Page 16


A Voice in the Newsprint Wasteland Arlington Ronnie Dugger is a youngish resident of Austin who edits and writes the Texas Observer with as little help as possible. He is what ladies in the time of Tom Jones would call “a pretty fellow,” with’ a jaunty, Celtic, and collegiate air, more like JFK than LBJ. His hair tends to wave down over the up per left corner of his face, punctuating along with a tilted stance the effect of a mischievous boy putting an embarassing question before stuffy adults. Ronnie Dugger has been for ten years the undisputed champion, darling, after-dark Daniel and midnight MoSes of those exotic peripheral types referred to in the Shivers era as “pinkos” and now, with the beatnik craze, as “dirty-neck liberals.” In Dugger’s behalf, it should be noted that he is more hygienic than the younger cultists, and he prefers to write and speak to larger audiences than those that lionize him after two drinks .in kitchen and hotel room. Dugger is more than a crusader’s crusader. He learned economics and journalism at the University of Texas and found there an extraordinary wife, Jean Williams, who is beauteous, sagacious, and fortified with a tungsten carbide patience. They went to foreign parts like England and Washington and came home is better for all its faults. Ronnie has worked hard. Burning in thenight with a fundamentalist fire for social justice, he hoes his corn by day with a fierce and pre-collectivist independence. To understand Dagger’s, significance, it is necessary to know the contrast between the Present Land and the Promised Land. Much of Texas is a fair and fruitful territory, with good grass and clear, cool water in the rock. The horizon rolls away forever and the sky is larger and bluer than any other cover on any other people. Winter is mild and brief and summer heat sterilizes more than it oppresses. Autumn and Spring are regal seasons that return the earth to Eden. There is innocence, wellbeing, and happy forgetfulness in nature herself and men thrive upon her bounty. Herds of livestock, large and little, graze from the piney woods to the semi-tropical Rio Grande and to the faceless plains where Coronado lost himself. In two hundred counties and a thousand towns cotton and maize and citrus change into bank balances that did not exist before. Oil derricks stand like an army, gas flares in the night, sulphur is pumped into a yellow river. The cities leap up white and glistening in the sun, a million wheels moving and every motion geared to money. The casual observer could hardly ask for more. But in the face of such power and beauty, the thoughtful and patriotic man may 8 The Texas Observer Thomas Sutherland well ask what it profits the people. Large in land and well furnished with other resources and evidences of wealth, Texas is rather limited when it comes to using its natural gifts and man-made apparatus for any form of happiness that cannot be seen or felt or counted by a clerk. And even for tangible benefits that can be felt by all the people the State Government is inclined to oversleep in the Sam Houston bed. The people of Texas are mostly well-meaning and energetic but undisturbed by thoughts analytical, critical, or creative. If you asked an average Texan what he needs, he would not have a ready answer. Comfort does not provoke such questions. We have an exception to this unquestioning averageness in Dugger and his small newspaper. It is different from other newspapers. In our vast state, famous for systems of making fortunes and influencing people, journalism stands out for the amount of paper that it requires people to throw away. The Dallas News weighs more Cambridge, Mass. While I have been wondering how to respond to the editor’s invitation to contribute to the tenth anniversary issue of the Observer, there has run insistently through my mind a line from Robert Browning: “Ah, a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” Romantic poets, and notions of heaven, A Note on Writers Perhaps it would not be amiss to say a word about the contributing editors writing in this issue, although they are all well known to Observer readers. Roger Shattuck is a professor of Romance languages at the University of Texas and author of The Banquet Years. Willie Morris is an editor of Harper’s Magazine and edited the Observer 1960 through 1962. Larry Goodwyn is writing in Austin. Tom Sutherland is on the English faculty at Arlington State College. Charles Alan Wright is on leave from the law faculty at the University of Texas for a year on the Harvard faculty. Dan Strawn is farming in Kg ,nedy, playing the stock market, and fencing. Franklin Jones, Sr., is the Marshall lawyer. than Napoleon did at birth. Other farflung dailies build similar empires by advertising places to spend your money along with club, crime, and sports stories, multiple syndicated matter, and cartoons. If the newsprint handed daily to our ten million Texans and house guestsnot counting the print on food and beverage containers were saved and stored upon the premises, in ten years the inhabitants would be forced into the street with transistor radio. The ten-year file of the Texas Observer, by contrast, could be carried by one man in his air luggage on a night flight. This disparity between the metropolitan press and the Observer is reversed, however, in regard to thought. If Socrates or Christ came to Texas and cast about for reading matter related to ideas of courage, freedom, beauty, justice, wisdom, selfless love, or any other thought that could advance mankind beyond animal comfort, these vagrant ghosts would end up perusing the Texas Observer. It is about the only voice in the state that calls for human progress in the old, forgotten virtues. seem to have little to do with the Observer, or its editor, but I cannot help thinking that the line says a good deal about the real significance of the paper and of Ronnie Dugger. The enterprise would be worthwhile if it merely provided an honest, hardhitting report on what is going on in Texas today. In fact it does far more than that. It paints the picture of a better Texas, a Texas which never was and perhaps never will be: Ronnie is able to envision a Texas in which all public servants are honest and fearless, a Texas in which all our people, of whatever color or ancestry, are treated equally and regard each other as equals, a Texas in which no idea is so unpopular or so terrifying as to be barred from examination and discussion in the schools and elsewhere in the state, a Texas in which the humblest laborer is paid a living wage, taxation is based on ability to pay, and poverty is unknown. Ronnie dreams of a Texas in which a truly first-class free education will be available to all, a Texas which holds its natural splendors in trust for the enjoyment of generations yet to come, a Texas which values brains more than dollars and fine art more than foot A Republican Texan On What It’s About Charles Alan W right