Gov. Rick Perry’s More or Less Happy Ending

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry won’t be doing any prison time for vetoing a bill while in office, and we’re glad of that, but the political ruthlessness that created any doubt about it is likely to continue.
Perry’s case took so long winding through the justice before Texas’ top criminal appeals court dismissed all charges that you might have forgotten what it was all about. The story began when Travis County district attorney Rosemary Lehmberg was arrested for drunk driving, and and was so belligerent and issued so many threats of her official power while being processed that she wound up in the same sort of restraints used on cinematic cannibal Hannibal Lecter. A video of the fuss was widely replayed on Texas news stations, became a runaway hit on YouTube, and Perry was among the many Texans calling for Lehmberg’s resignation. When the Democrat Lehmberg defiantly refused to leave, the Republican Perry threatened to veto the funding for a commission she headed that was charged with rooting out official corruption, which seemed reasonable use of the governor’s constitutional veto power to most Texans but aroused the ire of a leftist group and a special prosecutor and some Democratic judges who alleged it was an abuse of power that deserved a 109-year sentence.
The dismissal of such absurd charges was inevitable, but not before Perry was perp-walked and finger-printed and had his mug shot printed in all the papers, and perhaps not coincidentally after his presidential campaign came to a quick end. The vindication didn’t get the attention that the perp-walk and finger-prints and mug shots did, of course, and the legal fees were no doubt high, so it’s hard to consider Perry a winner.
Former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens and former Texas Rep. Tom DeLay were also vindicated of the charges that ended their political careers after prolonged and costly legal battles, with the acquittals getting far less attention than the allegations, and there are local examples of the same thing happening in all sorts of jurisdictions. It happens often enough to arouse suspicions even when the charges seem to have weight, such as the corruption charges against New Jersey Sen. Bob Mendendez, a rare Democrat to find himself on the docket but only after he became an outspoken critic of the Obama administration’s awful Iran deal. There are also suspicions when charges aren’t filed despite a considerable weight of evidence, such as in the Internal Revenue Service’s scrutiny of “tea party” groups, and perhaps former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s highly suspicious private e-mail account.
Such efforts to criminalize one’s political opposition and shield one’s allies are not helpful to maintaining a republic of free men and women under the rule of law, nor are the suspicions they arouse and the cynicism they create. The tactic has usually been employed by the left, which in its heart does believe that any political opposition is criminal and that any allies deserve shielding, but these days we’re hearing a lot of folks on the right insisting that a similar ruthlessness is called for. Much ugliness is likely to ensue, and to whatever extent the right is less interested in maintaining a republic of free men and women under the rule than it is in punishing its enemies the ugliness will be greater. We’d like to think that an appeal to constitutional principles, and the sound arguments for limited government and free markets and a general policy of being nice to one another leaving people be would have some appeal in these times, but at the moment that seems a pipe dream.
In any case, we’re pleased for Perry, who was an excellent governor and might have made a good president. We wish him well in his days free of prison, and hope he’ll also enjoy his freedom from politics.

— Bud Norman

The Losses Mount

We had hoped that the Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress would restore some constitutional order and common sense to the federal government, but so far it doesn’t seem to be working out that way. This week Democratic discipline and Republican defections doomed an effort to block the president’s executive orders on illegal immigration, and despite a few defections of their own the Democrats were able to sustain a presidential veto on bill to at long last allow construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. If the Republicans can’t win on these issues, it’s hard to see how they’ll ever score a victory.
There is little public enthusiasm for offering amnesty and work permits and government benefits to millions of illegal immigrants, thus inviting millions to cross the border, and even less for the unprecedented presidential power that is bringing it about. The only opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline comes from a relatively small group of radical environmentalists, who seem to believe that the planet will somehow be better off if Canada’s oil is refined in China rather than America, and the president’s veto of the project is part of a broader effort to raise energy prices that is also unpopular. Two better opportunities to confront the president might not come along soon, even if the president does have a knack for proposing unpopular policies and seems to grow even less concerned about public opinion the nearer he gets to the end of his second term, so the losses are especially discouraging.
Buoyed by public opinion and prodded by his party’s conservative base, the usually timid House Speaker John Boehner managed to pass a bill that would deny funding to the Department of Homeland Security to carry out the executive orders, and the usually timid Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell made an effort to get it passed in the Senate, but it all came to naught. The Democrats used the same filibuster rules they had decried until the Republicans took control of the Senate, threatening a shutdown of the entire department, and although one would expect the Democrats to be blamed for making such a dire threat, especially for the sake of an unpopular policy being enacted through unpopular means, enough Republicans panicked to force capitulation and cough up a full year of funding. The Republicans’ nervousness is understandable, given the scathing press coverage that always accompanies the word “shutdown,” and some of the ones who bolted represent districts that include a large share of Latino voters, or simply pay too much attention to the newspapers that are still peddling the notion that inviting in millions of illegal immigrants to sign up as Democrats is a smart political move for the Republicans, but the issue was worth some risk and might even have been winnable. That House bill would have funded all the department’s necessary work against terrorism, and it was the Democrats who would have shut it down rather than refuse funding for the executive orders, and it’s always possible the public would have been made to understand that despite the best efforts of the press.
Alabama’s stalwart Sen. Jeff Sessions has vowed to continue the fight by whatever legislative means present themselves, and we’re sure that at least he will do so, and there’s always a chance that the court ruling against the executive order will be upheld, although we’re not at all sure the courts will ever again do the right thing, so perhaps some sort of victory can be achieved down the road. For now, though, the president wins again.
He managed to win on the Keystone veto, too, although seven Democrats who are facing re-election in states where the oil industry is prominent felt more responsive to public opinion and joined the Republicans. Even when they’re vote the Democrats were able to muster the 35 votes needed to sustain the veto, which is a testimony to the party’s ability to keep members in line. When the Democrats are willing to back their president on even such a damned fool idea as blocking the Keystone XL pipeline, the chances of overriding any other vetoes are not good. There is some speculation that they might do it with a bill imposing economic sanctions on Iran, but we wouldn’t bet against the president winning yet again. There is great public support for Israel, whose Prime Minister just this week defied the president by asking Congress to impose the sanctions as a means of ending its nuclear weapons program, but Israel will never be as popular as cheap gasoline.
The Republicans’ conservative base is once again clamoring for new leadership in both the House and Senate, and they’re probably right to do so, but the Democrats should also be getting some pressure from the public. President Barack Obama need no longer care what the people think, but almost everyone in Congress will eventually be up for re-election can’t afford to be so openly disdainful of public opinion. Whoever the Republicans choose for their leaders, they’ll need to be a bit more persuasive to at least a few more Democrats who are bound to be at least a bit nervous about where the president is leading them.

— Bud Norman

The Parties in Retreat

The Republicans and the Democrats are both in retreat, at least in the sense that they have adjourned to separate locations to discuss their strategies for the current legislative session. At the Democratic gathering President Barack Obama was vowing to “play offense,” while the reports from the Republican meeting suggest they’re in retreat in every sense of the word.
It remains to be seen how offensive Obama can be, even after all these years, but there’s no doubting that his boast to the Democratic congressional caucus’s confab at a Baltimore Hilton is more than just bluster. Leaks from the closed-door session indicate the president plans to veto an inevitable bill that would at long last allow construction of the XL Keystone Pipeline, as well as expected legislation imposing new economic sanctions on Iran to protest its continued efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, and both threats further confirm that Obama is in the “what the heck” stage of his presidency. Nixing the pipeline eliminates jobs, inhibits the oil boom that Obama has long resisted but now claims credit for, further annoys a Canadian government that will eventually wind up selling its oil to China, and will only compound any environmental damage to the earth when that carbon-emitting communist country gets its hands on the stuff. Obama would clearly prefer to continue the endless negotiations with Iran on a friendly basis while it builds a nuclear arsenal, and would reportedly rather impose sanctions on Israel on for building apartments to accommodate all the new arrivals from France and other increasingly Islamist countries, but the previous round of economic penalties was the only reason Iran even bothered to indulge the administration in its fanciful notions of a negotiated settlement of the issue. Both positions are so obviously wrong that even the general public can see it, which will matter more to the Democrats running for re-election or higher office in ’16 than it does to Obama, but we expect that the party’s usual discipline will prevail.

The Republicans, who have met in the charming little chocolate-making town of Hershey, Pennsylvania, are reportedly trying to work out their well-publicized intra-party squabbles. They seem sufficiently unified on the XL Keystone and Iran, and have a shot at prying enough poll-watching Democrats away to override a veto, but even if they fall short of the needed 60 votes at least they’re willing to inflict the political damage on the opposition with these and other popular proposals. The potential to set the party up for more significant victories down the road is there, and we are heartened to see the Republicans willing to seize it, but there’s also a worrisome possibility they will squander other opportunities.
On the immigration issue, where the House of Representatives has also challenged the president’s constitutionally dubious executive order to grant temporary amnesty to five million or so illegal immigrants, the most hopeful word from the summit is Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying that “We’re going to try to pass it, we’ll see what happens, if we’re unable to do that, we’ll let you know what comes next.” Even by McConnell’s standards of equivocation, this is not reassuring. Allowing five million illegal immigrants to stay and inviting a few million more to try their luck is also unpopular, but shutting down the Department of Homeland Security and allowing the mainstream media explain why entails significant political risks for the Republicans, so it is a tricky proposition to win a showdown. The Republican leadership has already pledged that it won’t resort to any drastic measures such as a partial temporary shut-down of the government, however, and it’s hard to see how anything less could pose a sufficient threat to the president’s rapidly expanding power.
We note that the Republicans’ retreat will include religious services, and find no mention in any of the press reports of such activities planned at the Democrats’ retreat, so at least the Republicans have a prayer.

— Bud Norman

Making Conservatism a Crime

That grand jury indictment of Texas Gov. Rick Perry is outrageous, dangerous, and unsurprising. Such blatant abuses of the judicial process are by now an all too familiar tactic of the Democratic party.

Similarly heavy-handed legal actions have been employed with varying degrees of success against former Texas Rep. Tom DeLay, who was forced to resign his post as House Majority leader during a years-long process of clearing his name,  Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, whose prosecutorial investigators never came up with anything but allowed the media to report that he was being investigated by prosecutors, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who might or might not have had anything to do with a bridge closing that did actually occur but is getting far more media scrutiny thnt the Democratic governor suspected of equally appalling behavior over in neighboring New York. There’s a former Attorney General here in Kansas who is still trying to get his law license back after offending the state’s legal establishment with his anti-abortion stances, some past political opponents of the president who had their ballot eligibility questioned or their divorce records unsealed, a prominent conservative writer is being sued by a mad climate scientist, and we expect there are many more we haven’t heard of.
Each of them should feel honored, as such brusque treatment is usually reserved for politicians the Democratic Party regards as threatening, but we can well understand their outrage. Being subjected to the vicissitudes of the court for one’s political opinions is the sort of thing that was widely decried back in the bad old days of McCarthysim, and they’re entitled to wonder why they aren’t afford the same sympathy that Hollywood and bon pensant opinion routinely bestows on those old screenwriting commies who were dragged before the House Un-American Activities Committee. That the legal tactics are often far more effective than the blacklist ever was in keeping the movies all-American must be all the frustrating, but in Perry’s case there’s some hope for an old-fashioned happy ending.
The Perry indictment is a result of the night that the Travis County District Attorney got rip-roaring drunk and was arrested for driving while intoxicated on her way home. A dashboard camera in the arresting officer’s vehicle showed that she was staggering and surly during the arrests, tests showed she had twice the legal blood alcohol contest allowed by law, and videos that became a YouTube sensation show she was abusive to the officers and attempted to use her political position during her booking. Like many other Texans, Perry thought this was conduct unbecoming the official in charge of enforcing the laws of a Texas county and demanded her resignation. As governor, Perry also threatened to exercise his constitutionally granted right to veto funding for her “Office of Public Integrity” unit if she didn’t resign, and he eventually made good on that threat. The subsequent Travis County District Attorney has now convinced a grand jury that this amounts to threatening and coercing a public official, both felony charges that entail lengthy prison sentences, and Perry is now officially indicted for the purposes of any headline writers who want to smear him and is obligated to defend in his innocence in a years-long series of appellate state and probably federal courts. This will probably play according to the Democratic script in Travis County, which is mostly Austin, which is mostly state bureaucrats and a typically progressive university and some high-tech yuppies and God only knows how many tattooed hippie freaks, and is the same Democratic bastion in that otherwise Republican state that started the ordeal of Tom DeLay, but it’s unlikely to have the same appeal in the rest of Texas or the rest of the country.
Those YouTube videos are well worth watching, as they’re the best drunken comedy since the heyday of the late Foster Brooks, and anyone familiar with the story will surely concur with Perry that the star did not deserve public funding to enforce the integrity of her fellow public officials. After so many years of Republican governors the state court system probably has enough sensible judges to ultimately conclude that it is quite legal for a governor issue a veto on such grounds, too, and Perry will prevail in both the court of public opinion and the actual court. In so doing he might he even draw the public’s attention and even its scorn on the under-handed tactic of making conservatism a crime. Already some of the more principled liberals are fretting about where this might lead if conservatives should ever decide to take up the game, and we expect even those uninformed types who are spooked by the word “indictment” in a headline will eventually grow wise.

— Bud Norman