FORT WORTH - The Fort Worth convention center welcomed delegates to the Texas Republican State Convention on Thursday morning June 7th with a few rousing bagpipe tunes. The instruments which led the people G.K. Chesterton described as “the men that God made mad” into the frenzied fray of whirling battle axes and whizzing arrows didn’t feel out of place. There was the smell of battle in air.
It wasn’t just “country club” republicans who gathered in the most Republican county in Texas to cast their votes for delegates to the national convention in Tampa. There was a large contingent of “plain” folk too, people who lacked the polish and shine of manicured nails, Bvlgari accessories, and 1,000-dollar power suits. They had a lean, grim look in their eye. A look that said they were ready to take the fight not just to the Democrats and Barack Hussein Obama but to the aristocracy of the Republican Party as well.
The organizers must have sensed that the natives were restless, that a battle for the soul of the party almost as large as the war on Democrats and federal overreach was looming on the horizon. They seemed anxious to get a few amens from the crowd, not a difficult job when you’re preaching to the choir. So that is how they kicked off the convention.
Among the songs played by the bagpipe ensemble were America the Beautiful and Amazing Grace, two poignant reminders of the religio-patriotic undercurrent of politics in the Lone Star State.
Rex Johnson, pastor of the Christian Life Church, led the invocation which opened with the first lines of the Lord’s Prayer, continued with a long list of supplications for blessing and victory and then returned to the final lines of the Lord’s Prayer for the close. “Thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever.”
This was followed by a moving visual presentation of Texas pride punctuated with quotes from famous Texans, such as this gem from Sam Houston, the first president of the Republic of Texas.
“Govern little and as wisely as possible.”
These seven words perfectly summed up the common thread in all of the remarks from the morning’s speakers. A theme meant to play particularly well with the Tea Party.
Liberty. Freedom from federal meddling. Independence. Don’t tread on me.
State chairman Steve Munisteri said, “This party stands for liberty if it stands for nothing else.” He said that once unleashed freedom is one of the most powerful forces in the universe. When its transforming power was allowed to work, the result was the United States of America.
He highlighted the greatness of our nation saying, “No brag just fact. We are the strongest country in the world, a quarter of the global economy and this is all due to freedom.” Amens and applause greeted his speech, but hints of the underlying tension were evident towards the end when he made an appeal for unity.
Unity? Is there a dividing wall? Doesn’t our common enemy unite us? Everyone in the room knew the answer to that question was a resounding “NO!” The Republican Party faces the wrath of Tea Party patriots tired of the new American aristocracy and the almost fanatical followers of Congressman Ron Paul.
The chairman was followed by Texan Governor Rick Perry, who may have fumbled the ball on the national stage but was playing in front of the home crowd yesterday. He was definitely in his element. Still extremely popular among Texas conservatives, he was relaxed and at ease.
He even poked a bit of fun at himself in his introduction, saying that twenty million dollars might not have earned him any delegates but that it was a great tour of the country. This brought laughs from the crowd, but his self-deprecation didn’t end there. The audience roared when he went on to say, “Being the Presidential front-runner was the most exhilarating three hours of my life.”
After endearing himself to the crowd by displaying modesty about his failure on the national stage, the governor continued with the theme of liberty, deriding the failures of President Obama and his perceived lack of trust in the American people. His crowning statement on the issue of freedom was, “There is nothing wrong with America that a healthy dose of freedom can’t cure.” The applause was thunderous.
Maybe this was what encouraged him to let go with the first salvo in the battle. Hoping to capitalize on the enthusiasm, he urged the crowd to put Mitt Romney in the White House.
This time, the applause was more tepid, and a few muffled boos were heard from the crowd. It was like he had just endorsed an anti-obesity campaign, which everyone approved, and then announced that it would be headed by Michael Moore.
Wasn’t Mitt Romney about jobs and the economy? What’s the connection with Romney and liberty?
Without missing a beat, Governor Perry moved to regain momentum, and he pushed the right button. He said that Texas didn’t need Eric Holder lecturing them on election fraud, a reference to Texas’ Voter ID law. The mere mention of the Attorney General in Washington D.C. sent the anti-government delegates over the top.
There was wild cheering, which Perry promptly followed with his second salvo in this Texas stand-off.
It was a misguided plug for his lieutenant governor David Dewhurst, the man facing a run-off against Ted Cruz in a bid to replace retiring senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. This time Perry had pulled the pin on the grenade only to find it was still latched to his belt. His endorsement elicited deafening boos from the crowd.
The fact that the Republican governor could be booed so loudly at his own state convention demonstrates clearly that the fight to put Obama on the unemployment rolls is not blinding delegates to the struggle within their own party. Worth an estimated 200 million dollars, Dewhurst is viewed by many as an establishment politician, not someone behind whom these delegates are willing to unite.
Perry ignored the crowd and went on with his remarks, but the air was electrified. Had he not seen the hundreds of Ted Cruz stickers and supporters among the delegates? He must have known this would be controversial, for the rest of his speech was practically a sermon calculated to reach those religious conservatives who form the party base.
He got a standing ovation when he paraphrased a verse from the New Testament.
“All that we say and all that we do should be done to the glory of God.” He followed this with a stanza from the hymn “How Great Thou Art,” and exhorted the delegates with a prayer. “May all that we say and do advance His purposes and not just ours.”
These words may have appeased some delegates as they left the general assembly and headed to their district meetings, but battle was rejoined in the afternoon breakout session with Congressman Ron Paul.
When Paul was introduced, the crowd gave him the rock star welcome anyone following the Republican primary has seen dozens of times. Shouts of “President Paul” and “End the Fed” reverberated throughout the arena.
This wasn’t just agreement or support for a candidate’s electability or likeability. It bordered on fanaticism. The energy and passion expressed for this old veteran stood in stark contrast to the reception speakers received earlier that day.
Once the audience had calmed down, Congressman Paul prefaced his remarks by saying that he had been asked to speak on uniting the party and balancing the budget. Not a strange request given the fact that his fiscal conservatism is almost as well known as the fact that dissension within the Republican Party primarily emanates from the ideas he has championed.
But Paul made it clear that he wasn’t going to play ball, or shall we call it what it is - politics.
His speech was a virtual litany of the positions that have defined his candidacy, and there was no hint of compromise. Instead, he said, “Unity is important but what do we unify behind? No Child Left Behind? What about uniting around principle, around the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence?”
First, he talked about the Federal Reserve and how he hoped Congress would be voting on a bill in July to require a full audit of the institution. (one-minute standing ovation) He said, “People ask me who I’m running against and I tell them I’m not running against Obama. I’m running against Keynes. (wild cheering and standing ovation)
“The status quo cannot continue. We have an explosion of debt and devaluation of the currency. When the crisis comes, like it has to Greece, we must have people of principle in Washington.”
He went on to address foreign policy, which many have viewed as his Achilles heel. This time he used President Eisenhower to frame the discussion. He pointed out that Eisenhower had, against the advice of his counselors, followed a course very much like the one Paul was advocating - ending the Korean war, refusing to enter Vietnam or use the bomb against the Chinese.
The point was clear. Freedom means respect for the sovereignty of other nations. Republicans had done it before. They could do it again. (standing ovation)
He railed on the president and the government for limiting personal liberty and made special reference to President Obama’s “kill list.” He criticized eroding civil liberties and the violations of due process. Again, his remarks elicited a standing ovation.
In fact, there were so many standing ovations during the speech one could hardly keep count. The seats in the arena seemed almost pointless. These people had come ready for battle, and Paul was their champion leading the charge.
On issue after issue, the congressman hammered home his message that freedom is the answer, not government, that individual liberties were the basis of a wealthy and prosperous nation, not a welfare state that impoverishes the middle class, decimates the poor and empowers the rich.
He said that his positions were often criticized as ideas that would take the country back not forward. His answer was simple. “My ideas do come from the founding fathers. Gold and silver are still legal tender according to the Constitution. But big government, now that, is a very very old idea. There are those who say government is the answer, but they are the past; we are the future.”
He concluded his remarks by saying that there was only one message which would unite the Republican Party and that message was freedom.
Rick Perry probably wasn’t there for the speech. It was loud, the crowd was energized, but it probably wasn’t quite loud enough to reach the governor’s mansion in Austin. If he missed it, that’s a shame. He should have been there, if not to honor the 70-year-old freedom fighter then at least to take notes on how a this old man can stir up a crowd with his passion for the one thing that unites us all – the desire to be free…
Luke Montgomery, author of A Deceit To Die For, lived in the Middle East for over a decade. He holds an MA in Linguistics, speaks fluent Turkish and writes on foreign policy, religion and culture. You can follow his work at www.lukemontgomery.net, or find him on Twitter at @LookingFor_Luke and on Facebook.
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