Has Mike Huckabee developed a kind of culturally conservative version of Tourette’s syndrome?

As you may have heard, Mike Huckabee got in a bit of trouble again today because he appeared to criticize actress Natalie Portman, suggesting she is a symptom of a cultural problem in which “we glorify and glamorize” the idea of having children out of wedlock. As many were quick to point out, the comment was odd because Portman is marrying her fiance, and it smacked of 1990s retread culture-war comments in the spirit of Dan Quayle’s criticism of Murphy Brown.

Now Huckabee is backtracking. His office emails this statement:

In a recent media interview about my new book, A Simple Government, I discussed the first chapter, “The Most Important Form of Government Is a Father, Mother, and Children.” I was asked about Oscar-winner Natalie Portman’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy.” Natalie is an extraordinary actor, very deserving of her recent Oscar and I am glad she will marry her baby’s father. However, contrary to what the Hollywood media reported, I did not “slam” or “attack” Natalie Portman, nor did I criticize the hardworking single mothers in our country. My comments were about the statistical reality that most single moms are very poor, under-educated, can’t get a job, and if it weren’t for government assistance, their kids would be starving to death. That’s the story that we’re not seeing, and it’s unfortunate that society often glorifies and glamorizes the idea of having children out of wedlock.

I’m not sure this quite washes. It’s true that in his original statement, Huckabee did lament the fact that many single moms are poor and and that their kids are at risk. And it’s also true that Huckabee’s lament that we “glamorize” single motherhood seemed aimed at making the point that the downside of single motherhood doesn’t get the attention it deserves. As Huckabee says, he didn’t appear to be criticizing single mothers in a general sense.

But he did, in fact, single out Natalie Portman as an example and cause of the “glamorizing” problem. He said: “One of the things that’s troubling is that people see a Natalie Portman or some other Hollywood starlet who boasts of, ‘Hey look, you know, we’re having children, we’re not married, but we’re having these children, and they’re doing just fine.’” Clearly, Huckabee was saying that celebrities who make the personal choice to be single mothers -- people like Portman -- are partly responsible for glorifying and glamorizing their choices. Huckabee is now claiming that “society” is responsible for this. But he did previously blame Portman and others like her for it, particularly when he claimed they “boast” about their choices.

This is the second time Huckabee has involuntarily blurted out something certain to resonate with right-wing pathologies, only to try to quickly take back its particulars. When he recently made the false claim that Obama grew up in Kenya, only to later clarify that he misspoke, he merely revealed that he had screwed up in the particular manner in which he blew the conservative dog-whistle, not that he never intended to blow it at all. Indeed, soon after, he made this perfectly clear by claiming Obama’s worldview had been shaped by “madrassas.” The same thing has now happened again with Portman. He’s admitting he erred in attacking her, but he can’t take back the fact that he blew the dog-whistle again by attacking the family choices of celebrities.