Thursday, August 04, 2011

Why No One Really Listens to Paul Burka

The Texas political press is moribund. The best voice we ever had as Molly Ivins', and nobody listened to her, despite the fact she wrote two best-selling books about W. But trying to find out what is happening in the Texas Legislature is like trying to read the tea leaves in your cup after the power has gone out. Try as I might during the last session (the Lege meets for 6 months every two years, no more, no less, except for special sessions, which are as rare as hen's teeth, and last only 30 days), I couldn't find out what was going on with school funding or the budget process in general. One day the story was this, the next day it was that, another day there was no story at all, then everything changed again! And political coverage of candidates? Fuggedaboutit!

Into this breach supposedly steps Paul Burka and Texas Monthly. Except Texas Monthly is for the well-heeled in Texas, the people who live in River Oaks in Houston, or Highland Park in Dallas. Seriously rich people, in other words. Paul Burka is their mouthpiece. His most challenging political piece in my memory was a cover of W during the 2004 campaign with a single word splashed across it: "Maybe."

For Burka, that was flirting with liberalism.

So now we get this, about Perry's "The Response" prayer meeting in Houston this weekend:

"Three days before The Response, the Reliant Stadium prayer event Gov. Rick Perry initiated two months ago, the response has been spirited among those objecting to the governor’s participation.

"On Tuesday, more than 50 Houston-area religious and community leaders disseminated a signed statement drafted by the Anti-Defamation League expressing “deep concern” about a prayer rally “not open to all faiths,” while the Houston GLBT Political Caucus and related organizations announced a Friday rally at Tranquility Park to protest the event. The groups that represent gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered individuals accused the American Family Association and other sponsors of the prayer event of hatred toward the GLBT community.

"The ADL statement followed a June letter from the Houston Clergy Council that criticized the governor for excluding non-Christians, partnering with an anti-gay group and blurring boundaries between church and state."

My feelings about public-prayer events haven’t changed, but I’m intrigued by the Anti-Defamation League’s statement, quoted above, that the prayer rally isn’t open to people of all faiths. How are the organizers going to restrict the participants to Christians? Are they going to ask everyone who comes through the turnstiles to prove their Christian bona fides? Of course not.
Those first three paragraphs are from a Houston Chronicle story on the response to "The Response." I do wonder how clueless Burka is to imagine a fundamentalist Christian prayer service is "open to all faiths." I've participated in ecumenical services, and I made a special point during the prayer I offered to exclude even the word "God" so as not to offend the Jews present, and I also omitted any reference to Jesus as the Christ. It only seemed polite, and it had come up as an issue during the planning meeting with the one rabbi who attended. He thanked me later for my consideration.

Did we check credentials at the door? Of course not. Should we have been sensitive to those we invited who were not Christians, and speak of the one God we do worship (as do the Muslims; sadly, at least at that time, no one thought to approach the Imam in the synagogue not far from where I sit now)? Yes, I think so. Will the religious groups Perry has invited, or Perry himself, show any such sensitivity?

Do you really have to ask?

But wait, there's more!

Nor do I think that the rally “blurs the line between church and state.” The line between church and state is very clear. It’s the First Amendment: Congress shall make no law regarding an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The governor of Texas holding a Christian prayer meeting is not an establishment of religion.
Actually, let's just say Burka is completely clueless as to the state of the law on that issue, and leave it at that. It's embarrassing to see him display his ignorance so profoundly within two paragraphs. But it illustrates why no one takes him seriously.

As Molly once said about a Texas legislator, if he gets any dumber we'll have to water him twice a day.

Why do I say that? Well, because the church/state issue is precisely about exclusion. The Court has upheld references to God ("In God We Trust") on the grounds such things are a cultural statement with no real religious significance (which kind of diminishes the importance of the phrase, but no matter), hence no one religion is favored above another. Since at least the passage of the 14th Amendment, the 1st Amendment has been held to apply to the states as well as the federal government, so Burka's "clear" reading of the Constitution is about as muddled as the waters in a flash flood. The Response, a rally initiated by Perry and promoted from his Governor's lectern, is clearly meant to be an exclusively Christian affair. How do I know? Ask Paul Burka:

Attendance is going to fall far short of expectations and the noise generated by Perry’s critics is going to get as much media attention as the prayer rally itself. This is what happens when you think the rest of the country has the same civic and religious values as Texas.

This could have had a much different ending. Perry could have made the event nondenominational. He could have invited people and clergy of all faiths. But he elected to make it exclusionary–and not just exclusionary, but reflective of preachers who have expressed some of the most extreme religious views in Christiandom.

Another misjudgment was the public invitation to all of his fellow governors. The right way to do this was to feel out the other governors first and announce the acceptances later, when you know who is coming. Now, with only one acceptance–Sam Brownback, of Kansas, and he has said he is going on vacation this weekend–the event looks like an utter failure.
Utter failure? Really? Gee, sorta like Perry's entire tenure as Governor, then, huh?

Nobody could have predicted.....

Addendum: If you're interested, here is what Burka didn't say about Perry's prayer rally:

In interviews, the event's planners have conceded that the non-Christians will not be allowed on stage, and that the event—which Perry says is open to everyone—is intended in part to convert people to Christianity.
No, Paul, your religious bona fides won't be checked at the door. But non-Christian, non-evangelical beliefs, won't be welcome, either. And there again, Burka is clueless. Perry contacted the groups detailed in Mother Jones to organize and run this rally. NPR ran quotes from them this morning (hearing a man tell you in his own words that the Statue of Liberty is demonic is quite different from reading about it) in its story on this event. Perry is not just appealing to the Michelle Bachman wing of the GOP, he is being wrapped in this lunatic fringe, even as he tells reporters now that he may only be an usher at the event (aw, shucks).

Whatever effect this has in the GOP primaries, this is the way Perry's career ends.


  1. Rick Perry: Texas' revenge on the rest of the country.

  2. You didn't think we were just gonna go away, did you?