Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Our future first lady

Slate has a great article about Mike and Janet Huckabee:

His wife, the former Janet McCain (no relation to John), grew up in Hope, too, and she and Mike have been together since high school, where he led prayer sessions in the school auditorium and she attended them, if she didn't have basketball practice. Their first date was cheeseburgers at the local truck stop, and they got married when they were 18, in a ceremony at the bride's home. Her sister played "Here Comes the Bride'' on the piano as she came down the stairs, wearing a white eyelet dress her mother had made for her, and in lieu of a real ring, the groom slipped a soda can tab on her finger.

So, when Janet Huckabee joked that she'd like to build a Habitat for Humanity house on the White House lawn—she's hammered nails for such homes in 20-some states already, and slept under bridges with homeless people once a year to bring awareness to their problems—Republicans in Arkansas were half-afraid she wasn't kidding. Because back home, the Huckabees' empathy for the luckless is one thing that has never been in doubt: "Janet's very headstrong and, even more so than he, contemptuous of critics, and has a chip on her shoulder,'' says John Brummett, an Arkansas News Bureau columnist. "But if a tornado hits your house, one of the first people in your yard is probably going to be Janet Huckabee. And when Arkansas got evacuees from Katrina—and by all accounts Huckabee did masterfully—she decided, accurately, that these people were exhausted and the last thing they needed was to sit in line and be processed, when they could be processed on the bus." Then she got on the bus with some of them and pitched in on the paperwork.

"I know there are people who would be concerned about him having been in the ministry and think that's a little bit creepy,'' says Huckabee's sister Pat Harris, a seventh-grade teacher in Little Rock. "But having been in the ministry, he and Janet have also seen all kinds of things about life; his phone would ring in the middle of the night and up they'd go, to the hospital or the morgue or the jail. Because he was on TV, a lot of these calls were from people who weren't in his church and very often they weren't believers, but the rubber had met the road and they needed somebody." The Huckabees' shared faith defines both of them, and their relationship.

Janet may not like the media but, oh, the media would like her, the anti-Teresa Heinz, just as they do her husband. (See how excited ABC's Claire Shipman was—"This was a big deal!"—when Janet shared how early in their marriage, Mike sold his guitar collection to buy her a washer-dryer, so she wouldn't have to wash poopy diapers at the Laundromat?) With all of the other Republican candidates' wives mum, too, for various reasons, handing a speaking role to such a plain-talker was, alas, too high a risk. But underfunded as Huckabee is, hiding a woman who has "earned media" written all over her, and who so clearly is in touch with the concerns of ordinary voters, may turn out to have been the worst campaign decision since Rudy wintered in Florida.

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