This year’s batch of Republican legislators has had enough of their liberal leadership. If your response to that comment was, “Liberal leadership, WTF?” then you must be one of those RiNO’s who thought the loony Platform from last year’s convention shouldn’t be taken seriously.
Fundamentalists are mounting a revolt against Rep. Joe Straus’ (R-San Antonio) re-nomination as Speaker of the House and the rhetoric is taking an ugly turn. The press is getting frothy over emails and robo-calls from Christian fundie groups taking aim at the fact that Straus is Jewish. Yes, the Jew-baiting is tasteless, but the media is largely missing the point and overlooking the more interesting story in the process.
First, a little background. Straus took the Speaker’s gavel at the opening of the last session in a gutsy revolt against the deeply unpopular Tom Craddick of Midland. Craddick was a royal jerk who trampled every tradition of Capitol civility to promote his own power – not to put too fine a point on it. But he had the support of the fundamentalist wing, so he was able to hold on for two terms.
At the end of the ’07 session, after repeated abuses and a rising rebellion, he claimed “absolute power” to manage the House floor when a motion to remove him started to gain momentum. Say what you will about Texas, but the place won’t long tolerate a tyrant.
At the start of the last session Straus led a bi-partisan (gasp!) effort to replace Craddick after all the other Republicans who were talking about it behind closed doors chickened out. The necessary 11 sacrificial Republicans and no more crossed lines to vote with the Democrats to select the Republican Straus as Speaker.
In the coming session, with the Republicans holding 99 seats to the Dems’ 51 it will take a lot more than 11 brave souls (most of whom are now gone) to put a somewhat rational Speaker in place. The wolves are out and the list of Straus supporters is starting to dwindle.
The public knock against Straus, apart from that whole Jew business, is that he’s not “conservative” enough. After all, he’s been spotted actually listening to Democrats when they talk. How can you trust someone like that? But the real story is in the fine print. The Tea Party and fundie activist groups tip their hand pretty clearly when they describe the credentials of their two favorite candidates, Warren Chisum of Pampa and Ken Paxton of McKinney. What do they offer? They are Christian Conservatives.
Here’s where the press misses the critical point in this story. The opposition to Straus isn’t based on the fact that he’s Jewish, per se. Ya’ll listen close. The fundies aren’t objecting because of what Straus is; say it along with me – ‘they have lots of Jewish friends.’
They’re upset about what he ain’t.
The robocalls and emails about Straus’ Judaism aren’t about racism. The hierarchy of bigotries in Texas is well defined and Jewish doesn’t actually rank high on the list. The big three are Blacks, Mexicans (which encompasses all native Spanish-speakers) and Austinites. Jews figure among the niche prejudices held by only the finest connoisseurs of hatred, settling in somewhere between Mormons and Bohemians.
What Chisum or Paxton bring to the table are their superior claim to being Christian Conservatives, a standard that disqualifies Straus. In the new Republican landscape, the only authentic Republican has a flag stuck in one lapel, a cross in the other, and a prayer to Jesus on his lips. As one Tea Party leader so eloquently put it, “if I want to say ‘Christian’ in the United States of America I’m going to say it.” Amen, dadburnit.
Chisum and Paxton are publicly denouncing any hint of anti-Semitism in this race and making clear it doesn’t originate with them. That’s great. But the folks who are throwing Straus’ religion into this have an aim more subtle than racism. They still aren’t quite comfortable just coming out and saying that everyone needs to support a Republican who’s determined to replace the nation’s original pluralist structure with an expressly Christian government. They’re still at least one election away from being able to talk about that openly.
And calling their favorite a “Christian Conservative” might not be coded strongly enough. After all, how many Southern Republicans aren’t at least nominally Christian at this point? The Jewish reference was necessary to make the message absolutely clear to those who needed to know. Mission accomplished.
The new Legislature, faced with a $25billion budget deficit, larger by proportion than California’s, is ready to finally address the state’s real problems – Gays, Atheists, Kenyans, and Mexicans. And Straus is not on board with their agenda clearly enough, at least not Bible-thumpingly enough. The Jew must go.
This is a fine warning for any thinking Republicans still left in the state, all three or four hundred of you. You can kid yourselves into believing the recent GOP surge is about “fiscal issues” all the way to the ballot box. On the Wednesday after the election Jesus is Lord. Any of you so-called Republicans who have a problem with that need to step quickly to the curb. The bus to Jesustan is coming and it’ll lay tracks on your backside if it must.
In the words of the crabby old Barry Goldwater:
“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise.”
And because there’s no one around this morning to stop me, here’s Sacha Baron Cohen in character as “Borat” at a country bar in Arizona:
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