identity labels has apparently been driving some Conservative political analysts and commentators crazy. They seem to assume that a lack of pushing the "Conservative" label means Huckabee is abandoning Conservative solutions.

Rush Limbaugh addressed this directly on the January third edition of his radio program. The following quote of Rush, from that day helps show how he interpreted Huckabee's statement.
"let's take the country up instead of taking it left or right. See, that's the thing, folks. You take the country up by taking it right. It's been established."

There is one significant difference between the statement Huckabee made and the way Rush interpreted it. Huckabee didn't say there was no difference between taking the country left or right; just that the motivation should be to take the country up, rather than placing "left or right" labels ahead of the good of the country.

As a generalization, I have to say I agree with Rush's statement; "You take the country up by taking it right"; and I think Huckabee does too. But by putting the focus on the goal while guiding the listeners through the method; Huckabee is using a Populist "Spoonful of Sugar" to get at least the more moderate of his "liberal" listeners past the conservative label through his conservative solutions, to the "vertical" goal.

Such tactics may seem weak or deceptive to some, but I think it's a wise recognition of a well known psychological reality. The single biggest reason for one person to dislike (or be against) another is when the first person thinks the second dislikes (or is against) them, whether it's true or not.

If you tell Liberals you want them to adopt a Conservative goal, especially after years of left/right antipaty, they are very likely to be against your solution before they ever hear the details. You stand at least a marginally better chance of convincing them if you present the details of the solution without focusing on it's "left/right" placement.

It does even seem that Huckabee and hard-line conservatives have different goals. The "hard-right-wingers" have moving America to the right as the primary goal, expecting that it will lift America up. I think Mike Huckabee really has lifting America up as his primary goal. While his solutions that I've examined so far are conservative (at least right-of-center), I think that's secondary to Huckabee.

I would use driving a nail as an example. Now some people may really like hammers and some have an affinity for pillows. When a nail needs to be driven, Mike Huckabee is going to hammer that nail; not because he is primarily a hammer enthusiast, but because that's what you use to drive a nail. In exactly the same way, Huckabee proposes conservative solutions because he's motivated by lifting America up rather than being obsessed with wearing the "Ronald Reagan Mantle" as his foray into "identity politics".

"A Spoonful of Sugar" may not be nearly so great a quote as "Tear down this wall"; but if that's what it takes to nudge more voters toward conservative solutions, so be it.

Related posts:
"Can a Populist be Conservative?"-2008.01.04
"Rush is Wrong about Huckabee Supporters"-2007.12.21
"Huckabee Shows Fiscal Conservatism"-2007.12.14
[I plan a later post detailing examples of Mike Huckabee executing this "Mary Poppins Strategy". Feel free to include your own examples with your comments.]

1 comment:

"H" said...

Love the analogy! I absolutely agree that Mike Huckabee's so-called populism is a shrewd, "sugar-coated" manner of talking about important issues designed to make largely conservative solutions palatable to a broad spectrum of voters. People who trade in bitterness might despise "sugar-coating" (not to name and names, but certain pundits know who they are), but the reality it gets the job done a lot better than trying to force raw castor oil down the public's throat.