A ‘rebuttal’ that had nothing to do with Biden’s State of the Union

In Arkansas Gov. Sarah Sanders’ rebuttal to Biden’s speech, she came off as a self-intoxicated fanatic, like a second-string preacher at the kind of suburban fundamentalist church that has auditorium seating and multiple video screens.

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Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders Delivers Republican Response To State Of The Union

Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders waits to deliver the Republican response to the State of the Union address by President Joe Biden on February 7.

Al Drago-Pool/Getty Images

If history is any guide, Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ bizarre “rebuttal” to a presidential speech she hadn’t heard will be the high point of her political career. (Her address was pre-recorded.) Contrary to many, including Sanders herself, voters in this state have little enthusiasm for living in a fundamentalist theocracy. They know these Bible-beaters all too well.

Sanders came off as a self-intoxicated fanatic, like a second-string preacher at the kind of suburban fundamentalist church that has auditorium seating and multiple video screens. Her eyes had that familiar gleam; everybody who disagrees with her is “of the devil.”

For as long as I’ve lived in Arkansas — that is, since Gov. Dale Bumpers liberated the state from the segregationist Orval Faubus in the early ‘70s — right-wing theocrats have made most of the noise in statewide politics but lost most of the elections. That would include Sanders’ father, Mike Huckabee, an affable Baptist preacher who plays bass guitar in a band that performs Rolling Stones covers.

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The elder Huckabee campaigned and governed as a relative moderate. His 1997 speech commemorating the 40th anniversary of Little Rock Central High School’s integration through the good offices of the 101st Airborne put even President Bill Clinton in the shade. Later on, he became a TV miracle cure peddler and hard-core Trumper after learning where the money is.

Oddly, Sarah Sanders’ rebuttal to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union never mentioned her personal benefactor, Donald Trump. Instead, as Trump supporters bitterly observed, it was all Ron DeSantis-style culture war pronouncements.

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What did they expect? As White House press secretary, Sanders told the national press she’d gotten scores of congratulatory calls from FBI agents celebrating Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey. Asked under oath by independent counsel Robert Mueller, she admitted those calls were imaginary. “A slip of the tongue,” she called it.

You can’t count on loyalty from a person like that.

Rebutting Biden, who spoke mostly about jobs, economic growth, Social Security and Medicare, Sanders accused him of surrendering his presidency to a “woke mob that can’t even tell you what a woman is.”

Do what?

“Most Americans simply want to live their lives in freedom and peace,” Sanders said, “but we are under attack in a left-wing culture war we didn’t start and never wanted to fight. Every day, we are told we must partake in their rituals, salute their flags and worship their false idols, all while big government colludes with Big Tech to strip away the most American thing there is — your freedom of speech. That’s not normal. It’s crazy, and it’s wrong.”

Which flags and false idols would those be? I wonder. She never did say. Preaching to the converted, she apparently didn’t think she needed to.

Flags with big red Razorback Hogs are popular here on game days, along with bronze statues of rampant swine. How about them Hogs? as we say.

Otherwise, I have no earthly idea. You?

In almost the next breath, our champion of free speech boasted about issuing executive orders forbidding the teaching of “CRT” in the state of Arkansas and banning the word “Latinx” from public documents. For the initiated — that is, dedicated Fox News fans — the acronym refers to critical race theory, a professorial approach to understanding slavery and racial segregation.

Most Americans likely had no idea what she was going on about.

Never mind there’s no evidence of CRT being taught in Arkansas schools. How banning it comports with protecting First Amendment freedoms, Sanders didn’t say. As I have commented previously, she’s the kind of ideologue who invokes “the word ‘freedom’ to mean people who disagree with her need to shut up, or else.”

How, then, to deal with Arkansas’ complicated racial history: slavery, Civil War, Jim Crow, lynchings and massacres? Would it be permissible for a teacher to explain the complex legacy of Sanders’ own alma mater, Little Rock Central High, by playing a video of her father’s excellent speech? Or Clinton’s?

Or would those constitute CRT?

How about Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech, a masterpiece of American oratory as significant as Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address?

More than a bit smugly, Sanders added “the dividing line in America is no longer between right or left — the choice is between normal and crazy.”

Within 24 hours of Biden’s State of the Union and Sanders’ prefabricated rejoinder, the Arkansas legislature got busy passing legislation to free up $60 million in federal American Rescue Plan funds as a lifeline to struggling rural hospitals in jeopardy of closure. Almost needless to say, it was a Biden White House initiative. The Arkansas vote was 95-1.

I’m confident of two things: Sanders will sign the bill, and she won’t thank Biden. Normal politics, Arkansas style.

Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President”

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