If anybody expected the inauguration-day flight to Texas on War Crime One to be a somber, tail-between-legs sort of affair, they were sorely misunderestimating Texas’ prodigal son. “The president was in a very good mood,” reported Congressman Mike Conaway, who described the atmosphere as “something like a high-school reunion.” All the cool kids came along for the ride: Rove, Hughes, Spellings, Bartlett, Gonzo, Bolton, Evans, Jenna, Barbara, Barney, Miss Beasley. “When you get back together,” Conaway gushed, “you talk about all the fun things that happened and the silly things that went on, and the stuff that made you laugh.”
But the sudden end to those eight years of hijinks and hilarity did seem to dampen the spirits of one passenger, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who owned up to a spell of weeping on the journey. Fortunately, Bush Daddy was there for him. “Getting off the plane,” Gonzales recalled, “he kissed me on the forehead and just said, ‘Stay strong.'”
Even if he took a nasty whack on the head and suddenly became capable of recognizing the mess his school council made of the country, W would still have plenty of reasons to feel giddy about retiring to Texas. In so many respects, the state is an even comfier fit than when he left. What Bush tried-and in most ways, blessedly, failed-to make of America, Texas did to itself while he was busy doling out nicknames to all of official Washington.
Even with all his self-proclaimed “political capital,” Bush couldn’t quite manage to deregulate and privatize and free-for-all the entire country. But down here, in his absence, the right-wing Republicans purchased by Bob Perry and Jim Leininger and Bo Pilgrim, and laundered by Tom DeLay, made ready for his happy return by shrinking gummit right down to bathtub-drowning size-and then getting Tom Craddick, the recently dethroned House speaker, to hold it under.
Talk about a Bushian paradise. When W left for Washington, per-pupil expenditures in Texas schools ranked 25th in the country; by 2005, they’d dropped to 40th. Back in 2000, utilities were still regulated-in Houston! The state was trying to regulate home-insurance rates. Colleges had limits on tuition. Juries could punish companies for maiming their customers. Southeast Texas had medical clinics. It was the very next thing to socialism.
Maybe if Bush hadn’t been so all-fired stubborn about, as Rove recently said, “putting principle above politics” in Washington, he could have worked the same wonders up there. But no matter: He’s back to enjoy the fruits of others’ labor, which is, for him, a kind of specialty.
But he might notice one sour note. In fact, a highly placed source has revealed to me a snippet of less-than-joyful conversation from the Washington-to-Midland flight. To wit:
GWB: Still can’t get over all those people who came out for Obama. What’d they say-two million? And how many’d I get that time-a hundred grand?
AG: That’s almost two whole Cotton Bowls, Mr. President!
GWB: Heh-heh. You always know how to cheer me up, you little bugger. And you’re right, Gonzo: At least Dallas won’t be full of those kinds. We know what they do to Democrats in Big D, heh-heh-heh.
LB: They elect them.
GWB: Say what?
LB: I said, they elect them. Dallas is run by Democrats now, dummy. They threw out the Republicans in 2006. It’s the bluest city this side of Austin.
GWB: You mean-you mean-you moving me to a Democrat place?