A Texas-sized let down

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Would you let your mother, daughter, friends and neighbors continue to suffer unwarranted indignities at the hands of government agents if you had the power to stop them?

That’s exactly what Texas Governor Rick Perry just did.

Perry stood by and let Texas’s TSA anti-groping bill die in the state legislature. According to observers, instead of promoting the bill, Perry dithered. He never pressed the lieutenant governor to call the bill during the regular legislative session. Only after Perry was shamed by a legislator did he agree to put the bill on the agenda during the Texas Legislature’s recently concluded special session.

At one point, after enthusiasm for the anti-groping bill had grown, the presumptive presidential candidate saw an opportunity. Perry appeared on The Glenn Beck Show, where he seemed to claim credit for the measure (See video, start 5:14), saying he was prepared to defend Texans from abuse by the federal government. But behind the scenes, Perry had been stonewalling the bill.

At a book signing for Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington, a man asked if Perry would sign the anti-groping bill if it were put before him. The governor hemmed and hawed, saying he didn’t think it had the votes (see this video). But the votes had been there all along among state legislators. A letter to that effect was waiting on Perry’s desk back in Austin. Perry continued to stonewall.

Perry was able to sidestep the bill thanks to Lt. Governor David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus, who at one point called the bill a “publicity stunt.” Both, it seems, worked as Perry’s proxies — perhaps unwittingly, perhaps not — to ensure the clock ran out on the anti-TSA groping legislation — first in the regular session, then in the special session. Whether or not Perry had to pull strings, we know at least he sat by in the manner of Nero.

One can only surmise that Perry, a presidential aspirant, didn’t want to have to fight Obama’s Department of Justice just before entering the Republican primary. (Recall that the Department of Justice had threatened to create a “no-fly zone” around Texas if the anti-groping bill became law.) Remember the Alamo, Governor Perry? I guess he’s not as “fed up” as the title of his new book would suggest.

Now, if Perry is prepared to let political expedience come before the rights of Americans, is he fit to be president? I don’t know. But I gather most people want to see their president zealously defend their rights and freedoms. I would hope my president would do everything in his power to prevent me and thousands of other innocent people from being humiliated by blue functionaries with latex gloves. We know by now that president definitely ain’t Barack Obama.

Yesterday I got my daily email update from economist-iconoclast Prof. Don Boudreaux, which read:

Mr. Obama is a standard-issue politician: greedy for gaudy glory. H.L. Mencken’s observation about Teddy Roosevelt applies perfectly to Barack Obama: “What ailed him was the fact that his lust for glory, when it came to a struggle, was always vastly more powerful than his lust for the eternal verities. Tempted sufficiently, he would sacrifice anything and everything to get applause.”

Boudreaux was referring to Obama’s lukewarm stance on gay marriage. Replace Obama with Perry and gay marriage with TSA groping and the calculation is the same.

A catalyzing event?

It is no surprise to see another politician putting ambition before principle. But even from the standpoint of strategy, Perry would have done well to face down the Obama administration. Can’t Perry see that this bill could have made him a star? You can’t buy an opportunity like this with T. Boone Pickens’s money. Even if Perry had lost, he would have won in the long run, because:

  • Obama would have had to own the TSA’s institutionalized frottage once and for all.
  • Obama, not Perry, would have eventually had to own grounded airplanes at the nations’ busiest airports (if it came to that).
  • Obama would have had to own the fact that Governor Perry was the man prepared to stand up to him and stand up for America in the face of unconscionable excesses of state power.
  • Obama would have had to defend the unconstitutional policy on the national stage.

This could have been a catalyzing event. Perry, another swaggering Texan from the Chamber of Commerce establishment, would suddenly have been vaulted to hero status among civil libertarians and Tea Partiers alike.

Instead, he got spooked. Now he is just another politician like Mitt Romney who will have to run away from the poor decisions of his past. In other words, Perry will likely run for president having fiddled when presented with the opportunity to save millions of Americans from legal abuse. Not exactly a winning strategy.

The calculus of cowardice

Most politicians calculate that they can make change after they get elected (or reelected). But the next election is almost always just around the corner. So my guess is Rick Perry thought he should let this issue be swept under the rug — subverting the will of the Texas people — so that he could enter the Republican presidential primary without risk of dividing potential voters.

David Simpson — the freshman legislator who introduced the bill — evidently employed a different calculation, the kind history remembers:

I want to set everyone at ease. The goal of this speech is to speak the truth in love. I want to begin with a quotation from Winston Churchill. He said 70 years ago: “Never give in — never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” This is not the last of the effort to stop unreasonable searches of our person. I am not giving up, and even if I did, I do not think the people are going to allow the violating of their rights to persist.

Simpson is the kind of man whose breast Sam Houston would have adorned. But the David Simpsons of the world are few and far between.

Our system rewards the slick, the shifty and the cynical — i.e., those hungry for “gaudy glory.” And as thousands of Americans pass through the TSA’s humiliation factories every day, we can only hope the people manage to nominate a presidential candidate who has the guts to fight tirelessly for the Constitution. There’s only one Texan who matches that description, and it isn’t Rick Perry.

Max Borders is a writer living in Austin. He has been through the “enhanced pat-down” three times. He blogs at Ideas Matter.

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