God Votes Right
Fun and games with the Republicans in Dallas
Just as the high Texas heat assumes its unyielding grip on all our prospects, and a margarita becomes the only sanctuary against utter despair, state politics begins to drift inexorably into the summer doldrums. And then -- along comes the biannual convention of the state's Grand Old Party, to deliver a delightful summertime divertissement.
Excuse me, that's "God's Own Party," sanctimoniously re-christened in 2000 by state Rep. and snake-oil vitamin huckster Rick Green (as the Austin American-Statesman's Ken Herman and Dave McNeely reminded us last week). Frankly, I find it hard to believe that a God who indulgently turned water into wine would quite recognize what Texas Republicans call a party. The official festivities have been dry -- only soft-serve ice cream on tap -- ever since the Christmongers took administrative control a few years ago, although it remains an open secret that thirsty big-shots and their sustaining lobbyists can still drown their consciences in high-dollar hooch at the fancier hospitality suites.
That's not to say the official proceedings lack entertainment value on their own. This year's revival had barely gotten under way when a movement commenced to require GOP state representatives to nominate the next House Speaker in partisan caucus, in order to ensure (in the expected event of a Republican majority) that the party's rightest wing would effectively control the vote. That prospect was derailed when more than two dozen GOP reps denounced the proposal as undemocratic and un-Texan, leaving open the theoretical possibility that incumbent Pete Laney, D-Hale Center, might still forge a bipartisan coalition for reelection. (It is a curious political gathering indeed that considers the avuncular and doggedly centrist Laney -- who dutifully applauded the apotheosis of George W. Bush -- as just this side of the Antichrist, but the state GOP is a granite-hearted bunch.) In the end, all that passed was a non-binding resolution, and the House members and lobbyists currently weaving a golden halo over the head of the Chosen One, Midland's Tom Craddick, shall have to continue twisting the party's wavering arms all on their own.
That episode was hardly concluded when the convention began wrapping itself in the flag, the cross, and what the faithful like to call "mainstream values," including such charming novelties as the declaration that what Texas needs is an all-Christian judiciary. As reported Sunday by Ken Herman, the Saturday morning prayer rally devoted specifically to that purpose featured Dallas District Judge Faith Johnson proclaiming, "Father, draw the unsaved judges unto you. Then, and only then, Father, will they be able to truly be the righteous judges that you would have us to be." Afterward, Johnson conceded that such a measure, however desirable, is not quite yet legally enforceable, and party chair Susan Weddington backed off a bit further: "I recommend it very strongly to people, but I'm not going to force them into it." If there were other doubters, Stuart Lane, board member of the rally's sponsor, the Texas Christian Coalition, made the morning's agenda crystal clear: "We are praying to the only way to God; that is Jesus Christ." (I guess Lane hadn't yet received Ralph Reed's latest memo on Israel.)
God, Country, and a Free Ride
Party Vice-Chair David Barton, an Oral Roberts U. grad who makes his living flogging theological politics via a marketing hustle called "WallBuilders," specializes at these gatherings in Pecksniffian malevolence, potted "Christian history," and the purblind nonsense that the long-established legal doctrine of the separation of church and state is a "myth" (that delusion nestles happily in the party platform). Barton duly recited the fundamentalist canard that the country has gone to hell in a secular handbasket ever since the Supreme Court "banned" prayer in public schools -- self-righteously wrong on both counts -- and called for a return to the Puritanical notion that a law degree should always be preceded by a seminary degree. "How can you handle the laws of men," fulminated Barton, "if you first don't know the laws of God?" One might readily ask Barton, how dare you presume to speak for God while remaining wilfully ignorant of the laws of men?
By the party of the big tent, these folks mean the big revival tent, and even their preferred version of "Christianity" is a crabbed and censorious one, antithetical not just to other religions but to insufficiently orthodox forms of the same one. They attempted, but failed, to adopt a proposal that would de-fund any GOP candidate who did not subscribe in full to the platform, which invariably includes such hokum as the gold standard, abolishing the United Nations and the minimum wage, and now the summary deportation of any U.S. resident who hails from a country insufficiently devoted to the "war on terrorism." San Antonio Republican Sen. Jeff Wentworth has felt the wrath of the faithful for not opposing all abortions -- Wentworth the Apostate believes that the life of the mother has at least an equal claim -- and he described the state delegates as the "Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Christian Coalition religious zealots [who] pass these resolutions of the most extreme type."
Chairwoman Weddington was having none of that, and countered with the bedrock principles of the assembled disciples: "Faith is important to them, family is important to them; they want lower taxes."
Leave it to departing Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Enron, aka the Unlamented, to deliver the classiest moment of the occasion, his denunciation of Democratic gubernatorial candidates Tony Sanchez and Dan Morales for the treasonous outrage of engaging in a primary debate in the Spanish language. "The defining moment in this election," declared Gramm, "occurred in that Democratic debate for governor." Gramm (whose own dialect of English-Only is technically known as High Nasal Spite) looked out over a sea of 10,000 white Republican faces and called the Spanish debate a Democratic attempt to "divide Texans based on race. ... That's their dream, and that's their vision, and this election is about rejecting that dream and that vision once and for all and forever. We are first, last, always and forever Texans and Americans." That is, "Texans," by definition, speak only "English": It was a moment worthy of the Klan rally in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Klueless Kleagle presiding.
Gramm's Last Stand
Gramm and the applauding GOP multitude apparently intend to put the millions of Spanish-speaking Texans on permanent notice that they remain welcome as citizens of the Lone Star State -- just so long as they don't get any uppity notions that they're just as good as 100% pure-dee native Anglo-talking Amurricans.
In the immortal words of biblical scholar and Gov. Ma Ferguson, "If English was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for Texas."