For more evidence that Texas governance is a banana republic in minimal disguise, take a look at this piece from Sunday’s NY Times about Rick Perry’s nonchalant/extravagant habit of doling out government money to major campaign contributors. Add it to the excellent piece I’ve already mentioned in the LA Times. Shake, stir, imbibe — and vomit.
It’s heartening that the national media are picking up this early on the absolute whorehouse that is Texas politics and on the Chief Pimp role Rick Perry has played over the last decade. I would say, “Now, it’s up to the people to decide.” But it’s not, really. It’s up to the press to continue to look at the Texas pay for play two-step.
Extending Lone Star crony capitalism into national governance via the George W. Bush administration has literally brought the country to its financial knees. It’d be nice if the national press eschewed its habitual avoidance of nasty facts about Republican candidates (driven by fear of being called the “liberal news media”) and reported the truth about corruption in Texas government repeatedly. It could help the country avert outright economic decapitation.
I tend not to link to the NY Times because I know smart people read it as a matter of routine, and you, gentle readers, are among the smartest in existence. But in the Sunday Times, Drew Westen offers a truly distinguished explanation of President Obama’s signal failure — the failure to tell the American people the story of the man-made disaster that has befallen them, and how they will transcend it. I have great admiration for the Times’ Week in Review (even if I find no benefit in it’s new name, Sunday Review), but Westin’s piece, “What Happened to Obama,” operates several levels above the average Review piece, melding history, psychology and practical politics (trained in the psychological sciences, Westen has of late been paying the rent as a “messaging consultant to nonprofit groups and Democratic leaders”) in a piercing and absolutely convincing argument that Obama has failed the first duty of leadership: storytellng. After explaining, in a historical/evolutionary context, why it is that subjects expect their leaders to explain the world in a narrative format, Westen offers this story that I (and I suspect a vast majority of Americans) have longed to hear from the presidential podium:
“I know you’re scared and angry. Many of you have lost your jobs, your homes, your hope. This was a disaster, but it was not a natural disaster. It was made by Wall Street gamblers who speculated with your lives and futures. It was made by conservative extremists who told us that if we just eliminated regulations and rewarded greed and recklessness, it would all work out. But it didn’t work out. And it didn’t work out 80 years ago, when the same people sold our grandparents the same bill of goods, with the same results. But we learned something from our grandparents about how to fix it, and we will draw on their wisdom. We will restore business confidence the old-fashioned way: by putting money back in the pockets of working Americans by putting them back to work, and by restoring integrity to our financial markets and demanding it of those who want to run them. I can’t promise that we won’t make mistakes along the way. But I can promise you that they will be honest mistakes, and that your government has your back again.”
Westen points out, rightly, one of Obama’s largest narrative failures — the failure to explain who the bad guys are, and how they are going to be brought to justice — and ends the piece with a brilliant series of hypotheses, each less flattering than the last, about why Obama “seems so compelled to take both sides of every issue.” I won’t explain them here; you really must read this whole piece to understand their full brilliance. But in an attempt to get you to go read this article, I will leave you with its kicker, which plays off the Rev. Martin Luther King’s assertion that the long arc of history bends toward justice, and which is thrilling in its denunciation of the deformed compromise that threatens to become the hallmark of the Obama era:
“But the arc of history does not bend toward justice through capitulation cast as compromise. It does not bend when 400 people control more of the wealth than 150 million of their fellow Americans. It does not bend when the average middle-class family has seen its income stagnate over the last 30 years while the richest 1 percent has seen its income rise astronomically. It does not bend when we cut the fixed incomes of our parents and grandparents so hedge fund managers can keep their 15 percent tax rates. It does not bend when only one side in negotiations between workers and their bosses is allowed representation. And it does not bend when, as political scientists have shown, it is not public opinion but the opinions of the wealthy that predict the votes of the Senate. The arc of history can bend only so far before it breaks. “
For some time, I’ve been planning to write a long, ultra-serious post about the repeat failure of the establishment press to deal with complex, “dangerous” stories. This problem first smacked me in the forehead when I lived in Texas and the national press just flat missed the commercial-and-condo construction bubble that led to the multihundred-billion-dollar collapse of the savings and loan industry. Even after the fact, the major newspapers couldn’t seem to step up to the plate and assign blame to any of the major financial and political interests that had caused the catastrophe. Pathetic as it was then, this inability to face down powerful interests doing things dangerous to the Republic has only grown into an entrenched habit over time, as the major media have dealt glancingly, if at all, with complicated and major story after story. I was going to use Al Gore’s current (wordplay intended) piece in Rolling Stone, “Climate of Denial,” as the starting point for a lengthy, erudite excoriation of Fourth Estate failure to 1) puncture the obvious lies used as justification for invading Iraq and 2) warn of a mortgage bubble and derivatives nightmare that almost crashed the world economy. In my brilliant post, I intended not just to address the false equivalence the media have generally drawn between essentially the entire assembled scientific infrastructure of the civilized world and a few ideologically driven, industry funded hacks charged with creating some illusion of doubt about climate change, but also to wax eloquent about the bankruptcy of the he-said/she-said journalistic approach in general. Unfortunately, Gore did all this and more in his Rolling Stone piece, which (h/t to my friend Ryan Blitstein) deserves to be read in entirety. If you can’t be bothered to put out that much effort, take this part of the article away with you:
The scientific consensus is far stronger today than at any time in the past. Here is the truth: The Earth is round; Saddam Hussein did not attack us on 9/11; Elvis is dead; Obama was born in the United States; and the climate crisis is real. It is time to act.
Al Gore is very gentle with President Obama, understanding his various political dilemmas over the course of many boring paragraphs. For his care, the former vice president is being attacked by Beltway media critics who don’t seem even to have tried to understand his argument. (Jack Shafer has written an especially beside-the-point piece that is very good at expressing the contempt in which Shafer holds Gore — and, to my eye, nothing else.) But careful as he is in getting there, Gore comes to the proper conclusion: The president has, for political reasons, backed away from confronting the most important issue of our time — and a very real and very direct threat to the future of life on Earth. All the money Big Oil and Big Coal can muster cannot change a simple truth: Burning fossil fuels threatens the future of life. Mr. President, isn’t the planet more important than a reelection?
I horrified my coastal friends a few days ago with suggestions that when Texas Gov. Rick Perry “invited the country’s other 49 governors and evangelical leaders for a ‘non-political’ event to pray for the nation,” he was really, by the analysis of the Houston Chronicle‘s Austin bureau, taking a step toward a Perry campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. Now let me horrify again, first with an example of lame journalism, courtesy of some guy named Alex Alvarez over at Mediaite.com, who basically just copied my Perry prayer event post and misidentified me as the editor of Miller-McCune, a job I left more than a month ago, to national publicity. Then I will horrify with the real stuff: a Wall Street Journal piece by Neil King Jr. that confirms Perry is at least considering a presidential run, which marks a 180 degree flip from his position just a few months ago. Here’s the takeaway from King’s piece:
For months, Texas Gov. Rick Perry has told potential donors and Republican higher-ups he has no interest in running for the White House in 2012. But over the past two weeks, political advisers and friends say, Mr. Perry has changed his tune on a possible presidential campaign. In privateconversations, they say, the three-term governor said he worries that the current GOP contenders have yet to stir real excitement within the party and may struggle when facing President Barack Obama.”He thinks there is a void [in the current field of candidates], and that he might be uniquely positioned to fill that void,” said one Perry confidant who talked to the governor last week.
Yes, the WSJ piece uses some unidentified sources, but it’s pretty clear they’re people who actually are familiar with Perry’s thinking. And at least they’re not misidentified sources.
It may be because I grew up in the Midwest, but I think Tim Pawlenty is going to wear a lot less on Republican primary voters than Mitt Romney. Others describe Pawlenty as boring, someone who sucks the air out of the room. But his basic line — I’m not going to bullshit you, we’re in trouble — aims squarely at both Romney, who will flip before he’s even done flopping, and at Obama, who has a real record of accomplishment but also a real aversion to calling for sacrifice from average Americans. Over at The Daily Beast, Andrew Sulllivan calls Pawlenty the “eh, why not?” candidate, but I think the national media’s estimation of Pawlenty’s personal appeal is like a lot of national media estimating — that’s to say, it’s the sound of the one drunken Swiss yodeler who’s ever seen Pawlenty in person howling inside an echo chamber that has Phil Spector at the mixing board. But you can watch the video and judge for yourself whether Pawlenty is a sleeping pill, or the non-crazy Republican candidate from a battleground state who might just be Obama’s worst nightmare.