Mike Huckabee and Moral Turpitude

Adam Thierer has an excellent post at Tim’s other home, The Technology Liberation Front. He asks,

Why is Huckabee preaching the gospel of moral decline and cultural disintegration while also playing up endorsements from martial arts expert and actor Chuck Norris, professional wrestler Rik Flair, and rock-and-roll star Ted Nugent? Don’t get me wrong, I spent more time than I care to mention watching Chuck Norris movies and Ric Flair wrestling matches with my Dad growing up, and I used to own all of the Motor City Madman’s (that’s one of Nugent’s many colorful nicknames for you non-fans) albums in the 70s.

Thierer then goes on to discuss some of Team Huckabee’s, er, more outré artistic achievements. His point is straightforward.

Look, I’m not saying that Mike Huckabee shouldn’t proudly accept the endorsements of celebrities who are loved by millions. But don’t go preaching about moral decay and the decline of Western civilization while at the same time you are garnering endorsements from three guys who made a living dishing out violent or raunchy entertainment to the masses. It’s the ultimate in hypocrisy.

It’s also obvious that Norris, Nugent, and Rik Flair are exactly the kind of cultural figures loved by the “downscale” and disdained by “upscale,” which reflects Huckabee’s mix of cultural populism and what some on the left call “moral elitism.” But of course the “moral elitism” of the social right is emphatically rejected by elites, or rather the so-called “coastal elites” who, at least in theory, occupy the commanding heights of the culture. So Thierer’s smart observation is likely to resonate with Americans who see “moral elitism” as basically a sham.

Thierer’s remarks reminded me of Garance Franke-Ruta’s excellent Remapping the Culture Debate, in which she drew on groundbreaking opinion research to paint a compelling picture of changing American mores.

Looking at the data from 1992 to 2004, Shellenberger and Nordhaus found a country whose citizens are increasingly authoritarian while at the same time feeling evermore adrift, isolated, and nihilistic. They found a society at once more libertine and more puritanical than in the past, a society where solidarity among citizens was deteriorating, and, most worrisomely to them, a progressive clock that seemed to be unwinding backward on broad questions of social equity. Between 1992 and 2004, for example, the percentage of people who said they agree that “the father of the family must be the master in his own house” increased ten points, from 42 to 52 percent, in the 2,500-person Environics survey. The percentage agreeing that “men are naturally superior to women” increased from 30 percent to 40 percent. Meanwhile, the fraction that said they discussed local problems with people they knew plummeted from 66 percent to 39 percent. Survey respondents were also increasingly accepting of the value that “violence is a normal part of life” — and that figure had doubled even before the al-Qaeda terrorist attacks.

Suddenly the strange sight of Huckabee palling around with Chuck Norris makes a lot of sense. All this brings to mind the debate over, as conservatives put it, the sanctity of marriage, and in particular same-sex marriage. Why is it that the same voters who are most likely to experience divorce or family disruption are often the same voters who oppose same-sex marriage and other socially liberal measures? As GFR put it,

Lower-income individuals simply live in a much more disrupted society, with higher divorce rates, more single moms, more abortions, and more interpersonal and interfamily strife, than do the middle- and upper-middle class people they want to be like. It should come as no surprise that the politics of reaction is strongest where there is most to react to.

It’s easy to see why the macho antics of Team Huckabee would resonate so powerfully in a world in which the traditional touchstones of masculinity have been badly undermined.