That Great Sucking Sound


If political pundits and reporters are fair game for criticism and ridicule 99 percent of the time, it’s probably only fair to cut these folks a bit of slack during their most forlorn and desperate of times-the vast, empty continuum that yawns (often literally) between election days and inaugurations. On that dreaded first Wednesday in November, the curtain drops abruptly on the final act of a drama that practically writes itself, and suddenly there is almost nothing to report. Still, the presses-and airwaves and gigabytes-continue to churn, demanding to be filled with something, anything.

Which is the most generous explanation I can conjure for the outbreak, in recent weeks, of lengthy variations on the most absurd of themes: Whatever will Texas do without its Unrivaled Power in Washington?

“Texans have long assumed that the state would be a powerful force in the nation’s capital,” Richard S. Dunham opined in the Houston Chronicle. But as “George W. Bush prepares to leave office and pass the reins of power to Illinois’ favorite son Barack Obama … the state is experiencing an unprecedented power outage in the capital’s corridors of power.”

Just think of what is being lost, people! After all, as USA Today noted, “The past 20 years-a dozen of them with a Texan in the White House-have seen the introduction of Shiner Bock beer to Washington grocery stores, the regular stocking of Dr. Pepper at Congressional Liquor, plus the arrivals of both a Capitol Hill Tex-Mex establishment (Tortilla Coast, in 1988) and a centrally located downtown barbecue joint (Nick Fontana’s Capitol Q, in 1997).”

That’s only the tip of this iceberg. Margaret Spellings, the Texan who took her magic touch for school improvement to Washington as secretary of education, rued the passing of a special Lone Star style of governance. “We’re direct and have colorful expressions and a no-nonsense, can-do attitude,” she said. “That’s the frontier way, the Texas way. Those things do translate into a particular management style.”

Indeed they do. In The Dallas Morning News, Republican Rep. Joe Barton of Arlington wistfully recalled “the ease with which he could arrange a one-on-one with Mr. Bush or a senior aide.” Said Barton: “There’s no substitute when you need something done to pick up the phone and be able to get Karl Rove on the phone.”

The Texas “power outage” is only worth noting, if at all, as cause for giddy celebration-not only because it may save the free world, but also salvage the honor of the state. It’s true that we’ve hauled in nearly unrivaled pork-$2.2 billion in federal earmarks last year, the Chronicle reports, “second only to California.” But it’s also true that those billions have mostly been funneled straight into the pockets of the good ol’ boys who need it like a hole in the head. “The Bush administration never asked for funding for the Trinity River project, underfunded NASA, did not adequately fund the deepening and widening of Houston’s ship channel and spent three years trying to close Waco’s VA hospital,” noted Democratic Rep. Chet Edwards, suddenly the most powerful Texan in Washington from his high perch on the Appropriations Committee.

I don’t know about you, but I have a hunch that Texas will survive the vacuum that’s finally sucking up the biggest chunks of detritus we’ve floated Washington’s way. And maybe, given the short historical memories of our fellow Americans, our fair state can even emerge, a few decades down the road, as something other than the most justifiably feared and loathed powerhouse in the union.

-Bob Moser