Steve Sack / Minneapolis Star-Tribune

By Jason Stanford

Operation Jade Helm has inspired a million jokes, and some of them have even been funny. But as much as comedians might jump on Greg Abbott for sending the Texas State Guard to monitor military exercises as the latest excuse to mock the reactionary rubes south of the Red River, Texas now faces an existential crisis: Is the Governor really this crazy?

From a distance, Gov. Abbott indulging the paranoid delusion that a special operations training exercise in Bastrop County is a precursor to an invasion looks absolutely crazypants. Oh, look at the Texans, they say, they’ve gone and done it. They’re being Texans again.

Said HBO’s Bill Maher to Texas, “You are the White Somalia,” which probably makes sense and might even be funny in context.

Rachel Maddow, checking in from the liberal flagship at MSNBC, said the “panicked, paranoid conspiracy” is one big joke. “Fearful Texas GOP base amuses nation with conspiracy panic,” blared a headline. Even for those inclined to agree with Maddow, the smugness was unbearable.

Too many are using the paranoia as a joke that never pays off. The problem is that the set up is all “you gotta be kidding me,” but the payoff is simply, “Nope.” Just because something is ludicrous and embarrassing doesn’t make it funny. Otherwise, I would have been more popular in high school.

Once you get past the regional bias underlying most of the “jokes” about Jade Helm, what you find is actually frightening: Greg Abbott either truly does not trust the United States military and the commander-in-chief to respect the sovereignty of Texas, or he’s pandering to his slightly seditious and extremely paranoid base. Sadly, it’s not clear which sin we need to forgive here.

Obviously, Barack Obama does not want to invade Texas and place it under martial law. This is silly. What is not silly is that the Governor may have taken this idea seriously. So now Texas, by all rights a home to millions of reasonable and good people as well as many others, has to ponder whether it elected a Governor who keeps an eye peeled for black helicopters.

I’m not remotely someone who would ever vote for Abbott, but even I would like to believe that he’s pandering. The evidence to the contrary, however, is worrisome.

For starters, when it comes to campaigns he’s no smooth criminal. His huge margin of victory masked a ham-handed operation. His campaign spent two weeks flubbing the equal pay question, which was before or after he got bogged down in questions about Ted Nugent. There was also that awkward period when he waited too long to disavow “retard Barbie.” And who could forget the time he said Texans just needed to “drive around” to find out which warehouses contained chemicals that could explode?

If Abbott were a peanut butter he’d be chunky because he is not and never will be smooth.

Admittedly, there is recent evidence of him trimming his sails to capture the prevailing wind. When he went from insisting on a cut in property taxes to simply demanding a tax cut, he looked like a politician who knew which way the wind blows. That’s the kind of politician clever enough to pander to his base even when he doesn’t necessarily agree with it.

Abbott is more consistent as an ideologue. He famously described his job as attorney general thusly: “I go into the office, I sue the federal government, and then I go home.”

Keep in mind that Abbott is Ted Cruz’s mentor. And while Texas’ very junior senator bears all the tell-tale signs of having no core beliefs, there’s not much in the way of evidence that Abbott is as calculating.

I would rather believe that I merely disagree with Gov. Abbott and not that he is so disagreeable as to think Texas faces a threat of invasion from a country it is, it should be said, already a part of. But whether Abbott believes that Jade Helm is the tip of the spear for martial law or whether he’s merely pretending to might, in the final analysis, not matter.

If the tin foil hat fits, wear it.


© Copyright 2015 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a regular contributor to the Austin American-Statesman, a Democratic consultant and a Truman National Security Project partner. You can email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JasStanford.