Mike Huckabee Criticizes Natalie Portman (and Then Backtracks)

Is the new Huck more authentic or just anticipating a 2012 run?

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So what is going on with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee? Following closely on the heels of his foray into anti-Obama fantasyland (stating incorrectly that the president was raised in Kenya, among other things), he has blundered into and quickly tried to extricate himself from another politico-cultural thicket, criticizing Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman for being unashamedly pregnant while unwed.

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Huckabee was appearing on conservative gabber Michael Medved’s radio show, when Medved asked him about Portman’s acceptance speech at the Academy Awards. Describing Portman as “brilliant and admirable,” Medved went on to say to Huckabee (as transcribed by Media Matters):

She got up, she was very visibly pregnant, and it's really it's a problem because she's about seven months pregnant, it's her first pregnancy, and she and the baby's father aren't married, and before two billion people, Natalie Portman says, 'Oh I want to thank my love and he's given me the most wonderful gift.' He didn't give her the most wonderful gift, which would be a wedding ring! And it just seems to me that sending that kind of message is problematic.

She actually didn’t say that. She said that he’d given her the most important role of her life (motherhood). But that’s really beside the point. Criticizing her because she was “very visibly pregnant”? Should Portman have gotten up and asked the world’s forgiveness for her being pregnant and unwed? Perhaps she should have dressed in a burqa so as to hide her condition? Maybe worn some sort of scarlet letter as a sign of her shame? And I understand the man is conservative, but a wedding ring being the most wonderful gift a woman can get? Seriously? [See a roundup of political cartoons on the GOP.]

Anyway, Huckabee responded:

You know Michael, one of the things that's troubling is that people see a Natalie Portman or some other Hollywood starlet who boasts of, 'Hey look, you know, we're having children, we're not married, but we're having these children, and they're doing just fine.' But there aren't really a lot of single moms out there who are making millions of dollars every year for being in a movie. And I think it gives a distorted image that yes, not everybody hires nannies, and caretakers, and nurses. Most single moms are very poor, uneducated, can't get a job, and if it weren't for government assistance, their kids would be starving to death and never have health care. And that's the story that we're not seeing, and it's unfortunate that we glorify and glamorize the idea of out of children wedlock.

Huckabee has since backtracked, E-mailing The Plum Line’s Greg Sargent that:

In a recent media interview about my new book, A Simple Government, I discussed the first chapter, "The Most Important Form of Government Is a Father, Mother, and Children." I was asked about Oscar-winner Natalie Portman's out-of-wedlock pregnancy." Natalie is an extraordinary actor, very deserving of her recent Oscar and I am glad she will marry her baby's father. However, contrary to what the Hollywood media reported, I did not "slam" or "attack" Natalie Portman, nor did I criticize the hardworking single mothers in our country. My comments were about the statistical reality that most single moms are very poor, under-educated, can't get a job, and if it weren't for government assistance, their kids would be starving to death. That's the story that we're not seeing, and it's unfortunate that society often glorifies and glamorizes the idea of having children out of wedlock."

As Sargent notes, Huckabee’s explanation doesn’t quite add up, given that he did specifically criticize Natalie Portman. He goes on:

This is the second time Huckabee has involuntarily blurted out something certain to resonate with right-wing pathologies, only to try to quickly take back its particulars. When he recently made the false claim that Obama grew up in Kenya, only to later clarify that he misspoke, he merely revealed that he had screwed up in the particular manner in which he blew the conservative dog-whistle, not that he never intended to blow it at all. Indeed, soon after, he made this perfectly clear by claiming Obama's worldview had been shaped by "madrassas." The same thing has now happened again with Portman. He's admitting he erred in attacking her, but he can't take back the fact that he blew the dog-whistle again by attacking the family choices of celebrities.

And as TJS bloleague Susan Milligan wrote of Huckabee after the Obama flap, it’s another sign that a sharp edge is appearing in someone who had been one of the few likeable GOP candidates from 2008.

Susan wrote:

Huckabee is a deeply religious man, and holds some predictably conservative views on abortion and other social issues, but there was no judgmentalism to his tone. He’d been a preacher, he explained to me during the campaign. He knew he himself fell short in the eyes of God, so how could he not accept shortcomings in others?

The question is whether this new Huck is simply more authentic, or a change brought on by either a book tour or an impending presidential run.