Monday, November 07, 2005
For the whole transcript, click here.
McCarthyism was a raging plague in the 50s and the virus rampaged across the state like tumbleweeds in a wind storm. The legendary Maury Maverick Jr. served in the legislature at the time, one of the “Gashouse Gang” that fought as best they could against the poison of the times. He would later tell his biographer, Larry Hufford, writing about that period in the Observer, that they were “the worst years” in his life. One by one, he said, “the lights were going out and no one [other than the Gashouse Gang] was speaking out in the legislature.” The low point, Maury Maverick said, came when the state senate passed a bill to remove all books from public libraries which “adversely” reflected on American and Texas history, the family, and religion. Even the State Teachers Association endorsed the bill, in exchange for a pay raise. Maverick voted against it but walking back to his apartment that evening, the evil of what was happening overwhelmed him, and he “vomited until flecks of blood came up.”
Texas is run by the rich and the righteous, and the result is a state of piracy and piety that puts the medieval papacy to shame.
There was your governor a few weeks ago, surrounded by cheering God-folk in Fort Worth, holding a pep rally in behalf of punishing people on account of sex. Who was the main speaker? None other than the Reverend Rod Parsley of Ohio. Look out for Reverend Parsley. He heads a $40 million a year televangelist ministry based in Columbus with access worldwide to 400 TV stations and cable affiliates. Although he describes himself as neither Republican nor Democrat but a “Christo-crat” – a gladiator for God marching against “the very hordes of hell in our society” – he nonetheless shows up with so many Republicans in Washington and elsewhere that he has been publicly described as the Republican Party’s “spiritual advisor.”
And what does he advise them? He tells them “the god of Islam and the god of Christianity are not the same being.” He tells them that “the separation of church and state is a lie perpetrated on Americans – especially on believers in Jesus Christ.” But his main message is the scapegoating of gay people – a message so full of lies, distortions, and loathing that you cannot help but think of the 1930s when the powerful and the pious in Germany demonized Jews and homosexuals in order to arouse and manipulate public passions. In 1938 Himmler even organized a special section of the Gestapo to deal with homosexuality and abortion and on October 11 of that year he declared in a speech: “Germany’s forebears knew what to do with homosexuals. They drowned them in bags.” You know Governor Perry can’t even imagine such horrors, much less condone such horrors, but you want to grab him by the lapels and shake him and tell him that preaching hate is the first spark to the kindling of evil.
The governor’s pal Rod Parsley is a master of mass psychology. He sees the church as a sleeping giant that has the ability and the anointing from God to transform America. And the giant is stirring. At a rally in July Reverend Parsley worked the crowd into a lather as he proclaimed: “Let the Revolution begin!” And the congregation responded: “Let the Revolution begin.”
This is the man your governor wanted to help him make a television commercial. The governor seems right at home with people like this. He had them to Austin earlier this month for a “Pastors’ Policy Briefing” sponsored by the Texas Restoration Project. Pay attention to this outfit; there’s an Ohio Restoration Project and a Pennsylvania Restoration Party and I suspect by the next election there will be restoration projects in every state of the union. Their goal is to sign up “Patriot Pastors” who will call on their congregations to vote the Lord’s will on Election Day. Aided and abetted, no doubt, by a little loose change from Karl Rove’s faith-based slush fund!
By the way, one of the speakers at that “Pastors’ Policy Briefing” here in Austin was Ohio’s secretary of state, Ken Blackwell, who oversaw the election process in Ohio last year when a surge of conservative Christian voters narrowly carried Bush to victory there. Blackwell has modestly acknowledged that “God wanted him as secretary of state in 2004” because it was such a critical election. Now he’s the divinely designated candidate for governor in 2006. Wouldn’t you like to know what he and Governor Perry talked about at that Pastor’s briefing? Unfortunately, you can’t find out, because the praying and the preaching were closed to the press and public, as befits the stealth salvation they are plotting for you. You can be confident that they agree on God being an American, but it’s possible they may have disagreed over whether the Lord’s primary voting residence is Ohio or Texas.
Neither will you find out who put up the estimated half-a-million dollars to pay for that politically religious rally here in Austin. It’s a secret, too. Two of your noted Texas oligarchs were spotted there – James Leininger and Bo Pilgrim – and they may have dropped something into the offering plate. But it’s not known where the half million shekels came from to bring the good brethren to town where clearly they dined on more than a few loaves and fishes. God only knows who picked up the tab. But between you and me, I suspect She’s got a surprise in store for these holy warriors. America is not yet a theocracy but Texas almost is and the Republican Party already is, and I suspect God just might be pissed off at the presumption that GOP now stands for God’s Own Party.
Here’s the point: the classicist William Arrowsmith once described in these pages the “worst of Texas attitudes” – “the rock-bottom conviction, expressed in stone throughout the state and in the hearts of politicians, that what counts is always and only wealth, that everything is for sale and can be bought.” Including, now, the Rock of Ages.
The phenomenon of our time is how the religious, political, and corporate right, under the cloak of ‘moral values,’ has forged a mighty coalition for the looting of America. With one hand they stretch upward for the pearly gates, and with the other they reach down and behind your back to pick your pocket or your purse.
Their appointed poster boy is George W. Bush. Everything he knows, he learned here in Texas. Unfortunately. I don’t mean this as a knock on your schools. What I mean is that the system here is rigged to assure the political progeny needed to perpetuate itself with minimum interference from the nuisances of liberal democracy. You remember liberal democracy: the rule of law, the protection of individual and minority rights, checks and balances against arbitrary power, an independent press, and the separation of church and state. But George W. Bush was nurtured by a dynasty of patronage and privilege that mocks those values, a system that owes its perpetuation to a permanent fix. the Observer got it right some years ago: “The men who run the Lone Star State, through a tacit but powerful interlocking directorate of politicians and corporation executives, are perpetrating and perpetuating a monstrous deception on the public” – namely, the illusion of self-government.
The crowd that came to Washington from Texas arrived like atheists at the Vatican – they don’t believe in government – except as the means for aggrandizing their autonomy, wealth, and privilege.
What we’re seeing today has been forty years in the making. No sooner had Barry Goldwater gone down to a crushing defeat in 1964 that the Radical Right of the Republican Party resolved that the election would not be the end of the campaign but the beginning of a movement. For four decades they honed their slogans into a mantra: military strength, limited government, no taxes, individual responsibility, and faith in God. Forty years later they exercise a monopoly over Washington – the White House, the Congress, the regulatory agencies, and (soon) the judiciary. And they have muzzled the mainstream media that should have been the watchdog over one-party rule.
But look at what they have delivered: reckless tax cuts, a relentless assault on social services, monumental debt, pre-emptive war, an exhausted military, booming corporate welfare, and pervasive corruption. The face of modern conservatism – the embodiment of the Grand Old Party of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Robert Taft, and Dwight Eisenhower – is the face of Tom Delay, Jack Abramoff, Ralph Reed, and Grover Norquist. They came to lead a revolution and stayed to run a racket. They don’t believe in government except as it enriches them.
Much has been made of the President’s bumbling response to Hurricane Katrina. First he joked about the fun he had as a frat boy in New Orleans. When a reporter pressed him on what had gone wrong after the hurricane struck, he indignantly asked: “Who says something went wrong?” His manner would have surprised no one who read the profile of Governor Bush in 1999 by a conservative journalist who reported how Bush had made fun of Karla Fay Tucker’s appeals to be spared the death penalty. The journalist – a conservative, remember – wrote that Bush mocked and dismissed the woman, like him a born-again Christian, as he depicted her begging him, “Please don’t kill me!” But she had not said that. Bush made it up. An indifference to other people’s reality remains the mark of the system of privilege and patronage that is Texas politics.
Nor did the stumbling and fumbling tell us much that we did not already know about the team assembled by George W. Bush. This is the crowd that was asleep at the switch in the months leading up to 9/11 when the intelligence traffic crackled with warning [look it up in the official commission report]. It’s the same crowd that made a mess of the occupation of Iraq. Who can forget that after Baghdad’s libraries and museums were sacked, Donald Rumsfeld shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘Stuff happens.’
What the hurricane exposed is what the progressive advocate Robert Borrosage calls the “catastrophic conservatism” of the long right-wing crusade to denigrate government, ‘starve the beast,’ scorn its purposes and malign its officials.
We know now the results of an economic policy focused on top end tax cuts and deregulations to reward private investors, as opposed to public investments in the country’s vital infrastructure.
We know now the results of a governing philosophy that provides license for routine corruption and cronyism – paying for the bridge to nowhere in Alaska while cutting money for the levees, putting old buddies in charge of critical agencies, and gutting any prospect for energy independence.
We know now the results of their social ideal – the “You get yours/I’ll get mine” ethic as opposed to shared sacrifice and responsibility. It’s as if they had scissored out of their Bible, “I am my brother’s keeper.”
On the day that Katrina struck the coast the census bureau reported that last year one million people had been added to the 36 million Americans living in poverty. Earlier the Labor Department had reported that while incomes had grown more impressively last year, the gains had gone mostly to the top – the people with stocks and bonds and income other than wages. But the eighty million people who live paycheck to paycheck barely stayed even. When Katrina hit we couldn’t escape seeing the stunning inequality and poverty produced when people are written off and shoved to the margins. Nor could we miss the dearth of basic investment in the boring but essential public works vital to civilization – schools, public transport, water systems, public health, and yes, wetlands and trees.
No one embodies more clearly the ethos of this administration than the President’s buddy Joe Allbaugh. When he took over FEMA, he described the agency as “an oversized entitlement program” and told states and cities to rely instead on faith-based organizations. Sure enough, after Katrina struck one of the first faith-based organizations lined up at the front door was Pat Robertson’s Operation Blessing. Although he had only recently called for the assassination of a foreign head of state and had prayed in public for God to open some Supreme Court vacancies “one way or the other,” Pat Robertson’s organization got one of the first faith-based grants for relief of the Gulf Coast. According to a Christian magazine, he is using some of those tax dollars to help rush 80,000 Bibles to the stricken region.
Brother Allbaugh, meanwhile, was already down there. He had earlier turned the leadership of FEMA over to his old college roommate ‘Brownie,’ and set up a lobbying firm located near the White House. Soon he was facilitating business for contractors in Iraq and running another company that provides security for private companies operating there. (You have to wonder where he learned about Iraq or security while running FEMA or, before that, running George W. Bush’s political campaigns in Texas.) It turns out that Allbaugh’s entire complex is housed at the Washington lobbying and law firm of Barbour, Griffith and Rogers. Just who is the ‘Barbour’ in that lineup? None other that the former chair of the Republican National Committee, Haley Barbour. The ‘Rogers’ is Ed Rogers, Barbour’s partner, who is also – hold your breath – one of Allbaugh’s vice presidents. (I almost forgot: The President’s brother, Neil, has been a paid consultant to Allbaugh; maybe he taught him about Iraq by osmosis.) Haley Barbour is now governor of Mississippi, where he will play a big hand in passing out your tax dollars for reconstruction. And where did Joe Allbaugh head right after Katrina? One guess.
You will not be surprised to hear that on September 1 the Pentagon announced a major contract for repair of Naval facilities on the Gulf Coast to Halliburton, whose chief lobbyist is … are you sitting down? Joe Allbaugh.
It’s commonplace now what we’ve seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina: an utter lack of competence and the sorry state of our public institutions after a generation of the wrong priorities. But it wasn’t the lack of resources that prevented the administration from responding effectively to the disaster. The Washington Post’s Bill Arkin, among others, reminds us that the federal government had water, medicine, food and security at hand, in addition to the transportation needed to get it down to the coast in a hurry. The problem was “leadership, decisiveness, foresight.” And that goes to the core of the governing philosophy that has never had more power but never been more intellectually and morally bankrupt: They don’t believe in government.
As you know, some folks on the Religious Right have been suggesting Katrina was sent by God to punish America for decadence, including homosexuality and abortions. That’s what Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell said about 9/11: God had withdrawn his protection because America had become the new Sodom and Gomorrah, infested with the likes of the ACLU and People for the American Way. Frankly, I think it more likely that Katrina and Rita were the inspiration of Karl Rove, to fill Republican pockets before all the indictments start coming down.
Can’t you see the light bulb going off in Brother Karl’s head? “Gee, why don’t we pass a big supplemental spending bill so we can start handing out money to all our supporters who bungled the reconstruction of Iraq, and while we’re at it, let’s get the President to nullify the law providing federal protection for wages so that we can send the profits of our no-bid contractors soaring by depressing the pay of ordinary people who will work for them?” I’m not in the business of advising Democrats but they could certainly have helped their cause in next year’s Congressional elections if every one of them in the House and Senate had staged a sit-in on the Capitol steps chanting: “Mr. President, pay Americans a living wage! Working men and women deserve a living wage!”
But they didn’t.
In the same spirit right-wing senators couldn’t wait until the winds and water died down before leaping to their feet to announce that it couldn’t be a better time to put the repeal of estate taxes back on the legislative agenda. And corporate lobbyists were swarming over Capitol Hill beating the drums for more tax reductions and more loopholes and exemptions and for the lifting of environmental safeguards along the Gulf Coast.
This is what they’ve done. They have taken the notion of the Commonwealth, the public good – the ‘We the People’ in that magnificent preamble to the Constitution – and they have soaked it in the sanctimony of homegrown Ayatollahs, squeezed it through a rigged market, and auctioned it to the highest bidder for private advantage, at the expense of working people, their families, and their communities.
Bold journalism might yet stir the American imagination to believe again in the promise of America – the promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all of us: men and women, old and young, black, brown, yellow and white, devout and agnostic, straight or gay.