If Rick Perry still considers himself a candidate for president, then I get to consider him one too. I think I'm justified in remarking on the 180-degree turnabout Gov. Perry has made in his basic worldview since beginning this quest.
You remember the original Perry line when it started, right? It was all about the Texas Miracle, the strong Lone Star economy for which he said he deserved credit. He said his philosophy as governor of Texas, which he promised to take to Washington with him as president, was that government's job was to "get out of the way and let the private sector do what the private sector does."
Now he's in South Carolina attacking Mitt Romney's career as a private sector venture capitalist, heaping calumnies on Romney that Michael Moore wouldn't stoop to. So what is the underlying value system here that our governor brings to the table?
The question of values occurred to me this morning when I read David Brooks on The New York Times's op-ed page. I love to hate reading David Brooks -- or do I hate to love him? -- because he's a conservative, and yet I agree with him so much of the time and find him so deeply insightful.
Republican audiences this year want a restoration. America once had strong values, they believe, but we have gone astray. We've got to go back and rediscover what we had. Heads nod enthusiastically every time a candidate touches this theme.
I agree with the sentiment, but it makes for an incredibly backward-looking campaign. I sometimes wonder if the Republican Party has become the receding roar of white America as it pines for a way of life that will never return.
Yeah, well, that's the difference between him and me. I don't wonder. What's to wonder? Of course all this Tea Party stuff is about old white people yearning for the fat years. It's my generation. I lived through it. It's not the Greatest Generation, by any means. It's the sons and daughters of the Greatest Generation, born to relatively easy affluence if they were white in the post-World War II era.
We were fat and sassy in large part because of wars not fought on our turf. World Wars I and II decimated Europe but made us rich. For much of our lives until a decade or so ago, we were coddled and swaddled by a rich paternalistic government and rich paternalistic companies.
All white people had to do was show up for work, and we were well taken care of. Life was our banquet. Black people, Hispanics and immigrants stood against the wall with towels over their arms to serve us.
So that's gone. Way gone. I don't think there's a single white person living on either coast or in any of the nation's major cities who didn't see it going decades ago. This is a much more diverse, competitive and uncertain world than the one in which we older white folks grew up.
But apparently there is a very large cadre of older white people in white middle class suburbs and in the center of the country who failed to notice that the times, they were a-changing. The biggest body shock to that constituency was not that Obama, a black man, became president. It was that it was possible for a black family, the Obamas, to be of higher social class rank -- long before they got to the White House -- than middle-class white people. By every metric of the meritocracy, the Obamas walk the walk and talk the talk of the power elite.
That fact alone has caused a whole huge slew of older white people to become three things: loony, screwy and batty. If I were to create a comedic movie about the Tea Party, I would name my three main protagonists Loony, Screwy and Batty.
In that context, what are the core values expressed by the Republican-Tea Party right? Well, let's take the anti-immigrant stuff, for example. If we want to see the core values of the Greatest Generation, all we have to do is drive to the spot in every American town and city today where a bunch of Mexican guys are lined up hoping to get day-work. Those are the same kind of brave, self-sacrificing, hard-working, do-anything-they-have-to-do soldiers of upward mobility for their families who made this country great.
The Tea Party people, on the other hand, in their demands for all sorts of protection from competition by outsiders, express values that are fundamentally French. They're sitting around whining and sniffing corks while the immigrants take over the small-business sector. What would the Greatest Generation have had to say about that? I think they would have said, "Shut up, roll up your sleeves, go downtown and run a better diner if you think you're so much better than them."
That's why the Republicans are racing around in circles snapping at each other's tails and contradicting themselves by 180 degrees in this bizarre primary season. The core values they and their constituencies espouse publicly -- the restoration of good old moral certainty and self-reliance in America -- are the opposite of what they really want. They want government protection from competition by people who are not old and white. What makes them crazy is that they don't recognize their own cognitive dissonance -- they don't see it in themselves. Their primary season is loony, screwy and batty because they are.
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So should all of these value questions really propel us to vote for Democrats, instead of Republicans? Man, I'm a little leery still of actually going quite that far. We haven't heard much from the Democrats yet, have we?
Their inclination so far has to been to compete in all the worst ways. When they do step out on stage, I fear they'll have Timothy Geithner in a coonskin cap screaming at us to remember the Alamo.
You know, if the whole generation takes a vote some day and decides just to become French, I actually might be able to go along with that. I might need some help on the money front -- just enough government subsidy to be able to live in the antique part of France with the wine and the cobblestones. But the Tea Party would want that too, wouldn't it?
The question would be: What about the damn French? Those rude snobbish beret-heads had better not discriminate against us. See? I can be a cognitively dissonant dude too. Me and Tea Party, sittin' in a tree ...