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Mike Huckabee and the P-Word

Old-timers probably remember when there was a robust ongoing debate on the Left and Center-Left about the word "progressive" as an ideological identifier. Was it a good replacement for "liberal," which had been made toxic by billions of dollars worth of conservative demonization? Was it the property of serious Leftists, who had used to define themselves in opposition to conventional liberals (not to mention moderates and conservatives) in the Democratic Party for decades? Or did it connote the historical traditional that went back to the Brandeis-Croley debates of the early twentieth century, when self-described "progressives" could be found in and beyond both major parties?

This all remained inside baseball until Glenn Beck began developing his convoluted conspiracy theories for a rapidly expanding audience a couple of years ago, and made "progressivism" a lurid term for a quasi-satanic and quasi-totalitarian cabal going back to Woodrow Wilson, that was complicit in both communism and fascism and entirely inimical to American constitutional traditions.

Beck's audience is now rapidly shrinking, but he's still able to start a fight, and did so this week (as noted by Salon's Alex Pareene) on his radio show by applying the "P-Word" to none other than his old Fox buddy Mike Huckabee.

Nearly all of what Beck says about Huckabee is pretty ludicrous (aside from such stupid slurs as calling the Rev. Jim Wallis a "Marxist"). But the interesting thing is that Huck fired back in an unusually uninhibited way on his own blog:

This week Glenn Beck has taken to his radio show to attack me as a Progressive, which he has said is the same as a "cancer" and a "Nazi." What did I do that apparently caused him to link me to a fatal disease and a form of government that murdered millions of innocent Jews? I had the audacity--not of hope--but the audacity to give respect to the efforts of First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign to address childhood obesity. I'm no fan of her husband's policies for sure, but I have appreciated her efforts that Beck misrepresented--either out of ignorance or out of a deliberate attempt to distort them to create yet another "boogey man" hiding in the closet that he and only he can see.

Wow. Them's fightin' words. It's unclear whether they mean that Beck is now marginal enough that even Christian Right pols can take a swing at him, or that Huck's really not going to run for president in 2012. But you can bet it wouldn't have happened a year ago.