May 22, 2013
Jim Hightower and Rick Perry’s Army of God
Posted on Aug 18, 2011
This week on Truthdig Radio in collaboration with KPFK: Texan populist Jim Hightower and Robert Scheer discuss Rick Perry’s entry into the presidential race while Texas Observer Editor David Mann tells us about Perry’s “army of God.”
Listen to the full episode, play individual interviews or continue reading the full transcript below.
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Texas Observer Editor David Mann
Peter Scheer: This is Truthdig Radio from KPFK Los Angeles. I’m Truthdig.com managing editor Peter Scheer. Brace yourselves for a double-barrel blast of Rick Perry, who turned the campaign for presidency upside down this weekend when he announced his candidacy. “Governor good hair,” as he is known in Texas, has the ultraconservative Christian credentials of Michele Bachmann and the executive experience of Mitt Romney, but without all that health care baggage. Today our two expert Texans probe the life and times of this polarizing figure. Later in the show, Texas Observer editor David Mann reveals Rick Perry’s Army of God; and America’s favorite populist, Jim Hightower, dishes Perry with Truthdig editor Robert Scheer. Stay with us.
Peter Scheer: You probably recognize Jim Hightower from his column and radio show, but the Texan populist was also once that state’s agricultural commissioner, a job he lost to—guess who?—Rick Perry. Earlier today he spoke with Truthdig Editor-in-Chief Robert Scheer.
Robert Scheer: So, hi, it’s Robert Scheer with Jim Hightower. And the reason I want to talk to you, obviously, is that you know more about Texas, certainly, than any progressive, maybe any human being. You have even held elected office in Texas. And you know, we got the governor, another Texas governor, looks like he might become president; I think he’s going to jump to the head of the pack here. And so I just wanted to start with a couple of questions that I had, and then you can throw in anything you want. But I’ve been reading up on Texas, and it seems to me that this “Texas miracle” that’s been described, in some ways is a tribute to an early history of Texas populism, going back to the Texas Constitution, which made it more difficult to cheat homeowners on their mortgages. And as a result, [in] Texas you couldn’t get one of these liar’s loans, and you couldn’t be swindled quite as easily by the banks that told you to take all your equity out, and that you had to have 20 percent down; and that you couldn’t pocket the money, it had to actually be for the improvement of the house; and so forth. Does this go back to the mid-19th century?
Jim Hightower: Yes. In fact, the first Texas state constitution outlawed banks; you were not allowed to form a bank. And to create a corporation, you had to get a two-thirds vote of both the House and the Senate. So … because Texas was settled by debtors and mavericks and mutts. People who didn’t like banks, didn’t like the railroad towers that were squeezing the farmers out. So the original constitution and the original laws were very pro regular people, and very anti the amalgamation of power by corporate and financial interests.
Robert Scheer: But that was true of a number of states. For instance, Iowa also banned banks; California had a restriction on interest rates, as did many banks; but it got watered down, or it got overruled by federal power. How did Texas manage to largely avoid this housing meltdown by retaining its laws? Regulation?
Jim Hightower: Yes, regulation. And also a political culture that says that the home is sacrosanct, and that it should not be easy to take that away from families. Now, let me be clear: We have become a thoroughly corporatized state. After years of governors—and particularly Perry, but before him George W.—turning over the regulatory powers; turning them into mush, really, and letting corporations regulate themselves. The whole Enron thing, for example, came out of Kenneth Lay and the relationship with George W. And we were among the first states to deregulate this energy speculation that is really what Enron was involved in, that led to disasters in California and ultimately to Enron itself and Lay. But having said that …
Robert Scheer: Let me just throw in as a footnote …
Jim Hightower: … continue to have protections.
Robert Scheer: … yeah, but as a footnote, you also gave us Phil Gramm, the Texas senator who …
Jim Hightower: When he ran for president, however many years ago, some Republicans said, ‘Well, sometimes Phil’s his own worst enemy.’ And I said, ‘Not while I’m alive, he’s not.’ [laughter]
Robert Scheer: But Phil Gramm, just to remind listeners, was the guy who teamed up with Bill Clinton to get the Financial Services Modernization Act and the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, the two pieces of legislation that reversed the restraints of the New Deal on the greed of Wall Street. But I want to stick to this housing thing, because again, the thing that’s really hobbled California—this is going to be a lot, talked about a lot during the campaign, you know, the “Texas miracle.” And they’re going to say, oh, it’s because we have the free market and we have deregulation. And I want … the housing meltdown is at the root of our whole economic problem, and it’s what’s hurt people in California, Florida, Arizona, Nevada. And Texas was able to avoid the worst part of that kind of meltdown, again, because—and I don’t want to overstate it—but it seems to me that despite these Republican governors, they did hold on to enough of that protection of the homeowners so that the banks could not swindle them with these, you know, loans—if you take out more than it’s worth, and we’ll give you a different appraisal, and that you actually had to have a 20 percent stake in it. And I just wonder how come Texas was able to keep its common sense as far as home ownership?
Jim Hightower: Well, I think we had some independent bankers who are very conservative in the classic sense of conservatism. That you should not, as a matter of business or public policy, put people in a situation to fail, and that’s going to cost them their home and their money, and maybe the family itself. So that kind of ethic was in the banking community; it’s—you know, again, I don’t want to overstate it, because there is—we’ve got the same banks; Bank of America is huge here. And so the same kind of conglomerates that’ve got speculation in their blood, rather than selling loans, are loose in Texas. But we still have those laws in place that, in this case, does protect middle-class folks.
Robert Scheer: Looking at these comparisons—again, because the “Texas miracle” is going to be much examined, and the claim is going to be made that Texas produced, what, 35 percent of the new jobs in the last few years. And the counter argument of people like Paul Krugman is yeah, but what kind of jobs? And first of all, Texas has had a lot of growth in population, but it’s in part an immigrant population; people come from other states needing jobs, but can’t do that nationally. And that also your rate of poverty is very high, and that you and Mississippi, as I understand it, are the two tied for absolute bottom, of the most people who receive the minimum wage or less in their income. So you have a great deal of poverty there in Texas.
Jim Hightower: Well, yes. And that is not by accident. It is because the kind of jobs that have been created here in Texas—for quite some time, but certainly during Perry’s 10-year tenure—are really job-ettes. They’re low-wage, no benefit, no upper mobility, no job security attached to them at all. In fact, here’s a stat for you: In the 10 years Perry’s been in office, Texas has created more minimum-wage jobs than all other states combined. So I don’t think that’s a model for America that most Americans would want to have brought to them. And you know, the result, we also have the highest number of families and of children without health coverage of any state in the union. We have one of the highest rates of the gap between the rich and the poor; we have the most regressive tax system, the fifth most regressive tax system, in the country. You know, right on down the line, it’s not a pretty picture.
Yeah, this “Texas miracle” is fine if you’re rich, but if you’re just middle class or poor, then it’s not good at all; in fact, this is a very hardscrabble economy for most people. I’ll give you an example: The big Perry-Palooza that Perry had down in Houston a couple of weeks ago, when he got 30,000 people, evangelicals and Republicans, to turn out to a thing—that was a very low turnout; it was held in a 72,000-seat football stadium, so it didn’t look all that good. But nonetheless, on that same day the reporters who were covering Perry could have gone out to the convention center in Houston, where there were 100,000 people gathered. Now, those 100,000 were among the many poor people in Houston who were attending a back-to-school event that the school district put on to give away backpacks and give away immunizations, to do immunizations, to give haircut vouchers, and that sort of thing.
That is a measure of the real economy in Texas. While Perry was over there praying, including praying for people who don’t have jobs, there were 100,000 families who stood in line, some of them camped out from the wee hours of that day, to be able to get access to these basics, these essentials for their children. And by the way, they had to shut down at 10 a.m. in the morning because everything had been given away.
Robert Scheer: That’s amazing.
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