Second Thought: Wednesday, August 25, 2004
Divide and Conquer

Why the national Democrats should secede from Texas


Outspoken Democrat and Archer City resident Larry McMurtry proved himself both a progressive and a model of common sense when he decided to executive-produce and adapt Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain, the first big-screen gay cowboy love story in anyone’s memory. The irascible McMurtry obviously understood that homosexuality is much more than a sissy East Coast-West Coast phenomenon that began in the radical ’60s. In that realization, he, um, diverged significantly from most Texas politicians.

My admiration for McMurtry increased with his appearance in Christopher Hitchens’ recent documentary Texas: America Supersized. Hitchens visited the Fort Worth Stockyards, among other state landmarks, in order to pose a serious question: With a loudmouth, sub-literate Texas fundamentalist in the White House (my wording, not Hitchens’), should America be concerned that “Texas values” will become the national model?

During his interview segments, McMurtry disavowed the unreflective, macho, might-makes-right cowboy attitude of which Dubya is so proud. Although national condescension toward Texas is not new, he admitted that the current president has justified recent examples of it. Apparently, McMurtry the native Texan never received the state-pride talking points that infest the editorial pages of Texas’ dailies: He called Bush “the worst president of my lifetime.”

I wish the national Democrats were as direct in their geographic criticisms. With all their flaws, the Dems are still the only major national party to contain a significant, active corps of progressives. (Sorry, Ralph — the eager acceptance of Republican oil money from Houston betrays your anti-corporate mantra.) Almost every issue dear to a bleeding heart — improved public health care, better oversight of publicly traded corporations, reproductive freedom, gay rights, and the sacred split between church and state — is opposed by Texas’ political majority. Texas — and the American South in general — still pushes Democrats to obscure or refashion themselves on issues critical to the party’s base, which includes a few lonely Texas liberals.

Bottom line: The Democratic Party should secede from Texas and maybe from the entire South. By that, I mean stop the pretense that this region somehow represents “the real America” and cut those electoral college and Congressional votes as a loss; I’m convinced the White House can be won and federal legislation can be ratified without them. This, in turn, means Texas influence is not required to staff federal judicial benches, especially the Supreme Court

On practical matters, the Democrats’ secession has already begun. The Boston Globe ran an article during the Dems’ national convention about the inevitably neglected Texas delegates: They got the worst Fleet Center seats, the most inconvenient lodging, the crappiest speakers at their breakfast meetings, etc. You’re not likely to see Kerry spend much campaign time down here, except for extremely private fundraising stops.

Who can blame them for diverting campaign energy and cash away from the state? Texas Democrats running for office in 2004 want to be photographed with John Kerry about as passionately as Ken Lay wants Gloria Allred to head his criminal defense. Susan Scweker, chair of the Democrats’ Southern Caucus in Boston, admitted as much in a recent Associated Press story. There is a serious disconnect when politicians have to hide their own party’s national nominees because the Clampetts in their home state might notice.

When John Kerry mumbled during the primaries about writing off the South, conservatives pounced with the “Massachusetts liberal” label. Don’t just mumble about secession; make it a plank in the next convention platform. The split would be official, and Democrats could stop pandering to the folks who elected Tom Delay and John Cornyn. There’s a grating whininess to Texas’ demand for political attention. Northern, Midwestern, and coastal states have been happy to vote for presidents with Southern accents, whereas Southern pundits always crow about how no modern presidential campaign (Nixon-Agnew notwithstanding) can succeed without a Southerner on the ticket. In effect, this means conservatives down here want to be recognized even by candidates they have no intention of helping elect. The Dems genuflected and made the blatantly cosmetic VP choice of John Edwards, who was clearly less qualified than either Gephardt or — horrors! — Hillary Clinton. The Democrats dumbed down their presidential ticket to flatter a region that, were it not for LBJ’s strong-arming and those nasty activist federal judges in the ’60s, would likely still have Jim Crow Laws.

Lone Star cuss Larry McMurtry offers guidance by example. He’s enjoyed a lucrative literary career by nuancing the Texas mind from small-town poor (The Last Picture Show) to Houston society (Terms of Endearment). He has no problem appreciating the Texas sinner at the same time he decries the political sins. Similarly, if there’s any hope for success with America’s democratic experiment, the national Democrats should renounce the majority values of this state. Here’s a suggested motto: “Love the Texan, Hate the Bullshit.” l

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