Is Rick Perry Channeling Phil Gramm – – or Clayton Williams?

Yipee ki yay… Mo-fo. Rick Perry is in!

He’s FED UP! and he’s come out swinging. He’s attacking Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Social Security and Medicare, anyone who is anti-business or anti-Jesus, and now – – Ben Bernanke.

The national press loves to fall in love, and Perry had a nice 72-hour honeymoon before his shoot-from-the-lip style, which works in Amarillo, Abilene and around Austin, backfired with Bernanke. Bigtime.

Comparisons with George W. Bush from pundits who want to sound like they know Texas politics were inevitable, but everyone in Texas knew they were never worth much. Bush is an Ivy Leaguer whose grandfather was a senator from Connecticut. Perry is a genuine Texas Aggie from genuinely small-town Texas.

If you want to understand Perry, you have to understand Texas A&M. The macho swagger of that school is really the essence of who Perry is. Perry comes from my part of Texas, and I’ve known him for 25 years. I covered the Texas House during his time as a state lawmaker, and in those days we all saw the Aggie mystique play out two distinct ways in two Texas political legends: Phil Gramm and Clayton Williams.

Gramm, who recruited Perry to the GOP, was Perry’s economics professor. Always the opportunist, Gramm leaped last week at the chance to endorse Perry, who barely passed his class (principles of economics) with a D, according to those pesky college transcripts.

Perry learned more than supply-side economics from Gramm, who was about the toughest and meanest campaigner Texas had in his day. Gramm was an unabashed conservative whose strong suit was red meat for the base. He was known for ideas that could be outside even the conservative mainstream, and he never backed down. In fact, when challenged, Gramm habitually would “double down” – – surprise you by embracing something you might expect him to downplay or qualify. It’s a political trick Perry adopted and has used effectively in Texas.

Continue reading “Is Rick Perry Channeling Phil Gramm – – or Clayton Williams?”

Why I’m calling it *gulp* for Michele Bachmann

Yep. Monday night belonged to Michele Bachmann.

Let’s be clear: If history is any indication, the Republicans are not going to nominate “a maverick” for president. The party has its share of them at the state and Congressional levels, but I’m talking about a presidential nominee who’s a true outsider in the McGovern sense.

That was always Pat Buchanan’s problem. It was where Jack Kemp hit a glass political ceiling. Reagan was the maverick when he lost in 1976. So was McCain in 2000.

Bachmann faces the same challenge. But she stepped up, met it head-on, and exceeded expectations on Monday. Exceeding expectations are what debates are about. Her strong performance should light a fire under Gov. Rick Perry, who increasingly seems like he is considering a run himself.

The other big winner was Romney, who comes from the other wing of the GOP –  the one where the nominees traditionally live. The big loser, of course, was Pawlenty, who grabbed media attention on the Sunday talk shows with his buzzword “Obamaney Care” and flubbed miserably on Monday, when he had a chance to keep up the momentum on a true national stage.

Pawlenty wrote a book called Courage To Stand, but he didn’t have enough courage to stand by that claim, much less plant it firmly on Romney’s forehead when the two were face to face. It was more than a missed opportunity; it was an affirmative mistake that reinforced his milquetoast image.

Romney walked on stage Monday at St. Anselm College as the frontrunner, and Pawlenty’s fumble let him leave largely unscathed. Romney showed cool in a cool medium and came across presidential. His campaign experience was evident.

But this group is far to the political right of the 2008 GOP field, and that is Bachmann territory. Being ultraconservative helps in this early phase. Down the stretch Republicans are going to think increasingly about who can beat Obama. They are going to ask who can appeal to independents and conservative Democrats. That is Romney’s biggest asset, and he lucked out because the others chose to use this first debate to introduce themselves in a positive light rather than to attack him.

The key thing Bachmann did was move out of Sarah Palin’s shadow. She showed news savvy by announcing she had filed her papers and was an official candidate. She showed political savvy by being the first one in the first debate to swiftly and firmly promise to eliminate the Obama health care program. It made the rest of the group, who scampered to restate their own similar positions, look like they were following her lead.

Bachmann carefully introduced herself in terms of her real work as a member of Congress, but her most impressive moment – the one where she showed real message savvy – was when she tied health reform in a negative way directly to the issue Obama is trying to seize: jobs. She cited a study that shows it’s a job killer. An 800,000-job killer. It was a political twofer and a signal she is ready to campaign at a sophisticated level.

Bachmann’s biggest job right now is to convince political insiders who know her as a bomb thrower that she is more than a “movement candidate.” If she is serious, she can’t be the GOP’s Dennis Kucinich. She clearly is the candidate that the Tea Party is most comfortable with and, like it or not, that means she has a real Republican constituency.

Perry (and Palin) are Bachmann’s strongest competition for those voters, but both are still playing coy. Perry doesn’t have the national exposure Palin has, so he can’t wait as long as Palin can to enter the race. If he is serious, Bachman’s strong showing was bad news for him.

Ron Paul has a constituency, but nobody believes he is going to get the nomination. Romney has a national base of supporters left over from four years ago. The rest of that group is hoping for the type of “catch fire” opportunity Pawlenty flubbed.

I worked on Ann Richards’ campaign in 1994, when many Texas Democrats didn’t take George W. Bush seriously until it was too late. I watched Al Gore and national Democrats make the same smug mistake six years later. I’d never vote for Bachmann, but in terms of making the most of a specific campaign moment, I’m not afraid to give her kudos for an impressive job on Monday night. Perry’s advisers should do the same.

AC360 digs into the dark world of “reparative therapy” in “The Sissy Boy Experiment”

How hard is it to love a 5-year-old child unconditionally, or a child of any age for that matter? If you believe God created each of us, how do you decide some of his creations, especially children, are disposable – that they are junk?

Yet, that’s what happens in the sick world of the charlatans who pass themselves off as “reparative therapists.” These people aren’t harmless quacks. They are psychological assassins who use fear to convince confused, vulnerable parents to give up their children to programs of mental terror.

Anderson Cooper 360 launched a three-part series about this on Tuesday. It included interviews with the mother and siblings of a preschool boy sent to a government-funded “reparative therapy” program at UCLA in the 1970s. The program was supervised by the infamous George Rekers, whose writings have been widely discredited but are still used by some who want to promote this violent destructive idea.

Varmints like Rekers, feigning professional credibility, work in communities in Texas and across the country. Some get rich, and many develop personal followings by holding out false hope that they can change the most fundamental aspect of a child’s psyche.

The disgusting unforgivable part of what they do is that those actually trained in psychology know better.

No credible study shows this type of “treatment” can alter something that basic in any human. In fact, the potential for irreparable harm is so great the American Psychological Association has issued an official statement opposing this practice. It reads:

Psychotherapeutic modalities to convert or “repair” homosexuality are based on developmental theories whose scientific validity is questionable.  Furthermore, anecdotal reports of “cures” are counterbalanced by anecdotal claims of psychological harm.  In the last four decades, “reparative” therapists have not produced any rigorous scientific research to substantiate their claims of cure.  Until there is such research available, APA recommends that ethical practitioners refrain from attempts to change individuals’ sexual orientation, keeping in mind the medical dictum to First, do no harm.

Cooper interviewed family members who recalled instructions Rekers gave to withhold maternal empathy from the boy and to construct a merit-punishment system for his behavior. That system included weekly beatings from the father that raised welts on the 5-year-old boy’s butt and back as punishment for not showing “masculine behavior.”

Cooper’s investigation works, because so far it hasn’t fallen into a political or theological “he said v. he said” debate. (Parts 2 and 3 air Wednesday and Thursday.) Part 1 had a narrative arc that found truth by tracing the undeniable impact and human toll of Rekers’ “experiment” more than 30 years later.

We learned in that story the boy quickly withdrew from all social interaction, and that he was unable his entire life to form lasting friendships or any romantic partnership. Seven years ago, at the age of 38, the man he grew up to be hung himself from a ceiling fan, half-way across the world alone in a small apartment in New Dehli, India.

I’m a bit puzzled that Cooper didn’t fully identify Rekers. Perhaps it’s because we all know in the back of our mind how stories like this usually play out.

Decades after Rekers tortured that child and others at UCLA, after using his “research” and “experiments” to make a national name for himself and testifying against gay adoption and gay marriage, and after serving on the founding board of the Family Research Council, Rekers was busted last year in a Miami airport returning from a European vacation with a male escort from

I don’t have children, but I was a gay kid. I also was a board member and volunteer years ago at a gay teen support organization in Austin. Some of those kids had been sent to “reparative therapy.”

One weekend, I got a panicked call from one of my favorites about another teen in our weekly “rap group.” The other kid had slit his wrists. I rushed to where they were, and we got him to a hospital. He lived, but I’ll never forget visiting that bright, sweet, handsome boy barely in his teens in a psychiatric ward with bandages on his wrists. An image like that stays with you the rest of your life.

A Socialist Primer: Rick Perry, Health Care & the Governor’s Race

Perry-RallyI’m wondering what it’s going to take for my former colleagues in the Texas press corps to call out Rick Perry for using the term “socialism” over-and-over to describe the insurance reform Congress passed last week.

Either Perry and reporters covering him don’t know what socialism is (and I doubt that), or Perry again is pushing  Tea Bag propaganda, and the press is too lazy or too intimidated to challenge it.

I’m used to Perry embarrassing Texas. So, I’m not surprised he’s parroting Dolph Briscoe’s old obsession with “creeping socialism.”  Thankfully, we’ve moved beyond the 1970s, though you wouldn’t know it from the Cold War rhetoric in a statement Perry released last Sunday and sound bites he repeated later in the week. Continue reading “A Socialist Primer: Rick Perry, Health Care & the Governor’s Race”

Open Letter: From Sam Houston to Barack Obama

Sam_Houston2.750Mr. President:

It’s my humble privilege as a citizen with my own place in American history to write to you as you’re about to make the most important decision of your presidency. I’m referring to more than a single issue here, Mr. President. I’m talking about the course you are going to chart for the next eight months.

You’re going to show us your idea of greatness, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to do something great. You’ll either decide to follow advisers fixed on minimizing traditional midterm election losses and prematurely launch your own 2012 campaign, or you will use the robust majorities your election rolled-up in the House and Senate and spend the capital you earned in 2008 to fulfill your promise of “change we can believe in.” But you can’t do both.

So, Mr. President, I’m writing to offer the spirit I followed throughout my own public life: “Do right, and risk the consequences.”

In case you don’t recall, I had a meteoric career that ended rather poorly – at least it seemed so at the time. I was governor of Tennessee and served in Congress before I moved to Texas. There, I led a revolutionary army that defeated one of the great generals of our time and won my adopted state its independence from Mexico.

I was the first president of the Republic of Texas, and I forged the political consensus that led her into the Union rather than on a course of independent westward expansion. I was elected governor on the eve of the Civil War and served honorably until a band of reactionary legislators burst into my office in an ersatz coup and demanded I sign their noxious Oath of Loyalty to the Confederacy. Instead, I handed over the state seal and keys to the archives, and walked away from everything I worked for and risked my life to build.

Continue reading “Open Letter: From Sam Houston to Barack Obama”