The New Stillson

A Stephen King nasty stalks the land

August 16th 2011

 Stephen King (the writer, and neither of the two demented right wing politicians of the same name) invented a character in the late 70s called Greg Stillson, in “The Dead Zone”. King already excelled at creating pleasant monsters, and Stillson was one of the most memorable. A fast-rising politician, our introduction to Stillson occurs when he deliberately and coldly kicks a dog to death. The dog, defeated and broken, lifts his head up to lick Stillson’s hand, a gesture of submission. Stillson laughs and resumes kicking. He then drives away, feeling mild guilt and sexual arousal.

The central character/narrator, and by extension the reader, immediately pick up on a sense of wrongness about Stillson, a sense that behind the blow-dried hair and the charming grin lives something truly vile.

He was played, somewhat ironically, by Martin Sheen, who went on to become America’s most beneficent and most-loved pseudo-politician, President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet. In the David Cronenberg movie of the same name Sheen played the personable creep, and was pretty damned scary.

When I look at Governor Rick Perry of Texas, I get the same feeling of wrongness that Johnny Smith, the central character in The Dead Zone, had about Greg Stillson. That’s not to say that I think Perry ever kicked a dog to death, and I’m certainly not claiming the precognitive powers that Johnny had. But I find Perry disturbing in a way that I can’t say applies to other politicians I’ve intensely disliked, ranging from Richard Nixon to Michele Bachmann. I can dislike a candidate’s stances, or despise them for being incompetent, crooked, vicious or all three, but I get a sense of foreboding from Perry that I don’t get from the others.

It isn’t that Perry lies about his record. Most politicians do that, and so it isn’t any big surprise to learn that “The Texas Miracle” which supposedly saved Texas from the high unemployment of other states in fact made life considerably worse for the average worker, driving average incomes down to $1,500 below the national average. Perry’s track record on education is complete and utter bullshit, and in fact the State fabricated the test score records Perry likes to take credit for, as Texas education fell to worst in the country.

Well after all, Reagan ran as a “tax warrior” after raising taxes in California (as he did on the nation after Reaganomics failed), and Bush Junior ran promising to preserve the surpluses for future generations and to reduce CO2 emissions. How could Perry be worse than those two?

There are two red-flag warnings that pop up about Perry: his professed patriotism, and his professed religious views.

Now, in fairness, I can’t say that Perry’s public statements necessarily reflect what is really going on in the man’s mind. I take it for granted that anything a politician says about gods or flags is likely to be a lie, and sometimes agree with my grandad’s notion that any politician who invokes God or the flag in a speech ought to be dragged out and shot.

So it’s entirely possible that Perry is actually more loyal to the United States than he purports to be, and less god-struck than he claims.

Just going on what the man has said publicly, and on what we know of some of the organizations he is part of, paints a disturbing picture.

The teabag right of the GOP is a strange and loony place, and it’s not surprising that Perry echoes weird beliefs, such as that tax raises on the rich will destroy the economy, or that climate change is a fraud, or that any social endeavor is socialism. He’s signed the Grover Norquist pledge to believe in Norquist’s tenets, no matter what, which means that if he takes an oath of office, he does so with a reservation and his fingers crossed behind his back: “…except when those duties violate the oath I swore to Grover Norquist.” Good reason right there to oppose him.

Given the extremism and general lunacy that has gripped the GOP, it’s a bit hard to see where Perry stands out. It’s a bit like being the Bull Goose Loony at Arkham Asylum, where the competition includes The Joker, The Scarecrow and Two-Face. How can Perry stand out as conspicuously worse in a field that includes Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich?

Perry is the first candidate of a major party since 1860 to run on the premise that disagreeing with the government is grounds for seceding from the Union. Citing the erroneous belief that Texas has a right to secede from the Union (the Civil War supposedly settled that), he has publicly stated that it should be considered “if Washington continues to thumb their nose at us.” As president, would he govern as an American, or as a Texan? Would we be getting George Washington, or Yosemite Sam?

I’m betting as president, Perry’s notion of what constitutes thumbing a nose at the states would change.

It’s fair game to question the patriotism of any politician who says he wants his state to be treated a particular way, or they are leaving the country.

Far more disturbing are Perry’s religious beliefs. Making an issue of a politician’s religious beliefs is usually not smart politics in America. Going after John F. Kennedy in 1960 for being a Roman Catholic probably backfired, and gave him the impetus to win that hair-thin close election. Last week, the Obama White House hurriedly let it be known they would fire any staffer who tried to make an issue out of Mittens Romney being a Mormon.

The crowd Perry hangs around with aren’t just other-directed. They are openly antipathetic to the Constitution, and to America itself. It’s legitimate to argue that America should develop religious values, or that vouchers should be issued for private schools. I might disagree – do disagree, in fact – but it’s not unpatriotic or anti-American to make such arguments.

Where Perry and his crowd cross the line is in that they argue that the American people have no right to be running America, but God and only God has the right to sovereignty over America.

Perry is deeply involved with a group known as the New Apostolic Reformation, and they are Dominionists; that is, they believe that Jesus, and not the people, has sovereignty in America. Dominionists are a scary enough bunch—they have several dozen members in Congress, at least two (Scalia and Thomas) on the Supreme Court, and a president, George W. Bush, who dabbled in Dominionism to the extent that the line between church and state has become blurred.

This bunch, The New Apostolic Reformation, go beyond just claiming America on behalf of their deity.

Perry actually has a video on the NAR website in which he says, “With the economy in trouble, communities in crisis and people adrift in a sea of moral relativism, we need God’s help. That’s why I’m calling on Americans to pray and fast like Jesus did and as God called the Israelites to do in the Book of Joel.” In Joel, the Israelites are urged to repent of their “wicked, oppressive, and rebellious nation” and pray to god to take over instead. Joel is sort of a dog whistle to the fundamentalists out on the far fringe of Christian belief to drop the secular regime of America and establish a theocracy.

They talk about taking over what they call “The Seven Mountains” of America’s secular culture: family, religion, arts and entertainment, media, government, education, and business. They want nothing less than full control, not only of government, but everything Americans learn, enjoy, think, believe, or spend money on. In short, they want a suffocating and unyielding theocracy, in the name of Jesus, amen.

To this end, Perry sometimes refers to himself as a prophet.

A vast majority of Americans, and a very large majority of Christians, would be appalled at the stance of the New Apostolic Reformation. Not only do they go against everything America stands for, but they have beliefs about the role of religion in society not seen in hundreds of years, and thought discarded by history, along with pogroms and the burning of witches. It’s almost as if Pope Innocent III had returned, taken a look at America, and said, “Right, that’s got to go. Jesus, gird my loins!”

Innocent took the fall of Jerusalem to Islam as a sign that secular authority throughout Europe needed to be replaced by “God’s authority”. The result was widespread carnage and what’s now called “The Dark Ages”. Perry has much the same attitude that Innocent had. Imagine what America would be like if there was a terror attack, and Perry decided that secular authority was incapable of meeting the challenge.

Even without the lock-step ideology, and the toxic religious beliefs, Perry has one last fatal flaw: like Stillson, he is a coward. Stillson used a child to defend himself from an assassin’s bullet: Perry misused his official power to cover up the fact that he had an innocent man, Cameron Todd Willingham, executed, and that he covered up evidence of the man’s innocence, both before and after the execution.

In right wing America, where no crime by a Republican can possibly outrage the party rank and file, he could have just claimed he wasn’t negligent. But instead, he tore up much of the state’s legal process in order to hide his complicity in a grievous miscarriage of justice.

He’s not fit to be President. He’s barely fit to be human.

He is Greg Stillson, incarnate.


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2 Replies to “The New Stillson”

  1. Thank you for putting into words the creepy feeling I keep getting when I see his picture…very scary person. Read up on him and it gets scarier.

  2. What an excellent essay. I loved the entire piece, but I especially enjoyed your thoughts on religion. Oh, and I think I must agree with your grandfather’s notion of shooting any politician that invokes the flag or God in a speech!

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