Good Tuesday Austin:
Yesterday morning I did a podcast with Jim Henson and Josh Blank of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas, one of a series of podcasts that is used as part of a summer course on contemporary Texas politics and government.
We mostly talked about the progress of the Legislature’s special session, ending with a conversation about Lt. Gov Dan Patrick’s provocative comments Friday on FOX about cities, particularly those led by Democrats, being the source of all of America’s problems.
People are happy with their governments at the state level. They’re not with their cities. By the way, Stuart, there’s something going on that you really need to focus on. And that is, our cities are still controlled by Democrats. Where do we have all our problems in America? Not at the state level, run by Republicans, but in our cities that are mostly controlled by Democrat mayors and Democrat city councilmen and women. That’s where you see liberal policies, that’s where you see high taxes, where you see high street crimes. Look at New York, look at Chicago, look at…go around the country. So the only place Democrats have control of is our cities and they’re doing a terrible job.
Here from our conversation.
JH: A pretty interesting and direct kind of articulation of this development that we’ve been seeing in the last year or so of kind of mobilizing people’s allegiance to the state and setting up this conflict between the state and the cities.
JT: It’s very much of a piece with Abbott’s whole emphasis on protecting individual rights by curbing local governments and that the state should be the repositoryof power. The thing about Dan Patrick is that he takes it and he sort of adds a shiv to it. He just comes on stronger and makes it more us against them, even though the governor’s been pretty direct about how it smells better when you leave Austin because you get the smell of freedom…
With Dan Patrick it’s always got to be a little bit more ..
JH: Nixonian – edgier, more pointed.
Gov. Abbott is every inch a lawyer.
Patrick is every inch a talk radio host, where polarization is a virtue, and he is our state’s leading practitioner of what in the Nixon presidency was known as “positive polarization.”
From George Packer in the New Yorker in May 2008: The Fall of Conservatism. Have the Republicans run out of ideas?
Note: Buchanan here is Pat Buchanan, the Nixon adviser who in his subsequent pitchfork campaigns for the Republican presidential nomination in 1992 and 1996 was the clearest forerunner of the populist nationalism of President Donald Trump and most obviously represented in Texas by Dan Patrick. Note also that, like Spiro Agnew, Dan Patrick is a native of Baltimore, Maryland.
Buchanan urged Nixon to enlist his Vice-President, Spiro Agnew, in a battle against the press. In November, Nixon sent Agnew—despised as dull-witted by the media—on the road, where he denounced “this small and unelected élite” of editors, anchormen, and analysts. Buchanan recalls watching a broadcast of one such speech—which he had written for Agnew—on a television in his White House office. Joining him was his colleague Kevin Phillips, who had just published “The Emerging Republican Majority,” which marshalled electoral data to support a prophecy that Sun Belt conservatism—like Jacksonian Democracy, Republican industrialism, and New Deal liberalism—would dominate American politics for the next thirty-two or thirty-six years. (As it turns out, Phillips was slightly too modest.) When Agnew finished his diatribe, Phillips said two words: “Positive polarization.”
Polarization is the theme of Rick Perlstein’s new narrative history “Nixonland” (Scribners), which covers the years between two electoral landslides: Barry Goldwater’s defeat in 1964 and George McGovern’s in 1972. During that time, Nixon figured out that he could succeed politically “by using the angers, anxieties, and resentments produced by the cultural chaos of the 1960s,” which were also his own. In Perlstein’s terms, America in the sixties was divided, like the Sneetches on Dr. Seuss’s beaches, into two social clubs: the Franklins, who were the in-crowd at Nixon’s alma mater, Whittier College; and the Orthogonians, a rival group founded by Nixon after the Franklins rejected him, made up of “the strivers, those not to the manor born, the commuter students like him. He persuaded his fellows that reveling in one’s unpolish was a nobility of its own.” Orthogonians deeply resented Franklins, which, as Perlstein sees it, explains just about everything that happened between 1964 and 1972: Nixon resented the Kennedys and clawed his way back to power; construction workers resented John Lindsay and voted conservative; National Guardsmen resented student protesters and opened fire on them.
Nixon was coldly mixing and pouring volatile passions. Although he was careful to renounce the extreme fringe of Birchites and racists, his means to power eventually became the end. Buchanan gave me a copy of a seven-page confidential memorandum—“A little raw for today,” he warned—that he had written for Nixon in 1971, under the heading “Dividing the Democrats.” Drawn up with an acute understanding of the fragilities and fault lines in “the Old Roosevelt Coalition,” it recommended that the White House “exacerbate the ideological division” between the Old and New Left by praising Democrats who supported any of Nixon’s policies; highlight “the elitism and quasi-anti-Americanism of the National Democratic Party”; nominate for the Supreme Court a Southern strict constructionist who would divide Democrats regionally; use abortion and parochial-school aid to deepen the split between Catholics and social liberals; elicit white working-class support with tax relief and denunciations of welfare. Finally, the memo recommended exploiting racial tensions among Democrats. “Bumper stickers calling for black Presidential and especially Vice-Presidential candidates should be spread out in the ghettoes of the country,” Buchanan wrote. “We should do what is within our power to have a black nominated for Number Two, at least at the Democratic National Convention.” Such gambits, he added, could “cut the Democratic Party and country in half; my view is that we would have far the larger half.”
The Nixon White House didn’t enact all of these recommendations, but it would be hard to find a more succinct and unapologetic blueprint for Republican success in the conservative era. “Positive polarization” helped the Republicans win one election after another—and insured that American politics would be an ugly, unredeemed business for decades to come.
From R.G. Ratcliffe’s interview Monday with House Speaker Joe Straus for Texas Monthly.
JS: Dan Patrick has a history of trying to pit people against each other, and in the House we try to focus on what made Texas a success, not looking to blame anybody, but trying to focus on solving problems. It’s a signal of national politics seeping into Texas. Divisive rhetoric like that doesn’t solve problems.
RGR: Has that hurt the Republican brand in Texas?
JS: You can’t look at elections and say that it has, but it also hasn’t helped us address in meaningful ways some of the problems of the state.
Back to the podcast discussion of the difference between the governor’s and lieutenant governor’s rhetoric around the state vs. the cities.
JH: Gov. Abbott has made this a kind of constitutional argument, about state government …
JB: Philosophical really.
JH: There’ a philosophical underpinning to it.
JT: He carried Harris and Bexar counties, so he doesn’t want to be so divisive that he sacrifices some votes in the process.
Here is how the governor concluded his announcement for re-election in San Antonio on July 14.
Liberals think they’ve found cracks in our armor.
In 2014, I won Harris County and Bexar Country. In 2016, Hillary won them both.
George Soros for one.
He poured big money into Harris County and they won every county-wide race.
Liberals are messing with Texas.
Every far-left liberal you can think of from George Soros to Nancy Pelosi is trying to undo the Texas brand of liberty and prosperity.
But I have news for the liberals. Texas values are not up for grabs.
I’m a fighter and I know that you are too.
With your help, we’re building the largest grass roots army in Texas history right here in Bexar County and across the state.
I’m committed to preserving your Texas Liberty.
I’ve proven that I’m willing to fight Washington D.C. but I’m counting on you to have my back.
Texas is the Lone Star State for a reason. We stand apart as a model for the rest of the nation.
Our exceptionalism is rooted in our very beginning. Courageous heroes died so Texas could be free.
Since that time, Texas has charted a course that has elevated it to the premier state in the greatest nation in the history of the world.
Now I need your help to write the next chapter in our extraordinary history.
Together, we will keep Texas the most exceptional state in America.
But, Patrick goes a little further.
Back to the podcast:
JH: Whereas it takes Dan Patrick all of 30 seconds to paint this portrait of dysfunctional, crime-ridden cities, which is a different kind of tack rhetorically.
JB: There’s not a lot that he could say that would surprise me. He’s a talented politician. He’s not afraid to wade into controversial areas. But the antagonism with which he sort of moved this argument forward is really a pretty notable, and this is a further escalation … in this city vs. the state thing. The fact that all the major cities save Fort Worth banded together in the debate over the sanctuary cities and that’s kind of notable.
As, Blank said, was the ferociousness of Patrick’s attack.
JB: This to me was really interesting, just in it was such an antagonistic tone.
The philosophical argument … Abbott’s not necessarily wrong, right?
The cities and the county governments are creations of the state government. You can’t really deny that that’s true. But to say that basically the cities, where a huge share of Texans choose to live, and elect their own representatives and government are somehow the cause of all the problems …
JH: The cities are also economically very important in a week when the governors been talking about the Texas miracle, when more large corporate businesses actors are getting involved and being a little more aggressive … about the timing of the special session in this fight over some kind of bathroom legislation and taking a more cosmopolitanposition on this, it really does kind of underline how much there is a political edge to this that I think is not going to be easy to resolve in the longer term. Our polling is showing there is a kind of baseline agreement in the general orientation here, particularly among conservatives Republicans in their views of state vs. local government.
From my story on Sunday’s Statesman from my Friday evening interview with the governor.
Gov. Greg Abbott had no choice but to call a special session of the Legislature for what amounted to a technical fix.
But, making a virtue of necessity, the governor set out an expansive 20-item conservative agenda, including some previously intractable issues. This weekend, with scarcely a dozen days to go and sweeping success hardly in sight, Abbott expressed complete confidence that the session will end with a flurry of votes on many of his priority items — and compromise between the House and Senate, both led by Republicans with large majorities but with competing visions on how to approach issues ranging from the public school finance system to local tree ordinances.
“That’s why I said … if we’re going to have a special session I’m going to make it count, and almost to a point of certainty, I can tell you that in 10 days we are going to have a Texas that I consider to be far better, more conservative, that will continue the Texas model for conservative governance,” Abbott told the American-Statesman on Friday evening.
From polling by the Texas Politics Project polling in cooperation with the Texas Tribune.
Meanwhile, Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, pointed out yesterday that Gallup a year ago found that Americans continue to have more trust in local than state government.
From Gallup in September 2016.
For the past 15 years, Americans have expressed more confidence in their local government than their state government to handle problems. Similar to polls since 2013, about seven in 10 (71%) say they have a “great deal” or a “fair amount” of trust in local government to handle problems, compared with about six in 10 (62%) who say the same for their state government.
Gallup also found that Republicans were those most likely to have confidence in their state and especially their local government.
“Stop, drop, and roll, Lt. Gov. Patrick. Your pants are on fire,” said Rodriguez. “Folks trust their local governments more than any other branch of government, for the government closest to the people is the most responsive and relevant in their daily lives. Survey responses show this trust has persisted since Gallup first asked Americans in 1972. Now, more than two-thirds of people of any political affiliation express confidence in their local government.”
“In fact,” Rodriguez said, “even more Republicans than Democrats trust local government to handle local problems. This just goes to show how far Dan Patrick is out of touch, even with his own base.”
In February of last year, Gallup reported that residents of smaller states tended to have more confidence in their state government. But Texas was an exception.
In my conversation with Gov. Abbott Friday night I noted that some of his special session agenda items pre-empting local prerogatives – like creating their own cell phone or tree ordinances – had run into resistance and that, for many citizens, his constitutional argument might be new to them and strike them as counterintuitive to their sense that local governments should be free to express the public will in regulating behavior in their midst.
Abbott replied of his argument:
It actually is old because it’s a principle that is in the Constitution. The Constitution is very clear. It says all power not delegated to the federal government in the Constitution is reserved to the state or to the people.
The original intent of the architecture of the United States is for the power to rest in the state and in the people. Now states have created municipalities as part of the state process but what we’re really trying to achieve in this session is not to pit the state against cities. What I’m doing is I’m taking the side of the people, of individuals when individual liberty is being trampled contrary to what I consider to be constitutional standards.
For example, private property rights used to mean something in Texas. It was quintessential Texas to have private property rights. Now municipalities trample private property rights, right and left. I consider that to be un-Texan. And so someone has to stand up for the individual,and in this case it is the state of Texas.
For the longest time in the state of Texas there wasn’t that much of an issue because private property rights and individual liberties were largely respected and even local governments weren’t all that heavy-handed in the regulations they imposed.
It’s been really a modern concept, as municipalities have worked together, you know, they have these national conferences they are involved in all the time and they talk about the very types of ordinances that Texas-based municipalities are imposing on people.
What has sprung up over the last few decades has been this model of governance at the local level to take away individual liberties.
I asked the governor when he thought these municipal intrusions on the Texas way began.
He mentioned that when Sen. Kirk Watson was mayor of Austin, “Watson was a proponent of smart growth.”
“Austin’s doing something now – Code Next,” he said. “They are not inventing the wheel here, they are applying the prefab wheel. That’s part of the strategy.”
From a 2014 blog post by historian Steven Conn: The anti-urban tradition in America: why Americans dislike their cities.
Conn, who was then at Ohio State and is now at Miami of Ohio, is the author of Americans Against the City: Anti-Urbanism in the Twentieth Century.
The urban-rural divide has existed in American politics from the very beginning. It is a central irony of American political life that we are an urbanized nation inhabited by people who are deeply ambivalent about cities.
It’s what I call the “anti-urban tradition” in American life, and it comes in two parts.
On the one hand, American cities — starting with Philadelphia in the 18th century — have always been places of ethnic, racial, religious, and cultural diversity. First stop for immigrant arrivals from eastern Europe or the American south, cities embodied the cosmopolitan ideal that critic Randolph Bourne celebrated in his 1916 essay “Trans-National America.”
Not all Americans were as enthusiastic as Bourne about cities filling up with Catholics from Italy and Poland, Jews from Russia and Lithuania, and African-Americans from Mississippi and North Carolina. Many, in fact, recoiled in horror at all this heterogeneity. Many, of course, still do, as when Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin campaigned in North Carolina and called small towns there “real America.”
On the other hand, the industrial cities that boomed at the turn of the 20th century relied on the actions of government to make life livable. Paved streets, clean water, sanitary sewers — all this infrastructure required the intervention of local, state, and eventually the federal government. Indeed, the 20th century city is where our commitments to the public realm have been given their widest expression — public space, public transportation, public education, public housing. And anti-urbanists then and now have a deep suspicion of those public, “collective” commitments.
In this sense, cities stand as antithetical to the basic, bedrock, “real” American values: self-reliant individualism and the supremacy of all things private. The 2012 Republican Party Platform, for example, denounced “sustainable development,” often associated with urbanist design principles, as nothing less than an assault on “the American way of life of private property ownership, single family homes, private car ownership and individual travel choices, and privately owned farms.”
The Austin Public Library doesn’t have Conn’s book. I got it from Amazon on Kindle, and it has a long and very interesting chapter on Houston.
But the Austin Library does have a couple of other books by Conn, including this edited volume.
From the book description:
Americans love to hate their government.
There is a long tradition of anti-government suspicion that goes back all the way to the founding of the nation. The election of Barack Obama, however, has created one the largest backlashes against government in our history.
Tea partiers, fueled by talk radio and cable TV demagogues, have created a political atmosphere of anger and hostility toward our government rivaled perhaps only by the pre-Civil War era of the 1850s.
Lost at the Tea Party rallies and in talk radio fulminations, however, is this simple fact: the federal government plays a central role in making our society function, and it always has.
This book is a collection of essays to remind Americans of that fact. Written by some of the nation’s foremost and most engaging scholars, this book considers ten key aspects of American life – from education, to communication, to housing, and health – and charts the way the federal government hascontributed to American progress and everyday life.
Essential – and fun – reading for anyone who wants to understand our political history and our political present, it will help inform the choices we must make about our future.
Forget Kindle. In Texas, this book sounds more like kindling.
Finally, on the podcast we also talked about comments that Gov. Abbott made in our interview about his predecessor, Rick Perry.
From my story:
It has been noted that unlike his predecessor, Rick Perry, who served as a member of the Texas House and as lieutenant governor presiding over the Texas Senate, Abbott, a former state Supreme Court justice and attorney general, has never served in the Legislature and might be less wise in its ways.
“We have achieved legislative goals that Perry pined for but was never able to achieve,” Abbott said. “Our success rate has been superior. Our results have been superior. We have done more to cut taxes, to limit spending, more to advance education.”
And of his signature success in passing a ban on sanctuary city policies during the regular session, Abbott said, “Perry not only pined for it; he also called a special session for it. He pushed, he pushed and he pushed, and he was just never able to get it done.”
What made the difference this time?
“Could be the pusher,” Abbott said.
As one might suspect, some Perry partisans were taken aback by the governor’s words – that Abbott would think that, let alone say it..
I heard from one who wondered, why in the world Abbott would say that stuff?
I suggested maybe the governor had grown tired of hearing people pining for Perry.
“Sounds like a case of Edward Clark syndrome,” he said.
“Who?” I asked.
“Exactly,” he said.
From the Handbook of Texas:
CLARK, EDWARD (1815–1880). Edward Clark, governor of Texas, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on April 1, 1815, the son of Elijah Clark, Jr., a brother of John Clark, governor of Georgia from 1819 to 1823. Edward Clark spent his early childhood in Georgia. After the death of his father in the early 1830s, he and his mother moved to Montgomery, Alabama, where he studied law and was admitted to the bar. In 1840 he was married to Lucy Long in Alabama, but his wife died within a few months. By December 1841 Clark had moved to Texas and opened a law practice in Marshall. In July 1849 he married Martha Melissa (Mellissa, Malissa) Evans of Marshall. The couple had four children.
Clark was a delegate to the Texas Constitutional Convention of 1845, a member of the first state House of Representatives, and a senator in the Second Legislature. He served on the staff of Gen. J. Pinckney Henderson in the Mexican War and received a citation for bravery in the battle of Monterrey. From 1853 to 1857 he was secretary of state under Governor Elisha M. Pease. He was appointed state commissioner of claims in 1858 and was elected lieutenant governor of Texas on the independent Democratic ticket headed by Sam Houston in 1859.
When Governor Houston refused to take the oath of allegiance to the Confederacy in the spring of 1861, the Secession Convention declared the office of governor vacant and elevated Clark to the position. As governor, he moved quickly to address problems brought about by secession. Regiments commanded by John S. (Rip) Ford and Henry E. McCulloch were mustered to protect the frontier, ad valorem and poll taxes were raised in an effort to stabilize the state’s finances, and the state was divided into military districts for recruiting and organizing the troops required by the Confederate government. After the firing upon Fort Sumter and the outbreak of war, Clark worked closely with Confederate authorities to help obtain supplies for the army. The archaic state militia system was reorganized, and a system of training camps was built. Clark proceeded cautiously and within his constitutional powers. Even so, he exercised more authority and power than any previous Texas chief executive in recruiting, enrolling, and training troops, in purchasing weapons and supplies, and in communication with Confederate officials and governors of Mexican states.
He ran for election to a full term as governor in the autumn of 1861 but was defeated in an extremely close race by Francis R. Lubbock. Lubbock, who had the support of regular Democratic party leaders, received 21,854 votes, Clark, 21,730, and Thomas Jefferson Chambers, 13,733. Although there were widespread rumors of fraud, Clark accepted the outcome of the election without protest.
After he left the governor’s office, he received a commission in the Confederate Army as colonel of the Fourteenth Texas Infantry regiment, which served as part of Walker’s Texas Division in the repulse of the Union invasion in the Red River campaign of 1864. Clark was wounded in the leg while leading an attack at the battle of Pleasant Hill and subsequently discharged from the army. He was promoted to the rank of brigadier general before his discharge, but the promotion may not have been confirmed by the Richmond government.
When the Civil War ended, Clark fled to Mexico with other prominent civil and military leaders of the Southwest. He remained there only briefly and returned to his home in Marshall. After several business ventures, he resumed his law practice. He died on May 4, 1880, and was buried in Marshall.