The View from the Back of the Bus
Center for a Just Society
"Please move to the back of the bus!"
It is a command, not a request. The mood is emphatic, the tone condescending, the derision palpable. The sentiment is laced with the disdain that is common when patricians speak of the hoi polloi. They are, after all, accustomed to sitting at head tables and in box seats. They summer at Nantucket and Bar Harbor. They are educated at Harvard and Yale. They read the Wall Street Journal and Barron's. They are used to calling the shots, to being in charge. For them, there is no waiting in line.
They are the Republican elites, the bluebloods that fund political campaigns. They fashion for themselves quaint little names like "Rangers" and "Pioneers." Raising political capital is their new frontier. They invest in political campaigns as a cost of doing business and they expect a return on their investment. To spread the risk, they often put their money down on more than one candidate. And the returns are good—subsidies, tax breaks, limitations on liability when things go awry. Power is a wonderful way to leverage wealth! They are fiscally conservative and socially liberal. After all, one never knows when the right to abortion might come in handy. An unexpected pregnancy can be so inconvenient!
They expect people to know their place—and to stay in it. Place, after all, reflects one's station in life. It is, therefore, unsettling when one gets out of place.
That's why the candidacy of Mike Huckabee is so unsettling to them. A Baptist preacher who wants to sit at the head of the table! Can't he just pronounce the benediction? A graduate of Ouachita Baptist University—never heard of it. Where is he from? Arkansas? That's where the Ozarks are, right? They make moonshine there and those quaint little dolls with faces made of dried fruit. Governor, you say? Ah, but has he ever run a business? Wasn't Bill Clinton governor of Arkansas? Who is backing Huckabee? Home schoolers? Why would anyone want to teach their kids at home when there are perfectly lovely boarding schools available? Evangelicals? Those are the folks with the red necks and blue collars that carry big black Bibles, right? The ones that don't believe in evolution and want to take the nation back for Christ. They think the earth is flat and object to embryonic stem cell research? I thought so. Oh, they can be useful by winning elections for you, but they are soooo presumptuous! Who do they think they are? Give someone a seat at the table, and the next thing you know, they want to sit at the head of the table!
Here's the bad news for the bluebloods. The blue collars aren't going to go away. The base isn't going to the back of the bus. They've ridden back there for so long, their behinds are sore. They're mad as hell and they aren't going to take it any more. They've found a champion in Mike Huckabee and they intend to fight. They've chafed long enough. For years, they watched as the Republican controlled Congress spent money like drunken sailors. They saw "earmarks" for the business elites elevated to an art form and rise to an all time high under Republican leadership. They watched as the party of family values became embroiled in scandals involving sex and money. They winced as the Republican led Congress gave away tens of millions of dollars to Planned Parenthood, the biggest abortionist in the business. And they became apoplectic when the business elites thwarted efforts to stem the tide of illegal immigration because the bluebloods wanted to maximize profits through the use of cheap immigrant labor at the expense of the American worker.
To borrow a phrase from Hillary Clinton, Huckabee listened to them and found his own voice. And the base is responding to it.
Bluebloods like George Will mock Huckabee's "economic populism" and deride him for it. But the Huckster's message is resonating with the Republican base which has become sick of the dominance of the bluebloods in all things Republican. So sick, that the sign planting, precinct walking, phone banking worker bees—who had only sweat and shoe leather to invest in the campaign—enabled Huckabee to administer a good old fashioned spanking to Mitt Romney, the Harvard educated millionaire who outspent Huckabee 20 to 1 in Iowa. Huckabee's victory may have mortally wounded Romney who was theretofore the favorite of the bluebloods. He is, after all, one of them.
If Romney falters in Michigan, however, expect to see the bluebloods coalesce around John McCain whose moribund campaign was recently revived with an unexpected win over Romney in New Hampshire.
McCain is not a natural ally of the bluebloods, but his advantage with the Nantucket set is he is not Huckabee. Moreover, the bluebloods take comfort in the fact that, in his previous lap around the track, McCain described Pat Robertson and the now deceased Jerry Falwell, pooh-bahs of the evangelical movement, as "agents of intolerance"—to which the bluebloods replied with a hearty "Amen!" Additionally, McCain's "family values" include civil unions—anathema to the base, but a quaint notion to the martini set. Finally, through the McCain-Feingold Act, McCain was the catalyst for imposing gag rules on issue advocacy during federal elections, thereby limiting the ability of grass roots groups to meaningfully participate in the election process. As a result of all of this, James Dobson, echoing the sentiments of many an evangelical, has stated he will not vote for McCain under any circumstances.
In any event, before they ever confront the Democrat nominee in the Presidential race, you can expect that the Republican standard-bearer will have been battle tested. The matchup between the bluebloods and the base will guarantee that. What remains to be seen is whether the GOP winner will be battle hardened and ready to rumble or so weakened by the contest that he will be unable to put up much of a fight.
Regardless, there is a good chance that on Election Day the bluebloods will be riding the bus alone.