Not a Divine Comedy


If you, as a voter, think you’re facing a grim campaign season, consider for a moment that it could be much worse: you could be an Austin lobbyist. You would not only be expected to smile and kiss Rick Perry’s … ring, whenever he’s feeling broke and lonely – you also would be required to round up your clients and make them kiss Rick Perry’s … ring.

That was the explicit message of the Very Lite Guv’s mid-summer stumble, a letter to lobbyists describing each one’s Perry campaign contribution quota, accompanied by a helpful list of the lobbyist’s clients and their campaign contribution quotas. Some lobbyists were (privately) heard to howl at this effrontery. Perry’s people helpfully explained that the lists were only a way of keeping track, so that overburdened corporate clients might thereby avoid getting hit up twice, or three times, or four times, or…. Right.

What lessons should Humble Voters take from this comic but instructive episode of practical Texas politics? (1) That Perry and his people (unlike legendary predecessor Bob Bullock) can’t remember anything without writing it down; and (2) Campaign 2000 may not be so terribly boring, after all.

Perry is already bankrolling future campaigns against potential gubernatorial rival Kay Bailey Hutchison (now there’s a race we’re all eagerly awaiting: the Yell Leader vs. the Cheerleader) in fond hopes of ascending to incumbency on the heels of a Bush presidential victory. Should Bush lose, Perry will still have to protect his flank (right or left, we’re not really sure) from John Sharp, who reportedly still considers the Lite Guvship his for the taking. Waiting in the wings looking for a role – any role bigger than the roles they’re already assigned – are Land Commissioner David Dewhurst and Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander.

(Dewhurst may have more money, but Rylander definitely has more sand.)

On the Democratic side, Sharp is also orchestrating cheers for the newest Instant Candidate for Governor, El Paso millionaire and U.T.—Austin regent Tony Sánchez. Sánchez may well be a capital fellow, but much more importantly, he possesses in abundance the two qualities currently required of any Texas state politician: (1) money; (2) an inordinate and unreasoning affection for George W. Bush. That neither of these affects have been traditionally associated with what used to be called Democrats seems not to alarm any of the party regulars.

Is it any wonder that most Humble Voters may be becoming just a wee bit cynical about the substantive differences between TweedleRep and TweedleDem?

The national political comedy may never hold a candle to that of Texas. But it was reassuring to watch New Republican Bush hunt diligently and melodramatically for a running mate, and after searching far and wide, reach all the way back to Poppy, Dallas, Halliburton, and Dick Cheney. How diverting to watch the sagacious and newly compassionate Cheney explain why he voted against the E.R.A., affirmative action, and Head Start, to keep Nelson Mandela in chains, in defense of armor-piercing bullets, against clean air and water, and to prevent any woman, anywhere, for any reason, from having an abortion! Certainly sounds like a new kind of Republican. As Louis Dubose reports from Philadelphia (see page 8), the Party never ends. (Next issue, Nate Blakeslee will turn an Observing eye on the Democrats in L.A.)

One would like to hope the Humble Voters will have more choice this fall than just better jokes. The serious emergence of Ralph Nader and the Green Party (as we’ve argued here before) holds a good deal of promise, if nothing else, of putting real pressure on the Democrats. (As Jim Hightower points out, all they have to do to get rid of the Greens is to start acting like Democrats.) But for the short term, the permissible democratic “choices” remain dismal, e.g.: mean welfare reform vs. vicious welfare reform; erosion of abortion rights vs. erosion of abortion rights; stupid missile defense vs. idiotic missile defense; aggressive globalization vs. virulent globalization; bad environmental surrender vs. aggressive environmental destruction; smilingly brutal imperial foreign policy vs. grimly brutal imperial foreign policy….

And so on. It’s enough to make a grown woman laugh – if only to keep from crying. – M.K.