Politicians lose favor for many reasons. Sometimes it's a buildup of things so overwhelming that even the under-informed get it: Sarah Palin's increasing perception as a mean-spirited, know-nothing, money-grubbing quitter. Mitt Romney's almost farcical flip-flopping. Or Newt Gingrich's hypocrisy, fueled by the discovery of his own affair with a younger staffer while he was constantly chastising President Clinton about Monica Lewinsky.
Sometimes a politician just steps in something unexpectedly, like tar. George Allen, former good-ole' boy Virginia senator who was a leading contender for the 2008 presidential election called a young American of color a "macaca" on video. Twice. Bu-bye.
That racist moment resonates to this day, and has become a catchword that not only foiled Allen's candidacy, but will probably follow him to his obit and beyond. No matter what he did before or what he does after, it defines him.
Mike Huckabee just had his macaca moment. More specifically, his Mau-Mau moment.
On a radio interview with right-winger Steve Malzberg last week, Huckabee went into detail about how President Obama grew up in Kenya and then brought up the Mau Mau uprising, a code-phrase that resonated perhaps with his base but which turned off anyone with a sense of fairness or a grasp of truth.
In case you missed it:
I would love to know more. What I know is troubling enough. And one thing that I do know is his having grown up in Kenya, his view of the Brits, for example, very different than the average American. When he gave the back the... bust of Winston Churchill, a great insult to the British. But then if you think about it, his perspective as growing up in Kenya with a Kenyan father and grandfather, their view of the Mau Mau Revolution in Kenya is very different than ours because he probably grew up hearing that the British were a bunch of imperialists who persecuted his grandfather.
No matter how much Huckabee wriggles from it, no matter the claims of misspeaking, no matter the brush-off of right-wing apologists, the comment will stick.
Why is Huckabee's Mau-Mau moment so damaging?
It was an elaborate statement. It proves that he meant what he said and that the apologies of a misspoken word are false.
It's ignorant. Barack Obama did not grow up in Kenya. If Huckabee does not know that, he is ignorant. If he does, he is ignorantly calculated and cynical.
It's racist. Mau Mau, like macaca, connotes "other," "danger," and racist thoughts. Pretty blatantly.
It goes against type. Huckabee is perceived by many to be decent and folksy, if uninformed. A family guy, a former minister with a weight problem.
Not any more.
It's recorded. And can be replayed endlessly.
It's catchy. Like macaca, the phrase has a repetition, an interesting vowel sound and a pleasant "mmm." It can easily be a techno-song, rapped, or bumper-stickered.
Mike "Mau-Mau" Huckabee is a phrase that easily rolls off the tongue of any opponent. It's all you have to say to sum up the man's deficiencies.
And I believe that it will be said, over and over, until it becomes his macaca.