May 25, 2009
Oh I know, there’s a lot of talk about states’ rights, and they’ve got a governor making noises to insure he’s getting lots of PR, but at the end of the day? Texans don’t want to secede, they’re proud to be Americans – in fact, many Texans look on themselves as iconic of Americans.
Will they threaten? Absolutely they will. Collectively these are very shrewd, savvy folks when it comes to negotiating, so if Governor Rick Perry has made anti-D.C. rhetoric the theme of the month by deliberately raising secession at a tea-bag event they will talk the talk – but they’re too smart to walk out. Do you realize how much federal money flows into Texas each year? Do you think they want to give up the U.S. military bases, or NASA? Do you think most Texans want to deal with the drugs and violence spilling across the border from Mexico without federal dollars and agents to bolster that fight?
I’m not certain Governor Perry is manipulating the Texas voters or the national media for personal political gain, but consider this: Do you think the governor and his advisers don’t realize the benefit of federal funding for the wall at the border has for local construction jobs, for instance? Would the good folks of Dallas surrender the slogan of their NFL Cowboys as “America’s Team”?
Of course not.
Nor do they want to work out the price of buying back the federally owned land or start paying for the maintenance of interstate highways – and believe me, the highways matter a lot more in Texas than they do in your smaller states. But they will loyally back their governor, and they are an independent lot, so anybody doing a survey is bound to find a fair amount of pro-secession sentiment expressed -well, maybe less so over Memorial Day weekend, or the 4th of July, but few people watching veterans on parade, or fireworks while the national anthem plays, really want to secede.
And there’s no day of the year your survey in Texas would show greater support there for extending Bush’s tax cuts for the rich than in some other state after his spending priorities shorted armor for troops on the ground in Iraq. So actually, just how much pro-seccesion sentiment you found would probably have a whole lot to do with exactly how you framed the question.
So what’s Perry up to?
I hope he’s just trying to attract national press coverage, in the tried and true manner of politicians almost everywhere. Perhaps he senses the chaos in the GOP leadership as a vacuum, and wants to position himself for a Presidential bid (although in the wake of G. W. Bush that hasn’t been a smooth path for GOP governors.) The alternative, though, if this isn’t about boosting his “federal cred” by raising the issue of federalism as he suggested last week, is dark indeed for those of us old enough to recall what the rallying cry of “states’ rights” has meant in politics in this country.
The reality is that “states’ rights” hasn’t been about the federal government, or taxes, it’s been a call to white bigots. By raising it, and then backing away and saying it’s just a discussion about a legal principle, has Perry sent his signal to those who hear it another way? Some of us recall George Wallace flanked by Alabama State Troopers, exerting states’ rights to exclude black children from “white” schools. There’s been a lot of progress in the country since that era, and most Texans aren’t bigots, but that doesn’t change what that phrase has signalled for most of the time since the civil war.
States’ Rights has consistently been the politically correct way of saying we’ve got to keep minorities from attaining power, wealth, or influence. I’m not saying there’s no bigotry left in Texas, or that President Barack Obama’s campaign and election stopped nay-sayers on all sides of the racism issue dead in their tracks. In Texas, though, there’s precious little tolerance for slippery politically correct double-speak .
You might argue that Reagan got away with a covert shout-out to white racists in a speech in Mississippi in 1980, but this isn’t the same electorate, or the same mood, that dominated the country then – and Perry may be shooting his political career in the foot. He’s arguably signaled the most extreme members of the GOP at a tea-party despite quickly back-walking from the rhetoric for the national press. Would his leadership further distance the Republicans from the values of moderate Americans?
The state that’s famous for knowing when a politician is, “all hat - no cattle,” is surely gathering around the grills and picnic tables this summer wondering just where their Governor’s going with this.