Threatening Both Media and Church-State Separation, Lt. Gov. Race Blunders to Sloppy Start

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Nobody pretended they were going to enjoy the race for the lieutenant governor's chair. Sure, there would be moments of delightful schadenfreude -- watching Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst squirm and crumble in the face of Wendy Davis's supporters was one of the most rewarding of the entire month. But those moments, while fun, will remain fleeting. More likely, we'll see moments such as have arisen since and as came to a head over the weekend.

Let's begin with our battered, beleaguered lieutenant governor. After emerging from the self-crafted crater of last week's special session, Dewhurst cast around for any way to lift the responsibility for his abject failure off his shoulders. The lack of an abortion bill was the work of a "mob," of those taking part in the "riot." "I had the votes," he said. "I had the strategy." And that may be true, Dewhurst. But, here's the thing -- your strategy failed. Your preparatory work fell spectacularly short, for 180,000 people to see. And someone on your side, per the allegations at hand, thought it wise to change the time-stamp on the vote, tossing a healthy measure of fraud into your strategy. A wide swath of the nation saw you fall on your face.

But it wasn't your fault. Certainly not. Couldn't have been. Those in the mob, those in the riot -- they came from somewhere. They arose on some signal. And that signal, apparently, came from the people who relayed your message to the rest of us. According to an interview Dewhurst had with a conservative radio show last week, those who apparently egged on the crowd came from one section: the Texas media. And Dewhurst would make sure that those who encouraged the pandemonium, if the evidence panned out, would be ... arrested:

We have reports, and I have my staff taking a look at the video ... and if I find, as I've been told, examples of the media waving and trying to inflame the crowd, incite them in the direction of a riot, I'm going to take action against them.

A couple points, Dewhurst. First, "drownded" is not a word. Bumbling over basic English only reminds us of your inability to house a proper debate. Second, the "mob" didn't drown out 45 minutes of discussion. And last, threatening the media is surely one of the basest tacks you can take. As the Texas Observer's Olivia Messer wrote, "[I]ntimidating the media is lower than I thought [Dewhurst] would ever stoop."

(Also, to the interviewer -- there isn't a single poll showing that 60 percent of Texans support what's in the bill, which isn't merely banning abortion at 20 weeks. Stop conflating language and polling, please.)

As it is, Dewhurst later backed off his threat -- but only after he said his staff had reviewed the tapes. Only after they'd determined that the Texas press corps, according to an aide, "conducted themselves in a manner consistent with the decorum of the Senate chamber." Glad to have your approval, Dewhurst. Glad to know you'd share baseless accusations without actually reviewing the evidence.

Anyway, this is simply Dewhurst attempting some rear-guard protection. If you want to see some true pandering, and a sign of things to come, you have to look to Houston. State Sen. Dan Patrick, running as the leader of the Tea Party crew, has just announced his candidacy to unseat Dewhurst. He's an unabashed evangelical, with "Christian Conservative" scrawled in heavy font along his Web site.

Speaking to the Mims Baptist Church in Conroe over the weekend, Patrick set out to bolster his credentials. (He was also determined to bully through any irony in running on a small-government camp while declaring a dedication to expanding religion's role within Austin.) Taking a look at the connection between faith and flag, Patrick was blunt:

There is no separation of church and state. It was not in the constitution.

Unfortunately, calls to Patrick were not returned to clarify whether or not the state senator meant to cite the specific phrase, on which he's correct, or the synonymous ideal, on which he's abysmally mistaken. As any Jeffersonian democrat will tell you, our First Amendment begins with the assertion that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ...." The separation of church and state cannot be made much starker or much more prominent.

With 30 percent of the state staking that they believe the Bible should be taken literally, it's not hard to see which tack Patrick was going for. You can't escape the overtly religious intonations surrounding the arguments pushing for the 20-week abortion ban in this state. This slippage of religion into the public sphere is, while predictable, nevertheless unfortunate. This hardening of the religious right will find fertile ground in Texas. And while Dewhurst is attempting to distract with bogeymen to blame, Patrick has no problem running with Christian principles that their Christ would hardly recognize.

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