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In Frum's Patriots, Grover Norquist's Myth is Rick Perry's Reality

Posted: 05/08/2012 11:26 am

If Rick Perry didn't exist, we would have to invent him. Luckily, David Frum did so in his new novel, Patriots.

Frum, the former George W. Bush speechwriter-turned-conservative apostate, describes our lushly coiffed governor in a cruel aside as a "bald-headed" Republican who "should have been a leading candidate for ... president" but never panned out. Frum renames Texas' big daddy "Girth Pappas" and gives him a back story as "a star receiver for Texas A&M in the 1980s" who "parlayed fame into business success, first as a car dealer, then as a subprime mortgage lender," basically casting him as a lying corporate shill.

The Perry/Pappas character is only a funny afterthought in Frum's novel. Patriots skewers a Republican Party that has been taken over by operatives such as Grover Norquist, who thinks every deal is a moral failure wrapped in an ethical compromise inside of ideological weakness. Norquist is head of Americans for Tax Reform who bullies Republican candidates into signing pledges never to raise taxes. Ever. Nope, not even then.

The Norquist character -- Elmer Larsen in Patriots -- is a humorless pope in a holy war with Democrats, as well as certain Republicans. "You win by fighting -- and yeah, by punishing those who break ranks in the face of the enemy," Elmer tells a protégé. "Words are the ordnance of political warfare. Use them sparingly, always aim. Before you say anything, ask: Why am I speaking? Will these words advance my mission? Hurt my enemy? If not, shut up."

As the guy who conjured the phrase "Axis of Evil" to sell a war on fictitious terms, Frum is well-positioned to explore the ways the orthodox fiscal conservatives bend truth to push their narratives. Frum, who became persona non grata when he scolded conservatives for lying about Obamacare, is no longer welcome on Fox News, renamed in his novel as "Patriot News."

"Patriot News told a strong, clear story. The story might change unexpectedly. The story might depart from reality in all kinds of ways. But the story always cohered. It was as if everyone at Patriot News had absorbed the joke Catesby had told me about how the British cabinet system worked: 'It doesn't matter what damn lie we tell, so long as we all tell the same damn lie,'" observes Frum's protagonist.

As another character observes about Fox/Patriot News, "It's not fiction. It's myth. And this myth happens to be true."

Perry is busily editing his character to become more than a bit player in the story of the 2016 campaign, and he doesn't care anymore whether his policies are complete fiction so long as they cohere to Norquist's myth. He recently came out with the Texas Budget Compact that is nothing but chocolates and roses for Norquist. His budget compact has five planks that limit spending, eliminate waste and prevent any tax increases under any circumstances and for any excuse, for any reason, whenever it's possible. This combines Greek-style austerity with a taxation gospel that worships at the altar of Norquist.

Perry claiming that the problem with Texas is too much spending on public schools and health care is like saying the problem with babies is that they drink all your good scotch. In the last legislative session, Perry and his Republican supermajority cut spending by $500 per pupil. In 1999, Texas ranked 25th in per-pupil spending on public schools. Now, we're ranked 45th. It's almost as if Perry, who was raised on a ranch but still got a C in animal husbandry at Texas A&M, wants people to grow up too stupid to see through his rhetoric.

Perry not wanting to raise taxes or spend money on greedy little schoolchildren is nothing new, but what he's is doing now is new: He's encouraging candidates to sign our lives on his dotted line just like Norquist does with his no-new-taxes pledge every election year. Despite polls showing support for closing corporate tax loopholes to fund schools, Texas has now become a satellite office for Americans for Tax Reform simply to further Perry's presidential ambitions.

It goes without saying at this point that Perry is planning to run for an unprecedented fourth term in as governor, touting a Texas miracle born of low taxes and lower spending. There's just one problem with that myth: It makes for a lousy reality.

 

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