Today, our local papers gave front page coverage to yesterday’s keynote address by Mike Huckabee to the local health symposium sponsored by The Health Plan. (See previous post.) Local reporter Joselyn King covered Huckabee’s reflections on America’s health care system as well his personal stories which he claimed illustrated his larger point that “America doesn’t have a health care crisis, but rather has a health crisis.”
One of Huckabee’s stories got my attention:
Huckabee also attributed the culture of being Baptist to his bad diet. He recalled being in elementary school, and each student was asked to bring in an item symbolic of their religious faith to show the class.
A Catholic student brought her rosary, while a Jewish boy explained his menorah.
“I brought the only thing I knew represented my faith,” said Huckabee. “I brought a casserole in a covered dish.”
This story sounded too pat and so I did some research googling “Huckabee” and “covered dish.”
Near the top of the first search page was a blog post from 2008 by Marcia Stornetta at Granny Nanny Diaries. At the time, Huckabee was running for president. Stornetta's post provides us with an excellent analysis of Huckabee’s use of humor in that campaign. She wrote:
Which reminds me of another of his jokes written in his 2005 book, Quit Digging Your Grave with a Knife and Fork. “When I was a kid in school, a teacher asked my class to have show-and-tell with the theme being ‘religion.’ Children were encouraged to bring a symbol of their faith and explain it to the class. The following day, a Catholic girl brought a crucifix, a little Jewish boy brought a menorah, and I brought a casserole in a covered dish” (5-6).
This joke, which Daniel Sacks records in his book Whitebread Protestants: Food and Religion in American Culture in 2000, appears ad infinitum on the Internet. What I find most curious is that Huckabee appropriates a joke, long a part of American religious joke-lore, as a “Personal Reflection.” How personal can a reflection be when there are countless versions of it? Indeed the little Fred, Tommy or Johnny of the joke changes Protestant religions with the alacrity with which I repent of gluttony and forsake chocolate. He is Baptist, Southern Baptist, Methodist, Nazarene, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Quaker, Presbyterian, and Unitarian Universalist. Even a Mormon version exists.
When, I wonder, did Michael become the child in the joke? And, more importantly, why? For, as any folklorist will tell you, the origin of this joke is less important than what it tells us about its teller. If we are kind, we must presume it is Mike Huckabee the preacher telling the joke. (Or perhaps his unimaginative ghostwriter.) In the fervor of his sermon against obesity, the governor assumes an evangelical role, like a preacher who rhetorically assumes the voice of Moses in the climax of his sermon. The joke is only a literary device he employs to personalize his crusade against obesity.
But if we are political, we wonder why Mike Huckabee would compromise his integrity for a joke. At the very least he is guilty of self-deception: it is difficult to reflect on a personal event that never happened. In a biblical sense, by plagiarizing a common joke, he is guilty of bearing false witness. In a political sense, he misspoke. And in a comic sense, he borrowed. But why? For the sake of a joke is my only conclusion.
I checked Stornetta's assertion. Yes, the joke is all over the Internet. For example, here the kid is Baptist, here Methodist, and here Catholic.
I will ask again: why was Mike Huckabee invited to this event?