How dumb is Ricky Dumbass (R-TX)? How high is up? How long is a piece of string? How many bubbles are there in a bar of soap? How low can you go? The only good thing out of the Dumbo presidential debates is the exposure of Ricky Dumbass' stupidity. If you totaled the IQ scores for Ricky Dumbass, Bachmann Moron Overdrive, and Rick "The Frothy Mix Of Lube And Fecal Matter That Is Sometimes The Byproduct Of Anal Sex" (see Santorum), the combined score wouldn't reach "Dull Normal." If this is (fair & balanced) assessment, so be it.
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A Crisis Of Confidence Deep in The Heart Of Texas
By Mimi Swartz
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Back in 1944, an advertising executive named John Randolph put together a booklet called Texas Brags. It was an offshoot of an ad campaign for Jax beer, and it contained some fun facts about my home state, including “If all the hogs in Texas were one big hog, he could dig the Panama Canal with three roots and a grunt.” Or “The King Ranch is so big that there is a month’s difference in seasons between the northern and southern parts.” And “Son, it is very rude to ask a man where he is from. If he is from Texas, you will find out, and if he’s not, don’t embarrass him.”
In its first year, Texas Brags sold 100,000 copies, and by 1972, when Randolph died, sales reached close to one million. There’s no mystery as to why it did so well — Texans love Texas in a way that can border on the pathological. That’s not just the stuff of moth-eaten stereotype, either. (Remember the George W. Bush presidency?) Whether the defining characteristics of the swaggering Texan — thick accent, folksy anti-intellectualism, pugilistic posture — are rooted in deep insecurity or confounding confidence or both, they tend to grate on outsiders who, for centuries, took us for boors and often got beat in the process, leading to even more regional resentment.
Our three-term governor, Rick Perry, comes straight out of this tradition, far more so than Bush. “I went to Texas A&M; he went to Yale” is the way Perry described the difference between himself and the former president, and he wasn’t being self-deprecating. And of course, now that he’s running for president, Perry, in his jocular, fratty way, is taking credit for virtually every good thing that has happened in Texas since Independence.
His shtick, however, is wearing thin around here. Typically, we close ranks when faced with criticism from outsiders. Being from Texas today is not unlike being a member of an ethnic minority. We can argue among ourselves, but criticism from the outside provokes a storm of defensiveness. Even liberal Texans took umbrage, for instance, when Al Gore portrayed the state as a polluted hellhole.
But the possibility of a President Perry has brought about a strange and, to my mind, never-before-seen turn of events: bragging about how bad things are here in Texas. Not just Democrats but also a growing number of Republicans are quick to mention that Perry pushed the Legislature to cut $4 billion out of public education. And they talk about how Texas now has the highest rate of the uninsured in the nation — the largest percentage of uninsured children too — and how we’re dead last in the percentage of adults with a high-school diploma. “What will eventually happen is the debate about Perry in the primary or in the general election will shift from being about Perry the candidate to ‘Does the rest of the country want to live in Texas?’ ” says Bob Stein, a political-science professor at Rice University. And strangely, Texans most likely won’t respond with a shrugged-off “of course.”
Consider the mainstream Texas media. Unwilling to be taken for saps this time around — the local press pretty much gave G. W. B. a pass leading up to the 2000 election — many of the major publications have sharpened their coverage, especially since Perry announced. Cronyism? The Houston Chronicle has been relentless in tracking Perry’s pay-to-play tendencies. Opposition to progressive health care? The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit Web site (which is affiliated with The New York Times), revealed that Perry had an experimental adult stem-cell procedure for his back pain. And my Texas Monthly colleague Paul Burka has been moonlighting as Cassandra, deploring the collapse of state institutions during Perry’s term.
Maybe it isn’t surprising that the Democrats are working against the governor, but the fact that they posted a video on YouTube that apologizes to the rest of the country for all the damage done by the last president from Texas is far from business as usual. (Warning that Perry is “much, much worse” than Bush, the video is set to an old pop song by Brenda Lee called “I’m Sorry.”)
What is surprising is the situation among Republicans. “There’s no doubt that there’s been a split in the Republican Party in Texas between the country-club wing and the much more conservative base segment of the party,” says Matt Mackowiak, an Austin-based political consultant and a Perry supporter. That divide is only going to expand. When Karl Rove takes digs at the governor on The Wall Street Journal’s op-ed page, and when George H. W. and Barbara Bush endorse Perry’s gubernatorial primary competitor Kay Bailey Hutchison, that’s the sound of early salvos in an intrastate, intraparty class war.
This isn’t just about snobbery but about something far more important here: money. Texans who have spent zillions to brag about the state’s opera and ballet companies, and who have paid the likes of Santiago Calatrava for architectural gewgaws, also know that multinational corporations aren’t willing to locate in a place that has awful schools and toxic air and that wears its provincialism proudly.
According to the historian H.(enry) W.(illiam) Brands, who now teaches at the University of Texas, Perry evokes an older kind of Texas populist who sees Republican immigrants like George H. W. Bush as pantywaists who can stick it out here only because of the invention of air-conditioning. But those same pantywaists can’t be easily dismissed anymore, having nurtured the forward-looking business class the state needs to stay financially robust. “All they want to do is have a chance to make money,” Brands says. “They don’t care about the debate over evolution or prayer in school.” In other words, playing the rube worked a lot better in the past.
One influential Houston Republican explained to me that the country-club set “thinks Perry is a great guy, but as far as having the intelligence to lead the country, there’s just no way.” That’s why many other Republicans down here find Mitt Romney to be a better bet than another cowboy-booted, g-droppin’ governor. But given Perry’s reputation for vindictiveness, these Republican apostates are still most comfortable criticizing him from the shadows. As the same Houston power broker said of a recent Romney fund-raising event, “I had someone else pay for me to go, because I didn’t want people to know I was there.” Ω
[Mimi Swartz is an executive editor at Texas Monthly. Swartz graduated from Hampshire College, She is the co-author (with Sherron Watkins) of Power Failure, The Inside Story of the Collapse of Enron (2003).]
Copyright © 2011 The New York Times Company
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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at sapper.blogspot.com. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.
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