Gil FARENTHOLD: A TEXAS CHRONICLE A 35-minute, 16mm color documentary. Produced by Estelle Changas and Kay Loveland. Directed by Estelle Changas. By Wayne Oakes No doubt 1974 is a hard memory for Sissy Farenthold. She spent a good part of the year traveling thousands of bone-wearying, spirit-sapping miles across Texas in a second unsuccessful quest for the governor’s mansion. It was a race many of Farenthold’s enthusiastic ’72 backers did not want her to make, and many of them sat it out. But Californians Estelle Changas and Kay Loveland seem to have gone every step with Sissy, judging by their fine film chronicle of the 1974 campaign. They have caught the essential details and the spirit of the long, hard and lonely trek. They trained their cameras on the candidate at shopping centers, rallies and press conferences; on campuses and in her bus on the way to still another event; in a quiet conference with her family in her kitchen; on the phone talking to contributors; andfinallyduring a concession speech after receiving 29 percent of the vote. “Farenthold” captures the sincerity and articulate commitment of this remarkable Texan not only by recording her words and movements, but also by focusing on the gentle lady’s face. The Changas-Loveland film, however, reveals more about liberal campaigns than many liberals will want to own up to \(and probably more than they will see in tribute to a strong woman waging a courageous campaign on important issues, the final theme is the important one: the film is about a two-time electoral loser. Halfway through, the mood turns downward, toward the inevitable. Sissy’s disappointed supporters accept another defeat, displaying a resignation they are used to, since victory for Texas liberals has been so seldom experienced. Along with resignation comes the traditional moaning about the causes of defeatthe opposition’s money and power, male chauvinism, an inattentive press, and so forth. Few new explanations emerge. However, when the campaign is played back in this film, one unstated cause of this and other liberal setbacks fairly hollers at you from the background: standard, upper-middle-class, well-educated, polished-and-cultured, urban-liberal elitism. It is a malady not unique to Farenthold’s gubernatorial effortsnearly all liberal campaigns suffer from it. Most Observer readers are afflicted. Not all liberals are of the patronizing sort, but liberal candidates seem to attract disproportionate numbers to their staffs, where they exert an often disastrous influence. Both the language and style of a typical Texas liberal campaign narrow the appeal of its issues, and the candidate ends up spending more time in academic gardens than in Turkey talking to cattlemen. The outcome is predictable, and deserved. It could be different. Sissy was not without appeal to the great mass of Texas voters. In 1969 she won wide acclaim for carrying the House resolu tion against Land Commissioner Jerry Sadler, convincing the majority of an otherwise all-male deliberative body to take the unprecedented action of formally reprimanding a statewide elected official. She built a wide base of support out of the issue and discredited a hitherto popular man with impeccable rural, snuff-dipping credentials. In 1971, she added to her appeal by insisting that the Sharpstown Bank deals involving the governor, lieutenant governor, and House speaker were morally wrong and legally untenable for all the principals. By the time she began the ’72 campaign, her support cut across conventional political lines. Lots of East Texas pickups sported both Wallace and Farenthold stickers. What had become of that support by election day? All the conventional defeat elements came into playmost notably, Texas’ peculiar Democratic primary and are not to be under-emphasized. Liberal elitism, however, has never received its just share of the blame for the ’72 outcome, and it’s time it did. One sequence in “Farenthold” underscores the problem. A plainspoken farm woman Sissy Farenthold takes a break from her chores to talk about the campaign. Pushing back her windblown hair, she looks straight at her off-camera questioner and says, “You want to know what I think about Farenthold? Your farm people don’t like people who are always negative, and she never seems to have anything good to say about anybody.” That’s not a fair -characterization of Sissy personally, but it is a fair assessment of her campaign. Instead of scoffing at the farm woman for saying such a thing, liberals would be smart to think about what she’s telling us. Texas’ citified liberals have always discounted rural votes. They do not understand rural people and disdain the notion of trying to. Votes in the hinterland were not even seriously sought by Sissy’s campaign in ’72. Her strategists concentrated on urban areas, counting on labor and minorities to make the difference. There were dissenters on Sissy’s staff, but they were lonely. Too many campaign elitists thoughtand thinkof farmers as bumpkin types, too thick-headed to realize they should be voting liberal. So major campaigning in The film captures the sincerity and articulate commitment of this remarkable Texan not only by recording her words and movements, but also by focusing on the gentle lady’s face. However, it reveals more about liberal campaigns than many liberals will want to own up to and probably more than they will see in it. 20 OCTOBER 21, 1977
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