Pixel Tracker

Sunday, January 20 , 2019, 4:06 pm | A Few Clouds 66º


Susan Estrich: Political Talk

When times are tough, the Texas governor prefers demagoguery to leadership

Listen to Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Susan Estrich
Susan Estrich

“We’ve got a great union. There’s absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that.”

No, governor, I don’t know.

“Texas is a very unique place, and we’re a pretty independent lot to boot,” he tells us, or he told an audience of Texas Teabaggers. He also said that Texas entered the union in 1845 with the understanding that it could pull out, which turns out, according to media reports quoting the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, not to be true. Texas negotiated the right to divide itself into four additional states, not the right to secede from the Union.


Perry has been getting a lot of attention anyway, for his three tea parties on Tax Day and for his ridicule of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. He describes himself as someone who could be at the center of a movement: “It’s a very organic thing,” he says, “a very powerful moment, I think, in American history.” On Tax Day, he told cheering veterans: “I’m just not real sure you’re a bunch of right-wing extremists. But if you are, we’re with you.”

It sounds so geniune, so passionate, so real that you might actually forget that what you’re hearing is pure political talk. Perry is not running a secession movement; he’s running for re-election. It’s a powerful moment in his career because he’s running for re-election against another powerful Republican, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. So Perry is running against Washington. Washington is now the source of all evil — all of it, presumably, occurring since Jan. 20 of this year, when the Texan in town left.

If this sounds so obvious as to be almost ridiculous, then the equally obvious answer is that it doesn’t matter. The crowds who have been cheering Perry don’t question his motives, and neither do many of those who repeat his lines. Frankly, they couldn’t care less. And why should they? They have problems of their own.

In normal times, it’s fringe candidates who talk about secession, not incumbents. In normal times, everyone else says who cares.

What makes it easy for Perry to “fire up” the crowds, as local headlines put it, is what makes it irresponsible for him, or anyone else who calls himself a leader, to do so. When people are hurting, they get angry. When people get angry, they look for scapegoats. We all do it. Who among us, facing money problems, doesn’t go through the list of who else’s fault it must be? We don’t need help doing that. We don’t need political leaders giving us new options for who to blame and who to hate, promising a “national movement” to overturn the democracy we have. That’s demagoguery, not leadership, and it works all too well in hard times.

Is Washington spending too much money? I don’t know. If the people of Texas want to give theirs back, if they really think they have more than they’ll need to educate their kids and care for their sick and help their newly homeless, then all I can say is that California most certainly does not and would be happy to have any leftovers from anywhere. Gov. Perry, meet Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. His hand is out. But angry talk by those who are supposed to be leaders can only lead to even angrier words or deeds by those who follow them, not understanding that it was just political talk in the first place.

— Best-selling author Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to contact her.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.