Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Born in Texas – Rick Perry’s opportunity

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 12/09/08

Could be that we are all destined to be born again as Americans in Texas. Could be that something will happen in Texas to make us different kinds of individuals in the world and a different kind of country. Something from which there will be no turning back. Could be that destiny awaits us in Texas.

When George W. Bush, the First Texan, leaves the White House there will first be, as he says, a hanging, but then there will be a reappraisal of his actions in the White House primarily about one issue, the invasion of Iraq. Already, W’s brother Jeb is being considered for the Senate in 2010 and onward and upward to the Presidency in 2012 or beyond, with hopes of extending the legacy of the Bush family to a third Bush in the White House.

But this is the question that should be asked: Should George W. Bush’s actions and initiatives be seen in context of his family or of his region? In other words, when Bush initiated bold action against Iraq after 9/11 was he acting as a Bush or as a Texan?

The fate of the Republican Party rests within this riddle.

For several years now we have been bemoaning a slip into a monarchist tendency as both parties have been promoting families and admired individuals; the Clintons and the Bushes, and now the Kennedys again as Obama pitches Caroline Kennedy into the Senate. It is assumed that the relative will be like the forebear and it is that perception that sends conservatives today to look to Jeb Bush, W’s younger brother and the former governor of Florida. But that fundamental premise may be misguided.

For many in the Jeb camp – many in the Northeast, including liberals – W is seen as the wayward son; a frontier caricature, as he is presented in the current Oliver Stone movie bearing his initial, while Jeb is the “good” Bush.

George the Father – H.W. – would never have run off and blasted his way into Baghdad just to bag Saddam Hussein. In the first Gulf War he remained on the edge of Armageddon and his wise advisor, Brent Scowcroft, today a friend of Obama, publicly warned of the consequences of W’s invasion. So it is assumed today that the “good” Jeb will be more like the temperate father and will be a comfort to a war worn body politic looking for a little rest.

I think this is misunderstood. W is a Texan. It’s got nothing to do with the other Bushes. He loves Texas as Jefferson loved Virginia. In going into Iraq, W was not acting like a bad Bush, but like a good Texan.

This is the fork in the road for conservatives and each trail now has a premise and a tradition. Soon each will have its own leader. The moderate, Eastern conservatives like Colin Powell and Peggy Noonan will call for Jeb or somebody just like him with hopes of following in the tradition of Father George. But a new path is growing here and in time could be seen to have opened with W, the Texan, not W the Bush. The natural leader for this new direction is Rick Perry, Governor of Texas.

Perry, a fifth generation Texan born to ranchers in little Paint Creek, just north of Abilene, literally follows in the footsteps of George W. Bush as the current Governor of Texas. And if this whole process these last eight years is seen as not so much about the Bushes but instead about Texas and the rise of Texas and the South and Southwest – Southern historian Dan Carter once used the phrase “The Southernization of America” - this view would more readily conform to the paths of economy and demographics since the Second World War and the trajectory of history it presages.

Conservatives are reaching a fork in the road; a split between the small government trend which took its initiative with Ronald Reagan, and more traditional conservatives like H.W. Bush with sensibilities formed in the Northeast.

And there is a disturbance in the force now, expressed by the influential conservative commentator William Kristol in a recent New York Times column.

Kristol writes: “But conservatives should think twice before charging into battle against Obama under the banner of ‘small-government conservatism.’ It’s a banner many Republicans and conservatives have rediscovered since the election and have been waving around energetically. Jeb Bush, now considering a Senate run in 2010, even went so far as to tell Politico last month, ‘There should not be such a thing as a big-government Republican.’”

I think it has been assumed that Jeb would not adopt the small-government position, organic to the oldest traditions of the South, Texas and the Southwest, but would instead lead conservatives hoping to bond now with Obama and support the bailouts. A view well expressed by Emil W. Henry Jr., assistant secretary of the Treasury from 2005 to 2007. As he wrote recently in The Washington Post: “We view sound economic growth as the best way to promote prosperity and protect economic freedom.

Infrastructure expenditures are capital investment for future growth. By investing in the reduction of air, automotive and rail congestion and by improving the reliability of our power supply, we will increase productivity and foster competitiveness.”

As Kristol points out, in his two terms as governor, state spending actually increased by over 50% with Jeb.

There is a tone of anxiety in Kristol’s column, titled, Small Isn’t Beautiful. It comes because a number of conservative governors, starting with South Carolina’s Mark Sanford, are backing away from Obama and the bailouts. Perry has signed on and being governor of the biggest and most prominent state in the red realm, he is the natural leader of this new movement.

Here he is with Sanford in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed: “As governors and citizens, we've grown increasingly concerned over the past weeks as Washington has thrown bailout after bailout at the national economy with little to show for it.

“In the process, the federal government is not only burying future generations under mountains of debt. It is also taking our country in a very dangerous direction -- toward a ‘bailout mentality’ where we look to government rather than ourselves for solutions. We're asking other governors from both sides of the political aisle to join with us in opposing further federal bailout intervention for three reasons. First, we're crossing the Rubicon with regard to debt.”

Americans phoned and emailed into Congress ten to one in opposition to the Wall Street bailout first proposed by Hank Paulson. Neither party in power spoke to that group. Sanford and Perry do and if this is an awakening constituency, we too will have crossed a river; the Mississippi, like Davy Crockett, on his way to the Alamo.

This is not to say what W would do regarding the bailouts, but to say that W actually is a Texan, got there by love, and he does understand the sensibilities of natural-born Texans like Perry. Most Easterners do not and default to brother Jeb.

There is some irony that Kristol and his friends and family in actual generosity of spirit first welcomed the South and Texas into the political parlor of conservatives when most in the northeast then and today disparaged them as rubes, rustics and dangerous populists and radicals. They followed together into Iraq as a fair-minded cultural coalition but one possibly with quite different motives and objectives. That friendship could break apart now.

Texans are tough. I opposed the war on Iraq from the first morning of the invasion, eviscerating the belligerent Bush and savaging his fellow Texan, Karl Rove, on BBC radio and in dozens of articles thereafter. And denounced as well the weak and vacillating Democrats in the Congress who enabled and appeased them.

But the one person I came to respect through this whole process is George W. Bush. Had only 20 Democratic Senators had the courage of conviction and the tenacity of purpose that Bush had, the war in Iraq would never have happened.