Huckabee: Obama Not Scout or Little Leaguer

Mike Huckabee apologized for saying Barack Obama grew up in Kenya, explaining only that he meant that the president isn't a Real American.

Last night on “The O’Reilly Factor,” Mike Huckabee apologized for saying Barack Obama grew up in Kenya, explaining only that he meant that the president isn’t a Real American.

Huckabee: My point, really, even about talking about him raised in a different country, actually Indonesia, not Kenya, as I do understand, again, it’s right there in the book for me to read and anybody else if they care to, but the point that I do want to make is that creates a different worldview. This is not a kid who grew up, you know, going to Boy Scout meetings and playing Little League baseball in a small town.

O’Reilly: He is not a traditional guy; he’s a guy who’s had a lot of life experience that is different from, you know, the mom-and-apple-pie upbringing.

New York‘s Dan Amira (via Taegan Goddard) notes that, by this standard, Ronald Reagan wasn’t a regular American either.

It’s true that most Americans don’t spend a few years of their childhood living in a foreign country. And obviously Obama experienced some unique things in Indonesia. For example, as he wrote in Dreams From My Father, he tried “dog meat (tough), snake meat (tougher), and roasted grasshopper (crunchy).” So that’s different.

But in their attempts to portray Obama as devoid of traditionally American experiences, Huckabee and O’Reilly are pretending as if everyone else is growing up in fifties suburbia. In reality, we have a diverse country, and American upbringings are similarly varied. It’s no less American to play basketball instead of baseball, or to spend your time at the beach instead of the Boy Scouts. As for O’Reilly’s “mom-and-apple-pie upbringing,” we’re pretty sure Obama had a mom.

If the absence of Little League or Scout meetings is really so disconcerting to Huckabee, we wonder what he would say about Ronald Reagan, who also never participated in either of those things (“I never cared for baseball … because I was ball-shy at batting,” he once said). In fact, out of all our presidents, only George W. Bush is a former Little Leaguer, and only John F. Kennedy, Gerald Ford, Bill Clinton, and Bush were in the Boy Scouts. All of our other presidents, we guess, had an exotic, un-American upbringing, and a skewed worldview.

Andrew Sullivan goes a bit further:

Of course, this is to take Huckabee literally. What he clearly meant to say is that someone called Barack Obama is not a real American.

That strikes me as a wee bit unfair, especially if it’s meant to imply that Huckabee is racist. A more charitable interpretation is that Huckabee is playing the standard “small town America is the real America” card so beloved of conservatives. It’s the ethos of the amusing commercial series some years back from Pace picante sauce where New York City?! was the punchline.

Of course, Huckabee isn’t selling condiments but (ostensibly) running for president.

FILED UNDER: Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. mantis says:

    That strikes me as a wee bit unfair, especially if it’s meant to imply that Huckabee is racist.

    It’s not unfair. I first thought that Huckabee was simply stupid and confused, but the way he keeps busting out the dog whistle, I can come to no other conclusion that he is a racist piece of shit, or at least cynically pandering to that audience. What a scumbag.

  2. Alex Knapp says:

    If this trend of rhetoric continues amongst the Republican candidates, whoever wins is going to be the 2012 equivalent of Walter Mondale. Compare Huckabee, Gingrich, et al’s rhetroic on this point to Obama’s:

    Now, even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us: the spin masters, the negative ad peddlers, who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America. There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America.

    The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too: We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States, and, yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq.

    We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.

    Which reminds me of a phrase of Ronald Reagan’s that I always liked:

    Blood that has soaked into the sands of a beach is all of one color. America stands unique in the world: the only country not founded on race but on a way, an ideal. Not in spite of but because of our polyglot background, we have had all the strength in the world. That is the American way.

    Now let me ask — who sounds like Reagan?

    Americans always vote for the optimist. That’s why Bush beat Kerry, Clinton beat Dole, and Reagan beat Mondale and Carter.

    Now who out there, in the GOP field, has that same sort of optimistic vision? Nobody. That’s why Obama is going to win. Whether anyone likes it or not.

  3. Moosebreath says:

    “What he clearly meant to say is that someone called Barack Obama is not a real American.

    That strikes me as a wee bit unfair, especially if it’s meant to imply that Huckabee is racist”

    While I don’t view it as necessarily racist, calling areas where Democrats predominate not “real America” has a long and sordid history in the modern Republican party, as Republicans including Gingrich, Palin and Limbaugh use it on a regular basis.

  4. EddieInCA says:

    James –

    I’m fighting every instinct I have in order to be civil and not curse you out.

    What the ***k do you think Huckabee is implying with his comment?

    Obama was born and raised (with the exception of four years between ages 6-10) in Hawaii. He was raised by his white grandparents. He went to the Punahou School, the largest independent school in the nation, and one what has won many awards.

    Obama went to Occidental (like Jack Kemp) and Harvard (like many), and Columbia (again, like many).

    He’s worked in the private sector. Worked in education. And is now in Public Service.

    What exactly isn’t American about Obama, other than his name?

    So I ask you again, WTF is Huckabee implying?

  5. mantis says:

    What exactly isn’t American about Obama, other than his name?

    There’s nothing non-American about his name.

  6. James Joyner says:


    Again, it’s the same definition of “real America” that excludes “big city elites.” And going to prestige schools is not a plus in this paradigm, even though Bush, Rumsfeld, and others in fact did so.

    @Alex Knapp

    I agree completely. I’m merely explaining what I see as Huckabee’s angle, not defending it.

  7. Alex Knapp says:


    Didn’t mean to imply that you were siding with Huckabee on this. Making a more general observation that I can’t think of a single GOP frontrunner who isn’t going to get his clock cleaned by Obama, especially given that they’re unlikely to survive the primaries without engaging in this type of “Obama is un-American” rhetoric.

  8. cian says:

    Yeah James, that’s exactly what it’s like- a couple of down home boys having some light hearted fun at the big city boys expense. Aw shucks.

    There are none so blind…..

  9. michael reynolds says:

    A lot of children of American servicemen who went with their parents to bases in Germany, Japan, South Korea, or in my case France, will be surprised to learn that they are just a wee bit un-American.

    Those who don’t think this is about race don’t get GOP base politics at all. Of course it’s about race. It’s always been about race.

  10. I wonder what Mike Huckabee would say about Ronald Reagan who was not a Boy Scout and never played Little League baseball

  11. EddieInCA says:

    Mantis –

    Agreed. I meant that to be snarky, but obviously I failed.

    My bad.

  12. mantis says:

    Agreed. I meant that to be snarky


  13. Franklin says:

    IIRC, Huckabee defended Obama during the Wright fiasco, so this doesn’t seem to be religious-based either. I have always tended to think of Huckabee as well-meaning but not necessarily the sharpest tool.

    I’m starting to think that spending time with his cohorts at Fox News has affected him. Or perhaps a better word is infected.

  14. ponce says:

    “Huckabee defended Obama during the Wright fiasco, so this doesn’t seem to be religious-based either. ”

    True, but Huckabee’s rhetoric over the past six months or so has taken a swerve towards the extreme right fringe.

    Let’s face it, the big bucks for Republicans these days go to those who can express views that normal Americans consider outrageous without going so far that they are considered insane.

    Glenn Beck hit this coveted Laminar flow for a while before spinning out.

    Huckabee is just the next wingnutin line trying to take Beck’s place.

  15. Kylopod says:

    That strikes me as a wee bit unfair, especially if it’s meant to imply that Huckabee is racist. A more charitable interpretation is that Huckabee is playing the standard “small town America is the real America” card so beloved of conservatives.

    The point is not that this argument in particular is inherently racist. It’s the whole context of what he’s been saying over the past few days that seems to me to be be rooted fundamentally in racial paranoia.

    Take what his spokesman said in his first “clarification” of his original remarks about Obama’s growing up in Kenya:

    “The Governor would however like to know more about where President Obama’s liberal policies come from”

    Maybe his so-called liberal policies come from the fact that he’s, well, a liberal? Why isn’t that answer sufficient? I don’t believe I’ve ever heard this type of remark applied to any previous Democratic leader. Past figures like Dukakis or Clinton were attacked as liberals, even un-American liberals, but there was never this constant call to “find out” where their liberalism “comes from.” Underlying statements like this is an assumption that Obama’s philosophy is not just a retread of past failures, but something completely alien to anything we’ve seen before, to the point that its ominous origins must be exposed in order to discredit the policies they’re allegedly fueling.

    Huck’s remarks are stitched from the same cloth as the critics who go out of their way to pronounce Obama’s middle name. It’s the idea that we must distrust Obama purely because of his “exotic” family background. That’s what makes this type of thing different from the conspiracy theories hurled at past presidents: it’s the undercurrent of racial paranoia, something you didn’t see in the Vince Foster or 9/11 truther theories. I am sure the right would have engaged in ridiculous attacks against any Democrat who rose to power, but the level of racism and xenophobia that Obama’s ascendancy has provoked is a sight to behold.

  16. anjin-san says:

    Nah, Huck’s not a racist. He just plays one on TV…

  17. MM says:

    This isn’t just about the small town/big city divide or Huckabee wouldn’t also be referring to madrassas and anti-colonialism. It may in fact not be racism, but Sullivan is right that it is designed to portray him as some sort of weird “other” that doesn’t relate to real Americans.

  18. anjin-san says:

    It’s funny. I grew up in a small town, played little league, and did scouts for a few years. I feel much closer to Obama’s worldview than say, Huckabee’s.

    My father in law was a career Army guy who served with considerable distinction. My wife was born in Asia, and lived in Europe when she was a little girl. Apparently she is not a “real American” .

    Welcome to tea party America.

  19. matt b says:

    Ditto MM — this is not about Obama being a non-traditional American — it’s about him being


    . Not simply “anti-American” in the was that Clinton was being accused. This, and this ties into Birthers as well, is that there’s no way that he can really be American.

    And this will animate a section of the base, but it doesn’t stick when things move past primaries. In didn’t in ’08 (and that was with the specter of Wright) it won’t in 2010.

  20. sherminator505 says:

    Regardless of what you think Mike Huckabee was trying to imply, I think that his comments are completely wrong for a number of reasons.

    First of all, Scouting isn’t an American organization. It was started by a British general, and there are scout organizations in 161 countries around the globe, including Indonesia and Kenya as well as the good ol’ USA. So wherever Barack Obama was growing up, he probably knew a Scout or two even if he wasn’t one himself. And I have no way of knowing if he was a Scout or not, so how would he?

    Second, if Mike Huckabee was ever a Scout, he probably knows about the rule that the Scout uniform can’t be worn at a political event. And if he knows about this rule, then it’s a good bet that he realizes that it’s very bad form to use the name of Scouting in the manner that he is. Why he continues to do this is anybody’s guess.

    Finally, as an Eagle Scout who was born and raised right here in the USA, I find that my world view is closer to Barack Obama’s than Mike Huckabee’s. I’m reasonably sure that other notable Eagle Scouts like Steven Spielberg and Michael Moore would feel the same way. So what does he hope to gain by this broad-brush approach? Surely he can’t believe that every Scout and former Scout in this country is a conservative, can he? That would tend to marginalize more people than it attracts, IMHO.

  21. Steve Anthony says:

    Mike Huckabee’s Mau Mau Mutterings have just removed him as a viable presidential candidate. It’s obvious he’s more interested in stirring up crap to sell books.

  22. anjin-san says:

    I find the whole Mau Mau thing curious. Did they not resist British colonial rule in their own land? Why is it noble if George Washington does it, and scary/bad if black men in Africa do it?

  23. Pug says:

    The whole Mau Mau thing is what belies Huckabee’s clarification. You know, he only meant to say Obama was raised in Indonesia. The Mau Maus were in Kenya though. So what do they have to do with Indonesia and why did he bring them up? And is Huckabee anti-Mau Mau or something? Pro-colonialism? What? Are good Americans supposed to hate the Mau Muas, assuming that they even know who the hell the Mau Maus were?

    Huckabee is goof ball and a rube. That’s being kind because you could easily make a case for calling this fine allegedly Christan man a liar.

  24. Patrick says:

    Look, it is clearly a case of cheap pandering to the delusional birther base of the GOP. Its disgusting and cynical. It is important that Dems make sure every opportunity is taken to use this incident to show how unsuitable H. is for high office. The coming contest will be tough with many more lies and distortions. This was a big mistake by Huckabee which will and must be used over again as part of the effort to make sure the liars and cynics of the GOP are fully confronted with their lies. It looks like they will put forward a string of adulterers,liars and imbeciles for office, the people need to be told exactly what they represent.