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Windbag talk in Texas

Bonding with the right-wing extremists

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?)

In Perry's words on Wednesday, "We've got a great union. There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb its nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that."

A day later, he sought to elaborate. He said that Texans "are fed up with what's coming out of Washington," and therefore they've been inspired to "debate" certain questions among themselves, notably "can we secede." And just to clarify his remarks further, a gubernatorial spokeswoman said that Perry indeed believes Texas can secede if it so chooses.

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."

Spoken like a fact-free radio windbag. It's fascinating how these conservative guardians of our American heritage sometimes fail to master (or choose to ignore) the basic rudiments of American history.

The fact is, Texas can't secede even if it wanted to. In the 1845 language that brought Texas into the union, there isn't a single word about any secession option. One might also suggest that the secession issue was settled forever in 1865, after 600,000 American soldiers lost their lives fighting over it. The bottom line, however, is that the U.S. Supreme Court settled it in an 1869 ruling...which means that the so-called Texas secession option has been judicially dead for the last 140 years.

From the decision in Texas v. White: "When, therefore, Texas became one of the United States, she entered into an indissoluble relation. All the obligations of perpetual union, and all the guaranties of republican government in the Union, attached at once to the State. The act which consummated her admission into the Union was something more than a compact; it was the incorporation of a new member into the political body. And it was final. The union between Texas and the other States was as complete, as perpetual, and as indissoluble as the union between the original States."

The current Texas governor, we can assume, isn't really as dense about Texas history as he appears. This was all just a calculated bid to gin up the GOP extremists (for political reasons that I will mention shortly). His calculation is actually easy to spot. Because while Perry purports to be outraged by big government in Washington - last week he called it "oppressive" and condemned its "interference with the affairs of our state" - in reality he is in constant pursuit of big government's bucks. And whenever he brings that "oppressive" money home to Texas, he brags about it.

To paraphrase Captain Renault in Casablanca, Perry in public is shocked, shocked about the awful ways of big government...while pocketing whatever winnings he can. On his official website, Perry is always extolling the latest federal grant for "juvenile offender accountability programs," or the latest federal subsidy for farmer "drought assistance," or the latest homeland security grant for "technology needs," or the latest federal outlay for "local law enforement," or the latest FEMA reimbursement of the state's disaster cleanup costs.

I was particularly amused by one juxtaposition, from earlier this month. On April 9, Perry's office put out a statement affirming his strong belief in "Texas' sovereignty" and the importance of state's rights. One day later, his office put out another statement, titled: "Gov. Perry Calls on FEMA to Assist the State in Fighting Wildfires."

It gets better. Perry has an Office of State-Federal Relations that works with Texas agencies to maximize the prospects for receiving federal money. Indeed, during the Perry years, Texas has typically paid around $30,000 a month to a pair of Washington lobbying firms, with the express purpose of lobbying Congress for money. All told, a recent study by the Cato Institute - a libertarian conservative think tank that really does believe in a small federal government - concluded that "Perry and the Texas state government are aggressive scavengers of federal grant dollars."

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.