Late in April, beneath the mainstream radar, Rick Perry took his “Please Don’t Elect Me President” road show to the North Texas studios of hellfire-breathing televangelist James Robison. In 2010, the governor mostly exchanged the Christian Right pieties of previous campaigns for Tea Party fundamentalism. God played only a bit part in his anti-government screed, Fed Up!, released just after his re-election to bolster his national profile. But Perry apparently has re-seen the light as he considers jumping into the GOP presidential contest and filling the gaping Christian Right Southern Populist void left by Mike Huckabee and Jeb Bush’s decisions not to run.
In the happiest kind of pure coincidence, Robison, who’s been in the vanguard of the Christian Right since the 1970s, happens to be Huckabee’s longtime friend and mentor. Presumably he’s looking for another “showhorse” to ride in 2012. His followers are, too. So there was the Methodist Perry, perfectly mimicking the glazed, faraway look of joyous rapture that often makes evangelical Christians look like they hold an exclusive patent on the world’s most potent weed. “I think we’re in a time of great revival in the world,” the governor declared, grinning and beaming up into the studio lights to signal that God was speaking through him and foretelling wonders.
“I think it’s an awakening,” Robison purred approvingly.
“I know there’s a lot of concerns,” Perry allowed, squinting with churchly sincerity. “You know, we’ve got this economic recession that’s going on.” But it’s all part of God’s plan, you see. “In America, from time to time, we have to go through some difficult times, and I think we’re going through those difficult economic times for a purpose: to bring us back to those Biblical principles of, uh, you know, you don’t spend all the money, you work for six years and put that seventh year in the warehouse to take you through the hard times.”
OK, so the sermon might need a little fine-tuning. But the delivery? Spot on!
There was never any doubt that if Perry ran for president, he’d spin the catastrophic 2011 Legislature into a heroic tale of unbending fiscal conservatism, sending Tea Partiers into paroxysms of glee. But if he’s going to have a shot at being the right-wing alternative to Mitt Romney, he must have overwhelming support from the Christian Right as well. Which creates a bit of a dilemma: How do you twist the decimation of schools and social programs into something moral, even “Biblical?” Perry will have to do better than quote Old Testament law and miss its point entirely: In Leviticus, the seventh-year Sabbath is recommended for pragmatic reasons; it’s good for the land. In Exodus, it’s so that “the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave, the beasts of the field shall eat.”
Justifying the politics of selfishness, it appears, is a matter best left to the experts. Luckily, the governor has self-righteous pals in high places, and they have been busy making a “Biblical” case that wealth-first economic policies are just what the Good Lord wants. None is more influential than David Barton, the fundamentalist “historian” and former vice-chair of the Texas GOP, who’s best known for his bogus-but-influential argument that America was founded as a “Christian nation.” Barton has been touring the nation’s megachurches for months with a fresh message: that Obama-style “economic redistribution” is “unbiblical.” Barton preaches that God despises capital-gains taxes, estate taxes, income taxes and universal health care. “Jesus did not like the minimum wage,” he asserted recently at a Rediscovering God in America conference.
It should be a tough sell, even to evangelical Republicans. After all, there is not one moral, ethical or rational justification for the politics of “I got mine” greed that Rick Perry personifies. All the creative Bible-spinning in the world cannot change the fact that what Perry stands for is economic Darwinism. But facts are increasingly irrelevant to a right-wing movement that has, in its quest to serve Mammon above all other gods, divorced itself from reason and reality—and from centuries of moral and ethical teaching, Christian and otherwise.
So what the heck: I’ll get in the spirit and recommend an unquestionably “Biblical” verse for the governor to contemplate. “For the vile person will speak villainy,” says the prophet Isaiah, “and his heart will work iniquity, to practice hypocrisy, and to utter error against the Lord, to make empty the soul of the hungry, and he will cause the drink of the thirsty to fail.”
King James Version, dude. Look it up.