Like a too-slick Marvel Comics villain, the famously well-coiffed Rick Perry stands in his expensive tailored suit (Italian? English Socialist Tweed?), and leads his Midland Country Club audience in a kind of awkward, unpoetic “We Shall Overcome” moment. These Midlandistas just don’t look like there’s much left for them to overcome.
Obama, Perry says, is punishing Texas. Obama’s is “an administration hellbent on taking America toward a socialist country,” he adds. Chopping-chopping the air Nikita Kruschev-like with his (French cuffed!!) hand, Perry calls for bigger and better tea parties.
Maybe this is just some kind of tragicomic nightmare planted in my infant brain by Atomic Spiders or precious-bodily-fluids-poisoning spies. I must be dreaming of the sick and paranoid ’50s, when even Dwight Eisenhower was accused of coddling communists. Are 21st Century Texans really believing this insane shit? How stupid are they? Don’t answer that.
There’s not three of them in that audience that could give a high-school civics class answer to what socialism even is. Was the infamous oil depletion allowance that built Midland socialism? For those new to Texas, the depletion allowance allowed oil companies a 27.5 percent income tax reduction. That meant the government forced the rest of us to cough up taxes that became oil company profits. Passed in 1924, it’s not socialism, technically, but it smells of crude corporate welfare to me.
I suppose all this hatred and all these lies have something to do with health care reform and the fact that folks with Obama’s skin color were barred from most Texas country clubs in the not-so-distant past Perry would take us back to. I still find it hard to believe that any ideology — even a crazy, paranoid, bigoted ideology — prefers the current health system. It causes unnecessary suffering and death. Do these people really, truly believe that a newly healthy child is a harbinger of socialism or communism or something worse like, I dunno, an unavailable, back-ordered Lexus?
Are they so scared of losing all their precious privilege — which they won’t — that they would consciously allow the unnecessary suffering and death of fellow Americans to keep their stuff safe from dangers that don’t exist? Really?
The rhetoric grows more and more extreme. I have a bedrock faith in the American people and their common sense. Sooner or later they will send demagogues like Perry packing. It will happen sooner if the media will call the talk what it is. But I fear too many Texans are sitting back wondering just how far it will go. That’s dangerous.
For the record, I am the son of a Kentucky southerner who moved to Texas in the ’20s and built a life from the bottom up. My father was a capitalist, a small business entrepreneur. I inherited his optimism and his strong belief in self-reliance. But he also never turned his back on those in need. He never profited from the suffering of others. He taught me that we have a responsibility to others. Acting on that responsibility is not socialism. It is what another Smith — Adam — thought citizens of a civilized nation would do.