Press Clips: A Consumer Guide to the New Civil War


On April 16, 2009, Texas Governor Rick Perry delivered a pandering speech to a Tea Party rally in Austin, where they chanted, “Secede, Secede!”

A few minutes later, he told an AP reporter of his belief that Texas could leave the union if its discontent with the federal government grows too great:

“There’s a lot of different scenarios,” Perry said. “We’ve got a great union. There’s absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that? But Texas is a very unique place, and we’re a pretty independent lot to boot.”

The next day, the hometown Austin American-Statesman asked the governor’s press office to clarify his remarks, and reported that, “a Perry spokeswoman said Perry believes Texas could secede if it wanted. “

Now a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, Perry not surprisingly tries to distance himself from his words, and from assertions by Democrats that he actually proposed secession (either at the Tea Party rally or in an earlier, videotaped interview, in which he insists he was “joking”).

As a political matter, a precise Clintonian parsing of his comments may let him off the hook. Nonetheless, it speaks volumes about how far right the nation’s political debate has moved that a major politician who at least strongly suggested his state might secede from the union is now taken seriously as a presidential candidate; one can imagine what Fox News would say if Jerry Brown or another blue state governor raised the same issue and argument.

Confederacy of the spirit: What’s equally intriguing is that the politics of Perry, along with Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin and other right-wing evangelicals, already represent a form of “spiritual secession,” a term coined by the historian Theo Anderson in a terrific piece posted at “In These Times,”  titled “New Confederacy Rising.” 

This week’s winner of the Calbuzz Little Pulitzer for Investigative Punditry, Anderson’s must-read piece begins with about five grafs of needless throat-clearing, as befits an academic who couldn’t cut it in journalism (his “In These Times” bio tag reports that Anderson is a “former editorial intern”) but then quickly picks up steam to provide a perceptual scoop of considerable insight.

Terming the modern Republican Party “a new Confederacy,” he traces the outsize influence of the religious right on the GOP to “premillennial dispensationalism,” a theological narrative popularized in the early 20th century by Congregationalist minister Cyrus Scofield, as a reaction to the progressive transformation of elite universities  from traditional, Bible-based studies of morality into institutions based upon scientific inquiry and research.

For the pragmatic and progressive America that grew out of secularized higher education, truth has a provisional, this-worldly orientation. It’s more evolutionary than eternal in character—a fluid body of knowledge and interpretation, subject to revision and expansion.

For the Confederacy that now dominates the GOP, truth is solid and fixed and divinely embedded in the structure of the universe. Humanity’s responsibility is to accept and believe the truth rather than test ideas against actual experience. The Confederacy’s obsession with “originalist” interpretations of the Constitution—a twin of biblical literalism—is the classic example: truth must be eternal, universal.

Pragmatists and progressives defer to experts and professionals. They expect truth claims to be supported by evidence that emerges from research and testing. They put their faith in this process, and in the communities of inquiry—the disciplines—legitimized by secular institutions of higher education.

The new Confederacy rejects that process wholesale. Its leaders and authorities are the spiritual descendants of the conservative Christians and charismatic radio preachers who broke away from religious modernism in the 1920s and 1930s. For these leaders and their followers, faith justifies—and verifies—itself. You don’t believe an idea because it’s true. It’s true because you believe it.

Don’t confuse me with the facts: What is most interesting to us about Anderson’s piece is how it illuminates “The death of truth” and “The death of compromise,” two unhappy developments in the political process about which we have reported and written extensively, in an effort to understand and explain the ideological intransigence of many Republicans, from Sacramento to Washington, in the face of overwhelming fact-based argument and evidence:

This is why, in the “real America” of Bachmann, Palin and Perry, it is self-evident that cutting taxes increases revenues; the founders were evangelical Christians; evolution is bunk; climate change is a hoax; the United States has the best healthcare system in the world; we can transform the Middle East into a garden of democracy; Kenya native Barack Obama has slashed the military budget; the war on drugs is worth the cost; and so on. These are all leaps of faith. The new Confederates flat-out reject or ignore any counter-evidence, because they have their own fount of truth.

Following the “spiritual secession” train of thought to its logical conclusion, Anderson gets a trifle overwrought (“God help us, indeed”). Still, he’s right on the money in his framing of the futility of trying to govern amid obstruction of a political party afflicted with magical thinking, and often dominated by leaders who consider it as “a nation within a nation, certain of the degeneracy of the usurper ‘United States.’”

A house divided against itself cannot stand, as Lincoln said. But what if the divisions are just too deep and wide to bridge? What if the common ground for compromise simply does not exist? What if the last best hope of earth cannot long endure, after all?

Huh. Tough question.

RIP Rollin Post

Late Thursday we learned of the death of our old friend and colleague Rollin Post, the quintessential San Francisco TV  reporter who lived and breathed politics and conveyed in his reporting a sense of enthusiasm, decency and integrity so seldom found these days in TV news.  Rollin died Monday of complications from Alzheimers disease at his home in Marin County. He was 81.  For more, see the LA Times.


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There are 5 comments for this post

  1. avatar patwater says:

    Re: the epidemiological roots of pragmatism, here’s some vanguard thought that strikes me as fairly promising: http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/you-cant-handle-the-truth

    Personally, I’m fairly intrigued by Meillesoux’s foundational claim that “all those aspects of the object that can be formulated in mathematical terms can be meaningfully conceived as properties of the object in itself.”

    Anyway, as always, you guys raise some fun questions.

  2. avatar chrisfinnie says:

    Wow! Spot on with that Pulitzer. This is something I keep trying to explain to fellow progressives, but far less well.

    When Bachmann and Palin say something the rest of us know to be objectively untrue, we regard it as a gaffe. But we’re not the people they’re talking to. Those folks have been homeschooled, went to Bob Jones or Liberty University, or have been reading textbooks twisted by the faith-based “facts” endorsed by the Texas Board of Eduction.

    They share that alternate reality and we just don’t get it. Or, as Anderson says, “Perry, Bachmann and Palin and the segment of the GOP they represent have already seceded from the Union. Spiritually speaking, they live in a radically different vision of “America,” one with its own faith-based realities and aspirations.”

    Humanity lived through another era like this. It’s generally known as the Dark Ages. Doing it again with modern technology and weaponry sounds very frightening to me. But a major national poll just out this morning shows a majority of voters think Romney or Perry would be better on the economy. As Rachel Maddow keeps pointing out, Republicans always run on the economy (though, always with the economic plans we’ve already proven don’t work–but, as Anderson says, are a matter of faith anyway), then roll out their real agenda of God, guns, and gay bashing–plus abortion cutting, drug testing, and voter suppression. The corporations support it because they get their de-regulation and tax cuts and don’t really care about the rest of it.

    If Perry or Romney wins, I predict Ms. Maddow’s contention will be amply demonstrated. And 99% of the country will be the poorer for it.

  3. avatar Ernie Konnyu says:

    It’s amazing how the Democratic intelligentsia carves out a portion of the Republicans, in this case the Evangelicals, and tries to smash them to a pulp. Meanwhile, they ignore the massive economic failure of Democratic ideas promulgated over the last three years by Democrat leaders Obama, Reid and my former colleague, Pelosi.

    We, Republicans, are not worried, of course, by their half right attacks for the 12 million unemployed and those in sympathy with them know only too well that our country’s economic disaster happened under the Democratic watch.

    And if you dare not to admit that I am right on this point, take a look at the latest Gallup poll results on the question of whether the Democratic or Republican party is best on economic issues.

    Yes! Democrats and especially the Progressives! Fear the elections of 2012. Biblically speaking, you shall reap what you have sown.

  4. avatar chuckmcfadden says:

    Oh, for Pete’s sake, Ernie, wake up and smell the coffee. We’re talking about the Celebration of Ignorance that the Republican primaries have become. Are you seriously on the side of a party who thinks that Michele Bachmann is qualified to be president?

    And how do you have the unmitigated chutzpah to claim that “our country’s economic disaster happened under the Democratic watch.”? That’s preposterous, and if you’d like to be taken seriously, realize that two unfunded wars, allowing Wall Street to go crazy and a vice president who declared that “deficits don’t matter” happened under a Republican president. Or is that just too inconvenient to acknowledge?

  5. avatar Adelaides Lament says:

    Ernie, you need to keep up. The Republicans are losing this argument.
    Meet The Press highlighted ABCNews latest poll today: “A month ago, Americans divided evenly, 40-40 percent, on whom they trusted more to handle job creation, Obama or the congressional Republicans. Now, after his jobs proposal and ongoing promotion of his plan, it’s 49-34 percent, Obama’s first significant advantage over the GOP on jobs in ABC/Post polling since early 2010.” That’s a 15-point difference!
    There’s a lot more to give you acid indigestion at their link: http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2011/10/obama-gains-vs-gop-on-jobs-as-congress-hits-a-new-low
    Rick Perry & “Herb” Cain are not going to be viable candidates. Michele Bachmann has fallen over her own evangelical tongue, your adorable, screechy Sarah, is out, and Chris “go ahead and call me fat, Christie read the tea leaves. Your only hope is Romney…and he’s a charmer.

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