Libertarians

Why did Ross Perot turn on George H.W. Bush, another rich Texan? Look for a religion ghost

Why did Ross Perot turn on George H.W. Bush, another rich Texan? Look for a religion ghost

Here’s the parting shot offered by Ross Perot, in an interview a few years ago with The Dallas Morning News: "Texas born. Texas bred. When I die, I'll be Texas dead. Ha!"

No doubt about it, Perot was a Texan. However, the prodigal Texan in me (my chosen label) can still remember some of the holes in the mainstream press coverage of Perot’s gadfly political career — if that was, in fact, the real goal of his crucial first White House campaign. So many journalists simply settled for saying that Perot was a Texan, when they needed to ask what KIND of Texan he was.

You see, Perot wasn’t your ordinary Texan. He wasn’t even your ordinary rich Texan in Dallas.

Perot rose to become a Highland Park Texan. He wasn’t just rich, he was a certain kind of rich within the structures of Texas life. If you want a glimpse inside that world, check out this 1976 classic from Texas Monthly: “The Highland Park Woman.”

To cut to the chase, this kind of conservative Texan — much like the liberal tribe located in Austin — is embarrassed by all those other Texans. Most of all, they are opposed to all of those, well, religious nuts out there in ordinary Texas.

So this leads me to the big question that I kept asking as I read some of the mainstream news obituaries for Perot: Why did he do it? Why did Perot turn on George H.W. Bush — from the Houston version of the Highland Park tribe — and try to take him down? What was the elder Bush’s fatal sin?

Well, let’s look back to a 1992 feature in the New York Times to find some of the information that was omitted from the Perot obits, as well as most of the coverage of his public life. Read this carefully:

Mr. Perot espoused a kind of fiscal conservatism and toward the end of his campaign a strong law-and-order theme. But he also drew cheers when he staunchly defended a woman's right to choose an abortion and when he bashed the religious right. Indeed, in the voter survey, only 34 percent of Mr. Perot's voters said they attended religious services at least once a week, compared with 42 percent in the survey sample as a whole.

Mr. Perot's army seems to include a strong libertarian streak: people seeking a measure of freedom from what they perceive as the heavy hand of institutions, religious as well as governmental. If the fundamentalist right holds sway in the coming battle for the soul of the Republican Party, Perot followers could go elsewhere.

What did Bush do wrong? Why, there may have been other sins (like Gulf War 1.0), but it was crucial that George H.W. Bush betrayed his class by abandoning his support for abortion rights, while taking other steps to court the world of religious and cultural conservatism.

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This may be a tough question: Does Rupert Murdoch have a soul? Does this question matter?

This may be a tough question: Does Rupert Murdoch have a soul? Does this question matter?

Every semester, in my Journalism Foundations seminar at The King’s College in New York City, I dedicate a night to the role that Stephen Colbert’s Catholic faith has played in his life and career.

It’s important, of course, to spend some time looking at the humorist’s break-out show — The Colbert Report, on Comedy Central. This show was, of course, a satire focusing on the flamethrower commentary of Bill O’Reilly for Fox News work.

With Colbert, every thing on the show was upside-down and inside-out, with his blowhard conservative character making lots of liberal political points by offering over-the-top takes on some — repeat “some” — conservative stances. I argued that to understand what Colbert was doing, you had to understand O’Reilly and then turn that inside out.

Thus, I asked: What kind of conservative is, or was, O’Reilly? Students always say things like, a “right-wing one?” A “stupid one”? An “ultra-conservative one”? I’ve never had a student give the accurate answer — a Libertarian conservative.

I realize that there have been lively debates about the compatibility of Libertarianism and Catholicism. However, it’s safe to say that most Catholics reject a blend of liberal, or radically individualistic, social policies and conservative economics. Turn that inside out and you have what? Conservative morality and progressive economics?

This brings me to the massive New York Times Magazine deep-dive into the life and career of Rupert Murdoch. Here’s the humble headline on this long, long piece (150 interviews, readers are told) by Jonathan Mahler and Jim Rutenberg: “How Rupert Murdoch’s Empire of Influence Remade the World.”

So the question: What kind of conservative is Murdoch? Is it possible that there is some kind of moral or even religious ghost in this story?

It opens with a rather apocalyptic scene in January, 2018. The 86-year-old press baron — on holiday with his fourth wife, Jerry Hall — has collapsed on the floor of his cabin on a yacht owned by one of his sons. Is this the end? The big question, of course, is, “Who will run the empire after the lord and master is gone?”

So here’s what’s at stake:

Few private citizens have ever been more central to the state of world affairs than the man lying in that hospital bed, awaiting his children’s arrival.

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Future of Fox News: Will moral conservatives keep buying what Bill O'Reilly is selling?

Future of Fox News: Will moral conservatives keep buying what Bill O'Reilly is selling?

In a way, this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tun that in) isn't really about the religion angle in a major mainstream news story. No, this episode is a lot stranger than that.

Here are the two key equations at the heart of my latest conversation with host Todd Wilken.

First of all, millions and millions of Americans watch talk-TV commentary shows -- usually the ones featuring hosts with political and cultural views that mirror their own -- and it appears that they think they are watching the news. This happens on the left (think MSNBC and most of CNN) and it also happens, of course, on the right with Fox News.

The bottom line: Millions of Americans do not know the difference between basic news and advocacy news and commentary. They don't understand that many journalists are still committed to keeping bias, opinion and open advocacy out of their news work. This is having a serious impact on public discourse.

Meanwhile, there is this second fact: Millions of moral, cultural and religious conservatives are watching Fox News day after day, night after night, without giving any thought to what BRAND of conservatism is driving the particular commentary show that they are watching. (NOTE: Fox News does have one or two news shows left, such as Special Report, that mix basic news reports with commentary, often from panelists on the left, right and middle. It is interesting that this show was originally created by Brit Hume, a religious and cultural conservative with a long and solid background in mainstream news.)

Truth is, the whole Fox News operation has never been all that interested in the role that religion plays in America and the world, other than a few segments dedicated -- think "Christmas wars" -- to hot-button topics. Yes, commentator Todd Starnes focuses on religion quite a bit in his opinion pieces and analysis work on radio, but that isn't hard news or prime-time material.

So why would Fox News have little or no interest in religion?

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New York Times claims Rand Paul is 'lone candidate' in GOP defending civil liberties

New York Times claims Rand Paul is 'lone candidate' in GOP defending civil liberties

As a rule, your GetReligionistas do not write entire posts about headlines. I will make an exception in this case.

Why? In the past couple of months I have had conversations with a number of mainstream journalists -- both in Washington, D.C., and New York City -- about this whole issue of the "scare quotes" (also known as "shudder" or "sneer" quotes) that editors keep putting around the term "religious liberty" in news coverage of events such as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act wars in Indiana.

One theme consistently emerges in these talks: The vast majority of journalists covering these stories believe (a) that these disputes don't have anything to do with religious liberty since they don't affect what happens inside churches, and religion is what happens inside religious sanctuaries, and that (b) what we are dealing with here is intolerant speech and/or hate speech (or actions) and, thus, is not protected by the First Amendment. Good religion is protected, while bad religion is not.

One journalist summed it up this way: This isn't about religion. It's about hate. It has nothing to do with religious liberty, so that's why journalists are using those scare quotes.

This brings us to the following headline in The New York Times:

Rand Paul Tries to Stake Territory as Lone Candidate Who’d Guard Civil Liberties

Really now?

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Hold on: Wasn't there more to that 'Reagan Democrats' thing than money?

Hold on: Wasn't there more to that 'Reagan Democrats' thing than money?

If you are into politics in the Culture War era, then you may be familiar with the Thomas Frank bestseller called "What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America."

It's kind of dangerous to summarize a book in a few words, but here is what I took away from it: For the past decade or two, elite Republicans have been able to use social and moral issues to confuse middle class and working class Americans, convincing them that the GOP understands their "values." Once you understand this nasty trick, you know why ordinary Americans have been going to the polls and voting against their own economic interests. Or something like that.

Really old news consumers will remember that, once upon a time, these voters in middle America were called "Reagan Democrats," which was another way of saying blue-collar and Catholic Democrats who were turned off by some post-1960s elements of Democratic Party life. The crucial point for this post: Social issues and religion played a major role in this political drama.

This brings me to a very interesting, but very strange, political story that ran in The New York Times the other day under this headline: "G.O.P. Hopefuls Now Aiming to Woo the Middle Class." Here is the top of the story. See if you can spot The Big Idea:

WASHINGTON -- The last three men to win the Republican nomination have been the prosperous son of a president (George W. Bush), a senator who could not recall how many homes his family owned (John McCain of Arizona; it was seven) and a private equity executive worth an estimated $200 million (Mitt Romney).

The candidates hoping to be the party’s nominee in 2016 are trying to create a very different set of associations.

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