Mutual Assured Destruction

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Last summer, when she was still being whispered about as John McCain’s possible running mate, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison took the podium at the National Rifle Association’s Celebration of American Values conference in Louisville, Ky., and told the crowd of aggrieved white males exactly what they’d come to hear. “Sometimes I like to ask gun-control advocates: What would have happened to the American Revolution if there had been gun control at the time? We all know the answer: There wouldn’t be an America.”

So there you have it: No guns = no America. Straight from the lips of the “moderate” Republican candidate for governor of Texas. Which tells you plenty about how loosely the word moderate tends to get tossed around in this state.

Watching Hutchison’s NRA performance (which you can and should do on YouTube), you wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if the senator yanked a musket out from under the podium and started waving it as she spoke. Or if, as in the famous scene from Mel Brook’s Blazing Saddles, the pent-up fellows in the audience started firing wildly at the ceiling in gleeful celebration when she was done.

But no shots were squeezed off that day, thank God. Think about it: What if one had accidentally struck Sen. Hutchison? We might have been deprived of one of the most hyped, most obscenely expensive, and probably least-meaningful humdingers of an election in Texas history.

Hutchison is running in next March’s primary, as you might have heard, against Gov. Rick Perry. The wannabe governor-for-life has reversed his deficit in early match-up polls by grandstanding against President Obama’s stimulus package and tapping into the fears of right-wingnuts by turning himself into America’s leading pitchman for 21st-century states’ rights. In late July, having sewn up the votes of every Texan who still flies a Confederate flag and believes Barack Obama is a Kenyan-born socialist, Perry moved on, taking aim at voters who fear health-care reform by declaring that issue, too, a “states’ rights” matter. (For an incisive explanation of just how wacky this is, see Dave’s Mann’s post, “The Perry Plan,” on his Contrarian blog at texasobserver.org.)

While Perry has been scoring big, fat rhetorical points with the far right, Hutchison has more quietly proven herself no slouch in the wingnut department. She’s been outspokenly opposed to Obama’s health-care reform plan, calling it “the beginning of a government health-care system that is modeled after Canada and Great Britain.” She decided to vote against Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, she claimed, because of the nominee’s less-than-purist “views on the Second Amendment.” Though she now criticizes Perry for turning down stimulus money for unemployment insurance, Hutchison voted against the stimulus package because, as she explained to MSNBC, “it’s really tax cuts that will make people spend.” In late February, asked by CNBC about Obama’s plan to raise wealthy people’s taxes a smidgen, Hutchison went into full Herbert Hoover mode: “We get revenue by tax cuts. … I totally disagree that tax increases are a way to raise revenue.”

Indeed: Who ever heard of tax money translating into revenue?

Hutchison is a true-believing tax-slasher in the Bush-Perry vein. She has never seen an economic problem that can’t be solved by cutting taxes. It’s one of the many convictions that she and Perry, despite the considerable hoo-ha about their ideological differences, hold in common. If there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between Republicans and Democrats, as Ralph Nader can’t stop saying, then how many fractions of a penny separate Hutchison from Perry?

But wait, you say: Isn’t Hutchison at least sort of, kind of, pro-choice? Depends on your definition of “sort of, kind of.” Hutchison has voted to restrict abortion in just about every way short of outlawing it. She’s gotten high approval marks from the National Right to Life Committee, which certainly does not count Gloria Steinem as a member. Meanwhile, NARAL has given her zero-percent ratings in two recent years.

Given all this, the question nags: Will this battle royale really add up to a damn thing? Would Texas politics truly be transformed, as many progressives and moderates hope, by Hutchison’s crawling up out of the mud next March, victorious?

The most likely answer: not much. The biggest difference would be purely stylistic: With her more sober manner, a Gov. Hutchison would probably remove Texas from the regular rotation of stock jokes on late-night TV. But if anybody’s expecting her to deliver us from right-wing pandering, loony historical analogies and magical economic thinking, those expectations could use some rejiggering.

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Published at 12:00 am CST
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