Yesterday’s media tempest in a teapot was brewed after reporters either intentionally misquoted Mike Huckabee, or were incredibly sloppy in relaying an especially fiery line from his speech to the Republican National Committee. He accused Democrats of wanting to “insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control, because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of government.”
This was misreported as Huckabee’s personal Neanderthal belief – in other words, it was said he insulted the women of America by saying they need Uncle Sugar to buy them birth control because they can’t control their libidos. The opportunity to revive the specter of Rush Limbaugh vs. Sandra Fluke was apparently too strong from some “journalists,” and a whole lot of liberal pundits, to resist.
After the actual quote was widely circulated by an annoyed RNC, you could hear tires screeching all over the Internet, as the people who were frothing over the false Huckabee quote performed 180-degree hairpin turns and began claiming the real outrage was that Huckabee would dare suggest Democrats view women that way. That’s pretty funny coming from the “binders full of women” crowd, which invests great energy in accusing Republicans of misogyny. More broadly, the Left loves to psycho-analyze its opponents and suss out their hidden evil motivations in virtually every issue. If you’re not a doctrinaire liberal, you supposedly hate the poor, non-white people, women, homosexuals, children, the Earth, et cetera, ad nauseum. Every sentence you utter is picked apart for coded racism, sexism, homophobia, and other thought crimes. They sure don’t like having that brand of political telepathy turned against them, do they?
In the same passage of that speech, Huckabee said women he knows – presumably conservative women, for the most part – are “outraged that Democrats think that women are nothing more than helpless and hopeless creatures whose only goal in life is to have a govenrment provide for their birth control medication,” but the women he knows are “smart, educated, intelligent, and capable of doing anything anyone else can do.” That doesn’t sound like any kind of misogyny to me. How about it, ladies of The Conversation? Is he right about the way you view the Democrats and their political appeals to women, particularly single women?
After I noted Huckabee was being misquoted, I got a few responses grumbling that I was in the tank for Huck 2016, or must be a supporter of various other controversial things he said in the same speech. Wrong on both counts. I just think he has a right to be quoted accurately, and engaged on the basis of what he actually said. I see some conservatives think defending Huckabee at all is a mistake, because his prospective 2016 candidacy would hurt Republicans. Make that argument if you will, but we should never hesitate to insist on accuracy. A conservative candidate you really like could be the next one torn apart based on distorted quotes or scurrilous accusations about what he really means, contrary to the plain meaning of his words.
The other conservative backlash I’ve noticed against this specific passage of Huckabee’s speech is that he was foolish to set himself up for misquote mania by daring to talk about women’s libidos and reproductive systems, even if he was sarcastically describing Democrats’ views of women, or more precisely their political agenda to make women see themselves that way. Republicans are therefore supposed to avoid using any words that could be randomly resorted to make them look really bad. In fact, maybe it would be best if male Republicans avoided talking about women altogether, especially in the context of social issues.
There are a few topics that could be judged especially radioactive – the fallout zone around Todd Akin is large, and it’s got a half-life that take years to decay. But it seems to me that backing male Republicans away from “women’s issues” entirely would be ceding a great deal of rhetorical territory to the Democrats, who incessantly make proclamations on those subjects. In fact, if male Republican candidates never say a word about women, they will soon be attacked for their silence on women’s issues. Is the challenge really more about avoiding certain words and phrases? That’s really a universal political skill, when you think about it. Every conceivable segment of the electorate has words and phrases that are guaranteed to provoke a negative reaction. And when you’re a Republican, you can guarantee the media will never, ever ignore your utterance of those hot-button phrases.