Book Review: Gods, Guns, Grits, and Gravy
by Mike Huckabee
St. Martin’s Press, 2015
Former Arkansas governor and likely 2016 US presidential candidate Mike Huckabee’s latest book goes under the cringe-inducing title of God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy and functions, one guesses, as the kind of booklet-manifesto most presidential hopefuls feel obliged to have generated in their name. He opens it by characterizing himself as a simple country boy, a “catfish and corn bread kind of guy, not a caviar and crab salad connoisseur” who grew up in the small-town South where everybody knows their neighbors, guns are passed down reverently from father to son, and there are “three or more Bibles in every house.”
He contrasts such places with what he calls the three “nerve centers” of America: New York, Washington D. C., and Los Angeles. New York with its pervasive filth:
Even when the trash gets picked up, you always want to burn your shoes after you’ve walked the New York streets because of all the “stuff” that is ever present on the sidewalks. I can’t find a Walmart in Manhattan, either, and people stare at my cowboy boots when I’m on the subway. What’s up with that? I prefer boots over Birkenstocks. Does that make me weird?
Washington with its frantic power-consciousness:
But for a city where everyone sure is in a hurry and acts busy, nothing productive ever happens there. Some people think that because I’m involved in politics, I surely must live there. I don’t. In fact, there’s only one address in that city that I’d probably want to relocate to.
(in the book, that last line is followed by a smiley-faced emoticon.)
And Los Angeles with its weird health food and ‘cool’ culture:
If you want to eat seaweed salad, kale, or granola, you can find lots of varieties. But I thought only North Koreans ate lawn clippings, and no one ever looks you in the eyes in LA or if they do, you’re unaware of it because they wear sunglasses all the time – even indoors. I don’t know how they can see well enough to keep from stumbling all over the place.
This is all such depressingly boring stuff, so patently insulting to the very people it’s purporting to praise, that after very few pages, the sheer lying bizarreness of the book becomes so insistent that it starts to demand explanations for its existence quite apart from any ulterior motives Huckabee might have. He tells us he’d like to move into one certain Washington address – smiley face – while simultaneously in the process of telling us that he finds three of the country’s greatest cities not only bewildering but – with minimal reading between the lines of this ordained Baptist minister’s prose – sinful and even damned. So New York has dirty “stuff” over every inch of its surface, he’d like to be our first commuter president by spending as little time in the nation’s capital as possible, and he doesn’t know how sunglasses work. As campaign primers go, it’s all a bit puzzling.
And it gets worse, because it gets darker. In elaborate detail, he sets out defending a long string of indefensible things, starting with the bigoted statements made by Dan Cathy, the CEO of Chick-Fil-A restaurant chain – statements Huckabee, with aw-shucks abashment and knowing deceit, recasts as a free speech issue: “Wow! That was really outrageous of him!” he writes. “The very idea that someone would publicly spout the view that a family has value to our society!” Huckabee knows perfectly well that Cathy and Chick-Fil-A went much further than simply stating their opinions; they also funneled millions of dollars into actively discriminating against gay people (and, if allowed by law, would hang “No Queers Allowed” signs in every single one of its franchises). But whether it’s Chick-Fil-A or Duck Dynasty patriarch and crackpot bigot Phil Robertson equating homosexuality with bestiality and terrorism or questions of gun control or the separation of church and state mandated by the First Amendment to the Constitution, Huckabee’s stance in God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy is the same: he uses a vaguely-invoked ‘people of the heartland’ to support any cause that would haul America back a century, to the good ol’ days when you knew all your neighbors and the blacks lived in shanty towns across the railroad tracks, when every house had at least three Bibles and the women stayed at home and made meals like it says in the Good Book, and when guns were a proud tradition – and liberally used on int-lektuals who come ’round talkin’ about science. These ‘people of the heartland’ are being denied their dream of living in such a world, and it’s irritating them, and Huckabee feels their pain:
Frustration for many people in the heartland of America had reached a tipping point. Those who lived their lives quietly and without a lot of confrontation had been pushed to the limit by those who angrily shouted them down as “haters’ because they held to biblical standards on issues like marriage and the sanctity of life.
It’s all so patently, boringly false. The specific kind of heartland-people Huckabee describes as just wanting to be left alone are a good deal more active than that, and he knows it; they have the restless energy that hatred always imparts. They don’t just want to work their jobs and raise their kids in peace – they want everybody else to do the same thing, in exactly the same way. No colored folk. No grass-eating Asians. No Latinos covered in filthy “stuff.” No queers. No vegetarians, no intellectuals, no “progressives” (Huckabee uses the word with contempt), no unmarried women, no Jews, no atheists, no, no, no, no, no. It’s worse than a century-old throwback, in fact; it’s the same old tired yearning for the Antebellum South that’s got the bigoted trash of this country out of bed for the last 150 years.
And here it is alive and well in what can only be viewed as the campaign biography of an aspirant for the office of President of the United States, the most complicated, diverse, and technologically advanced country on Earth. What could an author who pines for the good ol’ days working at the Piggly Wiggly and who uses the laughable term “city slickers” with a straight face – what could such an author possibly bring to the job of President? To the problems of America staying competitive in finance and technology? “Well, shucks, I just think them big cities is weird.” To America’s constantly-evolving stance on social issues? “Sorry, boy, we don’t serve your kind here.” To the vital questions of science facing America’s future? “My Bible was good enough for my grandpappy, and it’s good enough for me.”
Underneath its lies and prejudices, it’s ultimately just pathetic. That won’t bother Huckabee, since he himself is not just a city slicker but a city slicker who wants to be President (you permanently lose your just-leave-me-alone redneck status once you know your way around the Daily Show). But it very much ought to bother the millions of heartland-people he claims to represent, people who are far more literate, scientifically aware, and – *shudder* – progressive than is convenient for him. And, it almost goes without saying, it sure as hell should matter to St. Martin’s Press (based in New York, of course), which should have laughed this worthless griddle-cake of a book right out the door rather than publish it.