Sunday, September 18, 2011

Today's Double-Bite From The Cobra & The Krait!

During the '00 presidential campaign, The Dubster, in his frat-boy shtik, nicknamed Maureen Dowd of the NY Fishwrap: The Cobra. The Cobra (aka Maureen Dowd) was joined by Gail Collins on the NY Fishwrap Op-Ed page: The Krait (aka Gail Collins). Today, this blog offers a double-whammy on this blogger's favorite target: The Dumbos. The Cobra gets top billing for seniority, not strength of venom. One minor quibble with The Krait: it's "Rick Perry, Über Texan," not "Rick Perry, Uber Texan." While Governor Goodhair doesn't know an umlaut from an oom-pa-pa, this blogger knows where an umlaut is necessary. Governor Goodhair is an Über Dumbo! If this is (fair & balanced) snark, so be it.

[Vannevar Bush HyperlinkBracketed NumbersDirectory]
[1] The Cobra Bites Goodhair
[2] The Krait Re-Bites Goodhair

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Egghead & Blockheads
By Maureen Dowd

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There are two American archetypes that were sometimes played against each other in old Westerns.

The egghead Eastern lawyer who lacks the skills or stomach for a gunfight is contrasted with the tough Western rancher and ace shot who has no patience for book learnin’.

The duality of America’s creation story was vividly illustrated in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” the 1962 John Ford Western.

Jimmy Stewart is the young attorney who comes West to Shinbone and ends up as a U.S. senator after gaining fame for killing the sadistic outlaw Liberty Valance, played by Lee Marvin. John Wayne is the rancher, a fast-draw Cyrano who hides behind a building and actually shoots Marvin because he knows Stewart is hopeless in a duel. He does it even though they’re in love with the same waitress, who chooses the lawyer because he teaches her to read.

A lifetime later, on the verge of becoming a vice presidential candidate, Stewart confesses the truth to a Shinbone newspaperman, who refuses to print it. “When the legend becomes fact,” the editor says, “print the legend.”

At the cusp of the 2012 race, we have a classic cultural collision between a skinny Eastern egghead lawyer who’s inept in Washington gunfights and a pistol-totin’, lethal-injectin’, square-shouldered cowboy who has no patience for book learnin’.

Rick Perry, from the West Texas town of Paint Creek, is no John Wayne, even though he has a ton of executions notched on his belt. But he wears a pair of cowboy boots with the legend “Liberty” stitched on one. (As in freedom, not Valance.) He plays up the effete-versus-mesquite stereotypes in his second-grade textbook of a manifesto, Fed Up!

Trashing Massachusetts, he writes: “They passed state-run health care, they have sanctioned gay marriage, and they elected Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, and Barney Frank repeatedly — even after actually knowing about them and what they believe! Texans, on the other hand, elect folks like me. You know the type, the kind of guy who goes jogging in the morning, packing a Ruger .380 with laser sights and loaded with hollow-point bullets, and shoots a coyote that is threatening his daughter’s dog.”

At a recent campaign event in South Carolina, Perry grinned, “I’m actually for gun control — use both hands.”

Traveling to Lynchburg, Va., to speak to students at Liberty University (as in Falwell, not Valance), Perry made light of his bad grades at Texas A&M.

Studying to be a veterinarian, he stumbled on chemistry and made a D one semester and an F in another. “Four semesters of organic chemistry made a pilot out of me,” said Perry, who went on to join the Air Force.

“His other D’s,” Richard Oppel wrote in The Times, “included courses in the principles of economics, Shakespeare, ‘Feeds & Feeding,’ veterinary anatomy and what appears to be a course called ‘Meats.’ ”

He even got a C in gym.

Perry conceded that he “struggled” with college, and told the 13,000 young people in Lynchburg that in high school, he had graduated “in the top 10 of my graduating class — of 13.”

It’s enough to make you long for W.’s Gentleman’s C’s. At least he was a mediocre student at Yale. Even Newt Gingrich’s pseudo-intellectualism is a relief at this point.

Our education system is going to hell. Average SAT scores are falling, and America is slipping down the list of nations for college completion. And Rick Perry stands up with a smirk to talk to students about how you can get C’s, D’s and F’s and still run for president.

The Texas governor did help his former chief of staff who went to lobby for a pharmaceutical company that donated to Perry, so he at least knows the arithmetic of back scratching.

Perry told the students, “God uses broken people to reach a broken world.” What does that even mean?

The Republicans are now the “How great is it to be stupid?” party. In perpetrating the idea that there’s no intellectual requirement for the office of the presidency, the right wing of the party offers a Farrelly Brothers “Dumb and Dumber” primary in which evolution is avant-garde.

Having grown up with a crush on William F. Buckley Jr. for his sesquipedalian facility, it’s hard for me to watch the right wing of the G.O.P. revel in anti-intellectualism and anti-science cant.

Sarah Palin, who got outraged at a “gotcha” question about what newspapers and magazines she read, is the mother of stupid conservatism. Another “Don’t Know Much About History” Tea Party heroine, Michele Bachmann, seems rather proud of not knowing anything, simply repeating nutty, inflammatory medical claims that somebody in the crowd tells her.

So we’re choosing between the overintellectualized professor and blockheads boasting about their vacuity?

The occupational hazard of democracy is know-nothing voters. It shouldn’t be know-nothing candidates. Ω

[Maureen Dowd received the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1999, with the Pulitzer committee particularly citing her columns on the impeachment of Bill Clinton after his affair with Monica Lewinsky. Dowd joined The New York Times as a reporter in 1983, after writing for Time magazine and the now-defunct Washington Star. At The Times, Dowd was nominated for a 1992 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting, then became a columnist for the paper's editorial page in 1995. Dowd's first book was a collection of columns entitled Bushworld: Enter at Your Own Risk (2004). Her second book followed in 2005: Are Men Necessary?: When Sexes Collide. Dowd earned a bachelor's degree from DC's Catholic University in 1973.]

Copyright © 2011 The New York Times Company
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Rick Perry, Uber [sic] Texan
By Gail Collins

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You think of Rick Perry, you think of Texas. And more Texas. Perry the cowboy coyote-killer, the lord of the Texas job-creation machine, the g-dropping glad-hander with a “howdy” for every stranger in the room. He barely exists in the national mind outside of the Texas connection.

A continuation of the TV series “Dallas” is due in 2012. How long will it take before we fixate on the fact that James Richard Perry is another J. R.?

Some of this is natural — the man is the governor, after all. But we didn’t obsess about the state this way when Governor Bush was the presidential candidate. (We obsessed about the Bushes.) We didn’t talk endlessly about Arkansas when we were evaluating Governor Clinton. (We obsessed about the Clintons.)

The difference is that Perry obsesses about Texas, too. On the campaign trail, he’s the ambassador from the Lone Star State, promoter of the Texas Miracle, filtering almost everything through a Texas prism. On his maiden voyage through the Iowa State Fair, some hecklers were giving him a hard time, the typical hazing for a new face on the national scene, and Perry’s response was instinctive.

“That may not be an Aggie over there,” he yelled, pointing at a heckler.

Aggies are alums of Perry’s alma mater, Texas A&M. Not a group you normally see a whole lot of in Des Moines.

Then he was off to talk some more about economic growth in Texas. And lambaste the chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, by saying that he would be treated “pretty ugly” in Texas. Some aides seemed surprised to find this was not regarded as presidential language, since Perry says that kind of thing in Texas all the time.

Moving on to New Hampshire, Perry dealt with the evolution issue by saying that Texas schools teach both evolution and creationism. Which they don’t, but it’s the thought that counts.

Perry comes to the race with a remarkable lack of national experience and exposure. The only recent equivalent would probably be Sarah Palin, and it’s not surprising that Texas and Alaska would produce the people with little frame of reference outside of their home states. Both places are huge, so it’s easy for people who live there to think they’re in a self-enclosed world. If Texas or Alaska had the population density of New York City, either one could contain every person on the planet, although of course a lot of them would be very uncomfortable.

We have had several Texas presidents, but none so deeply, intensely Texas as this guy would be. (Walking on the stage with the other debate candidates, Perry is so much broader of chest and squarer of shoulder and straighter of spine than the rest of the pack that he looks as if he might have been stuffed.) Dwight Eisenhower, who was born in Texas, moved out before he was 2. Lyndon Johnson had long since become a man of Washington when he entered the White House, though he worried that Northerners would make fun of his twang — which they sort of did. George H. W. Bush was basically an Easterner who had moved to Texas for his job. His son was much more of a Texas product, but his parents sent W. off to boarding school to erase some of the evidence.

Rick Perry has never spent any serious time outside of Texas, except for a five-year stint in the military. Nobody sent him off to boarding school to expand his horizons. He grew up in Paint Creek, where he graduated third in a high school class of 13. He went to the most deeply Texas of all the state’s major institutions of higher learning. He was a terrible student, but won the prized post of yell leader, the most deeply Texas of all possible Aggie achievements. Then he joined the Air Force and flew transport planes out of Texas, Germany and the Middle East. “There was no telling what you were going to haul around on any given day, from high-value cargo like human beings to the colonel’s kitty litter,” he once told a reporter in Texas.

Then it was back to Paint Creek, where Perry worked on his father’s ranch and began a stupendously successful political career, during which he ran for the State Legislature, agriculture commissioner, lieutenant governor and governor without ever losing a race. The word his former opponents use most frequently to describe him is “lucky.” Really, “lucky” comes up all the time. It may be sour grapes, or possibly an attempt to put his career in the context of a state political landscape in which conservative Democrats were rapidly fleeing to the G.O.P. Or possibly, it’s just that Perry’s lucky.

His career has certainly been marked by strokes of fortune. When Perry was still a Democratic state representative, Karl Rove took him under his wing and set Perry up for a run as a Republican against the liberal icon Jim Hightower. This was in a race for agriculture commissioner, a statewide post without a vast array of issues. Perry ran against a Hightower rule requiring farmers to get their workers out of the fields before they sprayed pesticide on them, and won. When Perry moved up to run in a very tight race for lieutenant governor, his campaign got a critical last-minute infusion of $1.1 million from a very, very conservative doctor/businessman from San Antonio named James Leininger, who is one of a large number of rich Texans who seem to enjoy giving things to Rick Perry. (In Texas, individuals can donate as much as they want to political candidates. The term “Wild West” is frequently invoked by campaign finance reformers.) Then Governor Bush went off to the White House, turning over his job to Perry, who went on to win election in his own right three times, once with 39 percent of the vote in a race that featured several third-party candidates.

But in his last race, in 2010, Perry trounced Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, who was certainly a real opponent. Paul Burka of Texas Monthly, who followed the two of them on the campaign trail, noted that Hutchison talked about important state issues, and Perry about the evils of Washington. “The problem for Hutchison is that the energy in the Republican Party today is not directed at how to make government work better,” Burka wrote. “It is directed against government, and no one channels that anger better than Rick Perry.”

If Perry continues on his early trajectory, we will be hearing quite a lot of debate about how good a governor he’s been, but Americans’ lack of interest in anything connected with state government is so vast that in the end, it may turn out to be beside the point. Anyway, the real question isn’t how Texas is doing but whether Perry’s experience there has led him to think about the federal government at all, except as a sinister force that can be identified as the villain when anything goes wrong.

Just one example: health insurance. More than a quarter of all Texans have no health insurance whatsoever. During his first presidential debate Perry blamed that fact — as he has in the past back home — on Washington. (“Well, bottom line is that we would not have that many people uninsured in the state of Texas if you didn’t have the federal government.”) When Bush was in Washington, Texas proposed a half-baked plan to improve its Medicaid program by reducing benefits and coverage. The application was sent back to the state for reworking — by the Bush administration — and the state seems to have expended precious little energy in revising it. But the legend of federal overreaching lives on, a perpetual excuse for why more than six million Texans are uninsured.

Having an interest in national government that’s mainly limited to disliking it might work fine if you’re the governor of a state that has always regarded itself as “low-tax, low-service” anyway. It’s a little more problematic if you’re the guy in charge of keeping the dollar stable, the food supply safe and the national defense ready.

We could live with a president who named his boots “Freedom” and “Liberty.”

Not sure about one who has contempt for the job he’s running for. Ω

[Gail Collins joined the New York Times in 1995 as a member of the editorial board and later as an op-ed columnist. In 2001 she became the first woman ever appointed editor of the Times editorial page. At the beginning of 2007, she took a leave in order to complete America's Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates and Heroines. Collins returned to the Times as a columnist in July 2007. Collins has a BA (journalism) from Marquette University and an MA (government) from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Gail Collins’s newest book — on Texas [!!!] — will be published next year by W. W. Norton.]

Copyright © 2011 The New York Times Company

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