Look Away! Look Away! Look Away!


In case you missed it, Texas is funny again. When former Congressman Tom DeLay went on Hardball to second Gov. Rick Perry’s secessionist emotion, host Chris Matthews-along with the rest of America-was practically busting at the seams with merriment over the whole nutty business. DeLay was whining about Texas being a “huge donor state,” forced to send our riches to Washington to prop up all those sedentary losers in the rest of the country. Punished for our success! Why shouldn’t we think about striking out on our own?

“You sound like some rebel leader in the ’60s in Katanga province, that produced all the mineral wealth of the country and wanted to secede from the Congo,” Matthews gleefully howled. “Suppose maybe Texas does produce a lot of wealth. A lot of states are wealthier than others. Does that mean they should secede?”

“Chris, Texas is wealthy because it works hard,” DeLay replied, striking just that note of narcissistic cluelessness that America expects from its Texans. “It’s a pro-business state. … It’s not even close to what the Rust Belt is. We love jobs, we love for businesses to come to Texas, we don’t overtax you, we don’t have an income tax…”

They hate jobs in the Rust Belt, you know. No hard workers. Anti-business to the core. Tax rich people for fun. Nothing like Texas. “We have created an economic powerhouse here,” Perry boasted to hate-radio host Michael Savage on April 14, warming up for his star turn at the Tax Day tea parties. “And not by accident.”

So true, governor. For instance, it is no accident that Texas has one of the country’s highest shares of minimum-wage workers. No accident that we have the lowest percentage of folks with health insurance, and the third-highest percentage living beneath the federal poverty line. No accident that we’re first in teen births, eighth in subprime loans, and last in credit scores. No accident that we have one of the country’s widest gaps between rich and poor (and between rich and middle class). No accident that fewer Texans have high-school degrees, percentagewise, than folks in all but one other state.

So Texas is funny again, except when it’s not. But seriously, folks, let’s get back to the real point: If only those tax-crazy dimwits in the rest of America would wise up and follow our example, we wouldn’t have this recession in the first place! In the Republican Party’s desperate groping for something, anything, to say about fixing the economy, the apostles of Lone Star laissez-faire have been eagerly nominating Texas as the viable alternative to Obama-style socialism. (When they’re not waving the rebel flag, that is.) It’s free-market nirvana down here! Why, look at our low rate of unemployment, nearly two points lower than the national average. But it’s also been rising ominously: Texas ended February with 52,400 fewer jobs, and March with another 47,000 gone. The Comptroller’s office predicated just 100,000 job losses in all of 2009. Good luck with that.

Short of secession, Texas is unlikely to bear a vivid resemblance to Katanga anytime soon. But as this special issue on recession-era Texas shows, grimmer days of reckoning could be in store. A state that steadfastly refuses to invest in education has a sketchy future, at best, in a creative economy. And a state whose governor whistles Dixie while thousands of his citizens drop straight though the holes in what’s left of our social safety net? It’s not a place with much to brag about. Or laugh about.