Our political Quote of the Day is more like “quotes” since Dick Polman gives us much to ponder and discuss as he looks at Texas Governor Rick Perry’s talk about secession from the United States, how it was received in a Republican party that in the past would have marginalized and condemned such talk, and what it suggests about today’s GOP.
Polman begins this way:
It’s no secret that the message-challenged Republicans are taking their message cues these days from the talk-radio windbags. But, as evidenced by last week’s episode in Texas, we are now clearly witnessing an entirely new phenomenon, in which an elected Republican leader actually morphs into a talk-radio windbag.
I speak, of course, about Texas governor Rick Perry, who showed up at a “tea party” last Wednesday and suggested that if Barack Obama’s Washington doesn’t stop being so oppressive, Texans might feel compelled to renounce their American citizenry and secede from the union. (What is this, 1861?)
Polman hits the nail on the head here. Perry’s talk is not just retro — but retro retro. It’s the retro talk not of what might come from your father or grandfather, but your great, great great (you get the idea)..He also notes how once these comments that seemed aimed at getting the choir to nod their heads in agreement got out beyond the choir and came under attack Perry — in the style of most 21st century political and broadcast demagogues — tried to finesse the words.
And then Polman puts into words what many non-liberal Democrats, independent voters and non-talk-radio political culture Republicans (which includes RINOS and non-RINOS) have begun to feel:
Every time you think that the GOP can’t sink any lower, it does. This is an elected chief executive of a major state, behaving in public the way Rush or Glenn behaves at the mike. Perry, we can assume, doesn’t truly believe that Texas would or should rebel against Obama by reverting to the Lone Star status it enjoyed prior to 1845. But he’s clearly comfortable pandering openly to the “right-wing extremists” (his terminology) who deem secession to be a fine idea; according to a new Rasmussen poll released Friday, 18 percent of Texans say that, if given the chance, they’d vote to secede.
The conservative talk shows and bloggers have been downright quiescent about Perry’s rebelliousness – which is fascinating, because somehow his remarks strike me as being a tad…what’s the word for it…unpatriotic. After all, isn’t the right always saying things like “my country, right or wrong”? Whatever happened to that? And how do you suppose the right would have reacted, during the Bush era, if a Democratic governor had protested the Iraq war by suggesting that the citizens of a blue state might want to secede from America? Fox News might have deemed such a remark to be even more important than whether Obama was wearing a flag pin.
One might also question whether the GOP’s image is enhanced by the spectacle of an elected Republican leader pandering to citizen stupidity. The Rasmussen poll reports that one of every three Texans thinks the state has the legal right to secede. Perry claims to think the same way; as he put it last week, “When we came into the union in 1845, one of the issues was that we would be able to leave if we decided to do that.”
For those of us who once belonged to the Republican party at other times in our lives — and then proudly so — watching the modern day Republican party move closer and closer to what Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan (let’s not even mention Dwight Eisenhower) would consider unthinkable leaves our jaws agape many days when we hear of the latest verbal volley. (Goldwater did not like the religious right and in his golden years supported gay marriage.) It’s like the Republican party is morphing into a party of shock jocks and ardent shock jock fans. Those who point this out are often reviled…but, then, that’s indicative of the very problem and why the GOP risks being stuck in Vietnam-era derived hubris as the country and many thinking Republicans seek to move on into a new century.
Does truly Perry believe what he says? This isn’t a psychic’s site, but if you hazard an educated guess it would be: no. The political and economic consequences and complications would be huge. So why did he say it and why do some GOPers go on cable shows saying how Texas has the legal right to divide itself into five states so it sends five conservative Republicans to the Senate? It’s throwing red meat to the partisan crowd. But it also fans the flames of hatred against those Americans who perceive solutions to problems differently and prevailed in an election held in a democracy in which the side that doesn’t win is supposed to then offer better policies, get better organized and try and prevail — so others on the next losing side realize we’re all in this together when they regain power.
Perry doesn’t really believe his own secessionist talk. He’s just calculating his own political needs. He’s facing a tough GOP gubernatorial primary next year – his opponent is Kay Bailey Hutchinson, the longtime senator – and to maximize his prospects of winning, he badly needs to bond with the right-wing extremist voters in his party. And if that means making himself the butt of jokes on late-night TV, so be it.
Ultimately, however, the Texas governor is further feeding the perception these days that the GOP is simply off its rocker. Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio lamented the other day, in remarks to The New York Times, that independent swing voters are turned off these days to the GOP, because “the more extreme the language, the less likely they are to pay attention. We sound like white noise in the background. It’s like a yipping Chihuahua.”
Give that governor a biscuit.
Can I finally use the word?
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.