"If Alabamians Can Put Man on the Moon, We Can Build New Prisons."

Gov. Bentley's "State of the State Address" is a telling mashup of Idiocracy, Cool Hand Luke, and All the King's Men.


Alabama's Republican Gov. Robert Bentley just delivered his "State of the State Address" and here's one of the highlights:

To the extent it very clearly lays out the thoughts and commitments of an unabashedly pro-Donald Trump supporter who leads an entire state, Gov. Bentley's full text is essential reading if you want to understand what's at work in today's politics.

There are cringe-inducing moments of absolute insanity in the speech (as captured above), but there is something far more complicated and powerful at work than what partisan Democrats and many anti-Trump conservatives and libertarians will dismiss as yokelism at its most extreme. Bentley's broad agenda, like Trump's, is not fundamentally about limited government and shrinking the size, scope, and spending of the state. It is more a plan for something approaching a populist total state that blends Trumpism with Huey Long. Why not be all things to all people, especially in an America that has, however imperfectly, moved past the worse elements of institutionalized racism and sexism?

Sutherland Boswell, CC, Wikimedia

Six years ago I personally made a commitment to the people of this State, to submit myself a humble servant to the men, women and children who proudly call Alabama home, to help create well-paying jobs so they can support their families, to make sure every child has the opportunity to receive the best education, to support our most vulnerable—the disabled, the elderly, the forgotten and the unborn.

I committed myself to the careful consideration that all men, all Alabamians, are created equal regardless of race, political party, gender or economic status. I vowed never to accept a salary until every Alabamian who wants a job can get a job.

These are not the sentiments of a man or a school of thought that is simply looking out for his wealthy friends and benefactors or using dog whistles to appeal to silent majorities of political reactionaries (Bently even praises Martin Luther King, Jr. in unqualified terms). One of the reasons that Trump was actually able to win the presidency, however barely, was because he directly addressed the so-called forgotten men and women of America; he even had the temerity to talk to minorities and tell them that the Democrats had failed them and taken them for granted. Some of Trump's—and Bentley's—sentiments and policies fall completely in line with the fever dreams of progressives (universal preschool! economic nationalism!) and libertarains (deregulation! school choice!).

Wiseacres of all ideologies who glibly dismiss Trump's populism as phony or unconvincing will never be able to understand and thus combat his appeal. He and politicians like him are not weak echoes of George W. Bush (whom he has criticized harshly) or Newt Gingrich-style Republicanism (which he regularly contravenes). If you act as if they are, you're fighting the last war. That rarely works out well. In Trump and others like him, what we are seeing is a weird and new blend of right- and left-wing populisms presented by a strong, autocratic authority who both threatens and comforts his children. Big Daddy can give you everything you want and need, but the one commandment that cannot be challenged is that it's Big Daddy's house and Big Daddy's rules. Those rules may change frequently and it's too much to expect him to admit to any mistake, no matter how trivial, but there you have it.

Bentley is nothing like Trump in terms of bearing of course, but his policy goals resonate with Trump and he plainly has a man-crush on the billionaire:

The dawn of the new Presidential Administration has ushered in a truly remarkable time in our State's history.

State's and their Governors are enthusiastic about the Trump Administration because finally WE are being heard, concerns are being met and action is being taken.

A medical doctor, Bentley celebrates the repeal of Obamacare partly because it will mean local decisions will matter more. With education, he talks about the "Every Student Succeeds Act [ESSA]… as the greatest devolution of federal power in 50 years, and an incredible opportunity to bring together teachers, superintendents, early childhood educators, business and industry." He praises law enforcement as the greatest of all the great Alabamians and brags:

I had the honor of ordering the Alabama National Guard support to protect and defend the U-S Border with Mexico.

As a result soldiers with the Alabama National Guard and Border Patrol recorded more than 28-thousand apprehensions at the US- Mexico Border, countless border turn-backs and seized over 42-thousand pounds of marijuana and narcotics.

Bentley plainly seeks to be all things to all people, except immigrants of course:

President Trump has already taken decisive and necessary action to enforce our nation's immigration laws. And let me repeat, what we made clear last week:

Alabama will not support Sanctuary Cities or institutions that harbor or shelter illegal immigrants, and are in clear violation of the laws of the nation.

We will enforce the law.

After boasting at length of all the jobs he created and how Alabama is "running full sprint toward our goal of Full Employment," he concedes all the failings of The Yellowhammer state:

Problems like the persistent poverty that causes Alabama to be ranked as the sixth poorest state in the country.

Problems that pull us from that "First Place" woven in our great history that we pride ourselves on.

Problems that drive us into dead last place—in educational achievement, and virtually every quality of life category from infant mortality to obesity.

Problems that, over time, have lurked, festered, plagued and overwhelmed our Corrections System….

And here are the limits of Trumpian populism as exercise in political cognitive dissonance: Things have never been so great and yet so awful. Behind us, nothing but success after success that leads us to the current moment which is flawless except for all the existential threats that are everywhere around us. And so, a sort of linguistic insanity ensues:

If Alabamians can put man on the moon. we can build new prisons.

If we can lead the world in medical breakthroughs, we can stop the scourge of opioid addiction.

If we can win football championships, we can make sure there is a Number One ranked PreK classroom for every four year old.

If we can birth a worldwide movement for equality and civil rights, we can make sure every Alabamian who wants a job can get a job.

Read the whole speech here.

All "state of the state" addresses are propagandistic, of course, which is why they contain deep truths and contradictions. Alabama is by very few Americans' expressed preference the place they want to live their lives. Bentley's attempt to praise all he has done for his residents while laying out all that still needs to be done is crystallized in the off-the-charts nutsy-ness of the line, If Alabamians can put man on the moon. we can build new prisons. Something similar is at work with Donald Trump and his world view, where everything is simultaneously always already the greatest, the best, the hugest, bigly…and yet we are just one small stumble away from utter cataclysm. Murder rates are terrible! North Korea! Hillary Clinton! You name it! Trumpism is not a rationally coherent political philosophy, it is a set of deeply held feelings and impulses that order themselves around fixing all the problems while demanding strict obedience and conformity. In Alabama, Bentley will bring jobs and good grades and prisons that are as shiny as space stations (and that even rehabilitate prisoners!), but he will also make sure that all illegal immigrants, drug dealers, and other law-breakers are punished swiftly and severely. In both Trump and Bentley, we see the blending of big-government programs to create better students, better workers, better jobs, better everyting mixing with the necessary muscle to carry it out. This sort of muscular populism isn't new in America—Huey Long and FDR succeeded with it—though Trump and Bentley has dispatched with the class hatred that made more sense in the Great Depression and a country where even hard-working people struggled to feed themselves.

As libertarians, we must push back against all sorts of closed systems, of polities that are based on scapegoating, demonizing, and expelling auslanders. It's not simply that the welfare state (broadly defined to include not just expansive and unsustainable old-age entitlements but also massive amounts of state-supplied health care and education) often provides lower levels of service at much higher levels of cost. It's that the welfare state, including business subsidies, crony capitalism, and constant inspections of our work and residency papers, reduces our ability to engage the world freely and independently and without worrying what arbitrary (and thus power-driven) lines we may be crossing. Open systems have fewer but more basic rules to them, they require less rather than more consensus, and they let us get on with our lives in the places that are beyond politics where we should all be living.

NEXT: Report: 2.8 Million Students Attend Universities Where Offensive Speech Is Reported to Bureaucrats or Cops

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  1. Our prisons are overcrowded, how else should we deal with it?

    Release non-violent drug offenders, you say? My good lady, drugs ARE violence, it’s that simple! Anytime someone smokes a marijuana, the cartels behead a schoolchild. It is known.

    1. Don’t worry, the good sheriff Sessions will be in town soon to rid us once and for all of those dopers.

    2. Unfortunately, this is the real sort of arguments many Americans find reasonable and normal.

      Where real progress was made on criminal justice reform, it seems to have largely been driven by financial realities. The politicians had no choice because they couldn’t pay for shit.

    3. “That motherfucker takes pot!”

  2. Yeah, because the advancement for humanity in landing a man on another celestial body and putting more people in cages is about the same, right?

    1. We must close the prison gap. North Korea currently leads the world in prison population: the entire nation is a prison. Are we to cede global preeminence to the North Koreans?

  3. “If Alabamians can put man on the moon, we can build new prisons.”

    No you can’t, dumbass – you spent all your money putting a man on the moon. Do you really not understand why you can’t eat your cake and have it, too? Once you eat it, it’s gone. You spend all your money on one thing, you can’t spend it on another. I can show you a six-year old that understands that basic concept.

    1. Do you really not understand why you can’t eat your cake and have it, too?

      Thank you for saying that the correct way. Everyone else says it the other way, which is stupid – of course you can have your cake and eat it, too.

      Reminds me of the Mitch Hedberg quote: “I used to do drugs. I still do drugs, but I used to, too.”

    2. I don’t think Alabama was anything other than a net gainer in federal largess during our manned space period, with federal money flooding in (and still flowing). For quite some time, the city of Huntsville was by far the most educated city in the U.S., per capita.

      My point? LUNAR LOCKUP!!

    3. Dude, they all want cake. This is my home state, but still, who was the guy either running for or holding office that campaigned or talked specifically about reducing the size/scope/power of his office and/or govt in general?

      1. Well, there is Southern Alabama, then there’s Northern Alabama.

        1. Not sure they are radically different. Huntsville is a bit an outlier with the space center. Bham used to be a steel town before becoming whatever it is. Mobile has grown up a bit on the coast. My wife, a GA girl, says the north/south distinction in huge in her state where the folks in the South see Atlanta as its own state.

          1. There is that UA/AU thingee.

  4. Wiseacres of all ideologies who glibly dismiss Trump’s populism as phony or unconvincing will never be able to understand and thus combat his appeal.

    The tact of delegitimizing him isn’t working, either. In the Trump Era, you’re going to see more than a few Republicans completely abandon any pretense of small government conservatism for big government populism. And, in four years, when the Trump Presidency falls to some equally brainless cult of personality Democrat, the GOP will snap back, at least in facade if not practice, to limited governance.

    1. At our local supermarket yesterday, we noticed that all of the Mexicans have disappeared, but there were a bunch of Russian dudes in their place. Make of it what you will.

    2. The mistake the TDS people is make is taking Trump literally. A lot of what tosses out is purposeful hyperbole, the sort of negotiating tactic a business guy puts on the table – “I want A, B, C, and so forth or no deal” knowing full well that he is prepared to scale back somewhat.

      The difference with him, especially among Pubs, is that he does not begin from a position of retreat or hint at a willingness to compromise. He puts the onus on the other guy to come back with a counter-offer. We’ll see if this works or not, but it’s not what DC is used to.

  5. Gov. Bentley’s “State of the State Address” is a telling mashup of Idiocracy, Cool Hand Luke, and All the King’s Men.

    Awesome! I liked all three of those movies.

  6. Mr. Gillespie, a piece of advice, take a little break. In addition to being Trump-addled, your pieces have suffered lately from just being bad writing.

    1. The stupid parts in quotations aren’t Nick’s words.

      Seriously though, what in particular is “Trump-addled” about this piece? It’s an evenhanded takedown of a very stupid, deeply contradictory speech.

      1. Funny, what I see is a conservative governor is a conservative, rural, state gave a meaningless political speech largely tailored to his conservative, rural constituency. Is there stuff I disagree with in the speech? Sure. About as much stuff as I disagree with in Governor Cuomo on all the ridiculous bullshit he spews in his State of the State address to appeal to his urban, liberal, base. But, I don’t see anything here that is particularly contradictory or even unusually stupid by the standards of politicians giving speeches to appeal to their supporters. And, honestly, I think singling this out as stupid because it’s geared to appeal to “yokels” (Gillespie’s word choice, not mine) is an idiotic bit of posing that really doesn’t particularly advance libertarian principles.


  8. If North Korea can starve its populace, then by God, we can develop indoor plumbing!

  9. Trumpism is not a rationally coherent political philosophy, it is a set of deeply held feelings and impulses that order themselves around fixing all the problems while demanding strict obedience and conformity

    Well, Nick…it sure sounds like you are talking about fascism here, though you don’t use the word itself. I think the second part of this sentence contradicts the first or at the very least it is far too coherent to fit under a “not a rationally coherent political philosophy.” I would agree that Trumpism is not a rational political philosophy. But then again, neither is conservatism or progressivism. Most people are just fine and/or oblivious to their own contradictions. Libertarians are rare in that they have an ideology that, at least on paper, strives for intellectual consistency.

    TO whatever extent Trumpism is unique, it would only be a matter of degree. And I’m very skeptical even that’s true.

  10. This guy is worthy of plenty of criticism but, unless Trump wrote his speech, you’ve gone a bit overboard with the tie in. Not everything links back to the Oompa Loompa in Chief.

  11. If Alabamians can put a man on the moon, why can’t they just have them build prisons there?

    1. Stupid Hugh, everybody knows that cheese makes for horrible foundations.

      1. Also, every time you want water, you have to nuke the south pole. We’re killing Luna!

        1. What Moon? It was blasted out of orbit in September 1999. What we see today is just a model.

          1. Do you know who else is just a model?

              1. Welp, guess i’m not eating lunch today.

              2. You’re worse than Hitler

                1. Crusty is literally Adam Lanza.

                  1. Crusty is literally Adam Lanza.

                    I am not an anorexic.

              3. dammit

              4. I hate you CJ#2. May you be stricken off the List?.

              5. Guys before you get mad at Crusty, have you considered that maybe he genuinely thinks that picture is hot?

              6. ….you….bastard!

    2. No, no, Hugh is right. Private prisons on the Moon. Guarded by Amazon Women.

      1. Screw Alabama. I’m gonna build my own prison, with blackjack, and hookers. In fact, forget the prison!

        1. That’s not how you spell Pablo Escobar.

  12. “Wiseacres of all ideologies who glibly dismiss Trump’s populism as phony or unconvincing will never be able to understand and thus combat his appeal.”

    Well, if you’re a progressive, and you want to take the White House in four years, there’s really only one sure-fire strategy.

    All you have to do is denigrate the white, blue collar, middle class for being racist, stupid, and unwilling to sacrifice, and just, you know, let the beatings continue until morale improves.

    1. that strategy has worked so well for the past 8 years, hasn’t it. What is amazing is how the Dems decide to insult harder.

  13. We never should have landed a man on the moon. lt’s a mistake. Now everything is compared to that one accomplishment. Everybody goes, ”l can’t believe they can land a man on the moon and taste my coffee.” We would’ve been happier if we hadn’t landed a man on the moon. We’d go, ”They can’t make a prescription bottle that’ll open easily? l’m not surprised they couldn’t land on the moon. Things make perfect sense.” Neil Armstrong should’ve said, ”That’s one small step for man one giant leap for every whining, complaining SOB on the Earth.”

    – Jerry Seinfeld


      1. 2017 – A Space Colonoscopy

        directed by Citizen X

        1. I like where you’re going with this. Wanna get an executive producer credit?

          Written by SugarFree
          Starring Warty Hugeman
          Visual design by Agile Cyborg

          1. Costumes by Crusty Juggler



  15. That hairline… it’s no wonder he’s baggin’ the ladies in office.

    1. Yellowhammer divulged on March 29 that it was given “indisputable evidence” by a confidential source of a safe deposit box opened in January by Bentley and Mason.

      Yellowhammer CEO Cliff Sims told WVTM 13 he does not know what’s in the safe deposit box, but he finds it odd that only Bentley and Mason share the account.

      What does Gov. Bentley and his former senior adviser/alleged side piece have in their joint safe deposit box?

      My guess: Their favorite strap-on, Big Jim.

      1. +1 Steely Dan

      2. considering a former governor is known as Big Jim Folsom, there are folks in the state for whom the line will either induce cringing or laughter. Or perhaps both.

        1. In my case, it’s definitely “both”

          (not a native Alabamian, but spent the majority of my life there, and actually wouldn’t mind to return).

  16. Here’s a link to the speech – the one in the article didn’t work.

    I read only the quoted parts which Gillespie selected, looking for the Idiocracy parallels, but couldn’t find any. It seems like a populist, “we have problems but we can do better” piece of political oratory. And it uses the old standby of “if we can put a man on the moon we can” [insert ambitious political proposal]. Why is that off-the charts nutty? It’s eye-rollingly cliched.

    1. It reads like a standard political stump speech combined with a Methodist sermon.

      1. OMG a Southern politician made a speech!!!

        1. PS – Reason hasn’t fixed the link yet.

            1. Nope, not fixed yet.

              That’s what happens when you ignore the commenters.

  17. Reason is looking more and more like democrat-land with your personal attacks and name-calling and hysterical mistreatment of opponents words. Good luck with that. Glad I don’t subscribe to the magazine anymore.

    1. Drink!

    2. Probably not a tough decision on your part I’m guessing. The degree to which Reason has gone downhill in recent years is pretty staggering, isn’t it? You’ve got Dalmia on Twitter advocating for violence against her political opponents, and you’ve got Gillespie on Twitter admitting that he’s hoping Trump will die.

      1. Hey, Weigel, finish your stupid book. Dumb troll!

      2. I too judge a publication by what its employees write in other venues. An editor can’t only be concerned with what gets published in her magazine; she needs total control of what her contributors say and do anywhere in the world.

  18. What cant’ Alabamians do?

    Stop Gov. Bentley’s receding hairline.

    1. Keep their hands off their sisters?


  20. Alabama is a strange place with incoherent politics and values. It does have it’s charms though. The cost of living is insanely low. And you can find pockets of intelligent people in the university towns.

    Most of the STEM oriented people leave the state after high school and college – with the exception of Huntsville. In Huntsville, the old plantation money is apparently clashing with the new engineering money. Birmingham is trying desperately to drag itself into the 21st century. The largest employer in the city is UAB, which is built on the medical school and medical research.

    Jefferson County was the largest municipal bankruptcy in the country. The previous mayor of B’ham is in prison for giving kickbacks to his cronies and mis use of public funds. A previous governor is in prison (Siegleman). Richard Shelby was the CEO of Healthsouth and narrowly missed going to jail after was, at the time, the largest corporate bankruptcy since Enron.

    1. Not one mention of football?


      1. I suppose that’s one of its charms, though I think it’s just what everyone uses to distract themselves from the fact they live in Alabama.

        Growing up there I liked watching football, but it was pretty telling watching grown men in tears after their team lost. Made me realize they must not have much else going for them in their lives. Everyone constantly talks about it whether it’s football season or not. Gets pretty old after a while.

        1. I grew up there, too, and have no idea what the hell you’re talking about. I never saw the need for distraction from reality. But if I needed a distraction, Gulf Shores was a few hours away, there was plenty of wide open countryside, and some cities with city stuff. Don’t live there now but I must be missing why it sucks.

          1. Maybe I just didn’t buy into it quite as much as everyone else did – and it’s not just football. I actually like the football culture, even if some people do take it too far like with the trees in Toomer’s corner in Auburn.

            I guess the culture just seems really monotone to me. I grew up in B’ham, but I bet Huntsville is a little bit different. It’s been 10 years since I lived there though.

            1. I spent a good deal of my youth in HSV. We used to call it an island in a sea of rednecks.

    2. The remarkable thing about Alabama is how outside of Huntsville, Mobile and Birmingham, how empty it is. There is nothing there really. But Huntsville is one hell of a nice town. I know several people who live there and they all love it.

      1. If I ever moved back, it’d have to be to Huntsville. In high school, we were always competing with the engineers’ kids from Huntsville in math competitions. They have some really good schools there and a good pool of engineering talent.

      2. it’s much like every other Southern state. GA has Atlanta, Savannah, Columbus, Augusta, and a lot of wide open space. Ditto Tennessee once you’re out of Knoxville, Nashville, or Memphis, and so forth. I’m currently in Nevada, which may well define “nothing there” other than Vegas and Reno, not even rolling countryside or the small towns that make great coffee table photography.

        1. Ah, but the night sky when you get away from the cities …

      3. Huntsville is a nice town. Surprising amount of things to do for a town so small. And they have the best minor league hockey team name ever – the Huntsville Havoc.

        Grew up in Birmingham, moved to DC after college, then came back to Huntsville. Few years overseas, and now I’m in Florida. But I’d move back to Alabama willingly. Just have to be careful where you land – you can go from old South money to meth labs in less than a mile in some places.

  21. I thought this was about Albania at first. Imagine my surprise.

  22. Alabama is the state West Virginians tell jokes about, By the way,you know why West Virginians can’t make ice cubes?

    1. The old woman who had the recipe died?

  23. Nice piece, Nick. I said something similar (more or less), here:…..nald-trump

    1. tumblr? How appropriate.

    2. No one is clicking on your link Vanneman. Stop pimping your sad tublr blog.

    3. Nice piece, Nick. I said something similar (more or less), here in the most moist of my wettest dreams.

    4. I had a question about that, Vanneman: What percentage of your wall space would you say is dedicated to pictures of Nick Gillespie? 80%? 90%?

      Subquestion: how are you counting the areas where the eyes are scratched out so deep that you can see the wall underneath?

  24. In Trump’s America Alabama will have a governor that offends the sensibilities of beltway journalists.

  25. Alabama isn’t the place where people want to live their lives? That may be, but I liked living there just fine. Of course, I lived in Baldwin County about 10 minutes from the beach, so that might have had something to do with it.

    1. my folks lived in Fairhope for a time after dad’s retirement and later returned to the college town. Yeah, there are worse places than a few miles off the Gulf.

      1. Fairhope is very nice indeed. My address was Gulf Shores but I was closer to Foley.

    2. The father of a college friend of mine owns most of Dauphin Island. I’ve got no complaints about it.

  26. If we can put a man on the moon, we can put a man on the moon. Or a woman. Really, how long has it been since we had a human on the moon? Did we just check that off the to-do list and go back to spanking it?

  27. Uh, Trump won the election by 74 votes. That’s not barely.

  28. Alabamaians didn’t put man on the moon, German scientists, in return for us looking the other way on their war crimes, did.

    Or, as Jeff Foxworthy put it: They’re not letting people from Alabams fly this stuff.

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