Christmas with Huckabee

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Can't Wait Till Christmas

by Mike Huckabee

  • Reading level: Ages 4-8
  • Hardcover: 32 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Juvenile (October 5, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0399255397
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399255397
With back-to-back best-sellers about Christmas, one might believe that Mike Huckabee was an active candidate for Santa Claus, rather than an unannounced candidate for President of the United States. The two roles have several similarities.

For starters, both Santa and presidential campaigners come with fictions that everyone recognizes, but with which all participants play along. In this case, we have the fiction that Huckabee has not decided whether or not to run. Like sports seasons, campaigns break down into practice gam
es, league play, and a national championship. During preseason play, candidates romance the voters with the fantasy that they have not made up their minds about running. For Huckabee to say he’s not running is comparable to the San Diego Padres saying, “It hurt a lot last year to get beat in the play-offs by the Giants, so we’re coming to Spring Training this year, but we haven’t decided yet whether we will play any regular season games.” While it’s true that candidates may drop out at any time (and at a rate of about one every-other week during primary season), about a dozen Republicans could now be described as running until-they-are-forced-to-drop-out. In this pack, Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, and Newt Gingrich stand out as the leaders.

In 2009, I supported Huckabee in the primaries and waited for him to make a local appearance, if not in Visalia, then in Fresno or Bakersfield. When he never came, I realized he had chosen not to contest California. Huckabee has now worked Visalia twice in 20 months (he spoke at the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast in May, 2009). We may be a city of only 125,000, but we’re the commercial center of a red county in a blue state, and a link in California’s Bible belt. This time, it’s safe to say Huckabee plans to do battle in the California primary.

After writing several books on public policy and a couple of exhortations in favor of weight loss and building a legacy, the pair of Christmas books might seem a little innocuous. Not so. The C
hristmas season follows immediately after the November elections and allows Huckabee to hit the stump before the last recounts have been decided from the midterm contests. It also quietly plays the nostalgia card for Huckabee’s base. There is considerable resentment that Winter Holidays have supplanted Christmas Vacations. It certainly wasn’t that way in the 1950’s, when these autobiographical stories took place.

Last year’s A Simple Christmas told 12 stories from Huckabee’s childhood. They stress the influences and events that built his character. (And certainly character is one of Huckabee’s long suits: there will be no intern embarrassments or Watergate burglaries from a Huckabee presidency.) Each story teaches a lesso
n, and some express Huckabee’s Christian faith. This year’s Can’t Wait Till Christmas takes just one of those stories, adds pictures, and reworks it as a children’s story.

The plot is simple. Young Mike and his somewhat older sister cannot resist sneaking a peek at the Christmas presents wrapped under the tree. One thing leads to another until Mike is re-wrapping a dirty football to return to the pile. His sister is re-wrapping a slightly used chemistry set. They are discovered. Parental wisdom and mercy prevail, but a lesson is learned about the importan
ce of patience.

Or has it really been learned? This two-week, “non-political” book tour started at the Richard Nixon Library (how’s that for an icon of non-politicosity?), and runs to Seattle, with multiple signings each day. Huckabee appears to be chomping at the bit to launch a campaign that technically won't start for another year. Notice the transportation being used for this tour. I ask my author friends: have you ever traveled to a book-signing in this kind of style?

Or has your publisher hired personal assistants to travel ahead, to organize the crowd before your arrival, and then to open and hold the books for economy of motion as you sign and give handshakes as well? (The guffaws some of you may hear are my writing friends exchanging book-signing stories.)

I was about 12 when I attended my first celebrity autograph event, Sandy Koufax coming to a local bank to sign souvenir plastic bats. At 14, as a re
porter for my junior high newspaper, I went through the reception line twice in order to interview Nelson Rockefeller in his primary contest against Barry Goldwater. I’ve attended presidential campaign rallies with Eugene McCarthy, Bobby Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Shirley Chisholm, and George McGovern, and author signings by Joyce Carol Oates, Jonathan Franzen, Randy Alcorn, T. Davis Bunn, and Jerry B. Jenkens. All of my experience tells me this was a campaign stop, not a book signing.

Yet it was very impressive, and scrupulously clean. There were no sign-up tables, campaign buttons, or literature handouts. The press release said he would be at Borders in the evening, from eight until nine, and sign 400 books, signature only—no personal inscriptions. Borders distributed numbered tickets throughout the day, and began organizing the line at 7:00. The candidate author arrived four minutes early (Clinton would have been 90 minutes late), as personable and at-ease as I have ever seen any person at the center of attention. Perhaps 250 people stood ready. (For a children’s book, reading level four to eight, surprisingly few of the attendees were under voting age.) When people asked for anything extra, he politely told them he needed to get signatures for everybody first, but they could try coming through the line a second time. I had him sign his 2009, Do The Right Thing, and then went and got a second book. As the numbers thinned, he began posing for pictures. When Pictures slowed, Borders employees rolled out several carts with another couple hundred books, which his staff fed him assembly-line style. Finally, at six minutes past nine, he was out the front door and back on the bus. At each step in the process, as people encouraged him to run or promised to vote for him, he graciously thanked them for the comment, but stated that he hadn’t made any decision.

So does any of the imposture put me off? No. Two years ago Huckabee was my favorite candidate based on issues. Now I’ve seen him up close. He is the most talented politician I have ever seen, winsome, easy-going, yet remarkably self-disciplined.

In a manner of speaking, I can’t wait till Christmas.


I think just like Palin, Huckabee would be foolish to run. Each has their own show on FOX News that would pay them much more than they could make by running for office. I think Huckabee will look at the political landscape and stay out of it.

January 26, 2011 at 12:43 PM  

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