Archive for 2011

Press Clips: A Consumer Guide to the New Civil War

Friday, October 7th, 2011

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.


What Christie’s Pass on the Presidential Race Means

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

The decision by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (bats right/eats left) not  to enter the Republican presidential sweepstakes will leave unanswered some super-sized questions about national politics:

Would American taxpayers have been willing to pay for the installation of double wide seats on Air Force One? Could Christie have made working out with the knife and the fork the latest fitness craze? Would he have been the first president since William Howard Taft to get wedged in the White House bathtub?

But enough with the fat jokes: Calbuzz doesn’t have much standing to hurl outsized insults.

As the Beltway pundit class loses its latest obsession and the governor of girth returns to Trenton, onetime capital of the nation, to ponder weighty matters like a tax break for Snooki, a few blinding insights on l’affaire Christie:

1-The biggest losers in the deal are the Republican elites, from Karl Rove and Bill Kristol to Mitch Daniels and Rupert Murdoch, who saw in Christie a strong Obama challenger who could bridge the gap between Tea Party mad dogs and the GOP silk stocking establishment of big donors, policy intellectuals and Washington officeholders.

Now these would-be kingmakers once again are stuck with an unhappy choice between a nominal but weak front-runner, in the oleaginous person of Mitt Romney, who’s viewed as a retrograde RINO by the arch right-wingers who will dominate the Republican primary electorate, and his flawed chief foil, the increasingly embarrassing Rick Perry, whose rants against Social Security, Sarah Palin-style shallowness and excessive evangelicalism would be tough to translate for a general election audience of normal people.

As a practical matter, this means that you can look for establishment types to grit their teeth and start singing the praises of His Mittness, as the loathsome David Brooks did in the Times on Monday, while cajoling Tea Partiers, whose energy and enthusiasm they need to recapture the White House, with the argument that anybody’s better than Obama.

2-The biggest winner is Perry, whose recent practice of firing both barrels at his own feet have sent him plummeting in the polls, but who now has an opening to reboot and reintroduce himself to GOP voters, starting with next week’s WashPost debate in New Hampshire.

Other beneficiaries of Christie’s retreat are the hang-around half-dozen of the Republican field, going nowhere candidates who all will doubtless see a fresh chance to step over Perry and take on the role of chief rival to Romney.

Not Herman Cain

It’s hard to take anyone in this crowd too seriously, but it’s remotely possible, if you squint really, really hard, to see how Jon Huntsman could conceivably rise, if he can ever stop sleepwalking and telling jokes that no one understands, and how the repulsive Rick Santorum could yet become the favorite of the pitchfork crowd, based on his Medieval moral views and ability to speak in complete sentences.

Beyond that, not so much: Bachmann’s toast, as we were among the first to report, Newt is running for the exercise and Ron Paul is, well, Ron Paul. The only hope for Herman Cain,  currently enjoying his 15 fame-filled minutes as flavor of the week, is that millions of Republicans remarkably join Sarah Palin in confusing him with the late great Old Chronicle three-dot columnist Herb Caen.

3-The least affected player is probably Romney. He’s likely to pick up a few bucks from some of Christie’s would-be donors, but fundamentally is neither better nor worse off than before the announcement. In for the long haul, the guy just won’t go away, reminding us of one of those grotesque beach toys that bounces right back – barrrrong – no matter how hard you punch it.

Romney’s serious problems remain the same: a) that little key sticking out of his back, with which his handlers wind him up every morning; b) his failure to go around the country in a state of constant spittle-flecked rage at anyone who disagrees with the Tea Party, a shortcoming that constantly infuriates the Tea Party; c) the social conservative base of the GOP.

There are plenty of reasons why Mittless has never been able to garner more than a quarter of the vote in polls of Republicans (the phrase “insufferable phony” comes to mind) but the biggest – and all but unspoken – factor is that he’s …shh…a Mormon, and so unacceptable to the Bachmann-Perry witch-burning crowd, which firmly believes his religion is a cult (also see Billy Graham Christian Worker’s Handbook, “A Comparison of Christianity with Major Religions and Cults” p. 296).

For all his flip-flops and hair splitting on issues from abortion to health care and taxes, Romney’s most fundamental problem with the hardcore Republican right-wing is one he can’t do much about, short of disembarking in Salt Lake City to burn his Temple garment in front of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building to the accompaniment of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

P.S. Before we forget, there’s one more big winner in this deal: Chris Christie, who would have peaked the moment he announced his candidacy, after which the Republican cuckoo caucus would have turned to trashing his heretical views on climate change science and gun control, along with his  weak-kneed willingness to negotiate compromises with Democrats.

Smart move, governor.