A vital vantage point By Tristram Coffin Washington. D.C. The real guts, the real strength of America is out there, not in this barren desert of political platitudes and corporate cliches. This is why The Texas Observer is such an important journal, why it can help guide us through the mists of another quarter-century. It gives a sense of the ferment and struggle and hellraising out there; it gives the humor and sadness, the irony and hope, the inventiveness and frustration that is America. The next 25 years are going to be exciting and roughthe sickness and perhaps the collapse of the old economic order and the birth of a new, the creation of alternative fuels and rigid conservation of resources, an awareness of the price we all pay in degenerative disease from manmade chemicals and super-radiation thrown off by the industrial revolution, and a search for substitutes for and even the elimination of chemicals now considered essential to industry; a major political battle between the forces of the status quo and of reform with the emergence of a sophisticated right wing; a final effort to chain the dogs of war before a cataclysm falls on part of the world; changes in the political structures of the nations, with perhaps the fall of the old Soviet regime and the emergence of China as a semi-capitalist nation whose power will stretch across Asia. How the United States will react to change depends on how well-informed Washington is. Too often the politician here is a captive of the cloakroom and cocktail circuit; he loses sight of the vigors and the needs of Americans. He gets the idea that the interests pounding on his door are the voice of America. This is why we need The Texas Observer and like journals to conscientiously tell us what really goes tn in that wonderful, mysterious world out there. The salty pages of the Observer should be required reading for the bureaucrat and member of Congress. We have drifted far away from the original concept of democracy. The nation was probably more democratically run when Congress did not stay in the capital all year, but left the swamps and miasma here to live with the voters much of the time. The absentee politician misses a good deal that America needs badlythe inventiveness of garage tinkerers \(I know of one who is seriuosly working on an automobile engine to operate on the hydrogen drawn from water cern of small groups \(several women in Oregon have organized an effective protest against the spraying of dioxin herneeds of the old and the poor in face of a maniac inflation, the willingness of the people to sacrifice and adopt new ways, if only there were leadership in Washington. This is what I would like to see the Observer do in the next 25 years: to devote even more effort and integrity to the problems, the ingenuity, the mood of the people, so that those of us in Washington can draw advice and strength and hope for the stormy tomorrows. 0 Tristram Coffin is editor of the Washington Spectator. world, we cannot sit forever by the fire we have made. The real strength of the Observer, the reason that it has flourished in this region 25 years while no other so bold a regional periodical has in any other part of the country, is the community from which the Observer draws and which, through the Observer, seeks to organize itself. The strengththe inspirednessof this edition, the readers’ collective reflection on the future, shows the source of the Observer’s strength: the intelligence, variety, and loving hopefulness of the Observer community. No one citizen of this community is defined by the Observer, nor justified through it, nor confined by it; we are all creatures of this dread but shining time. First, now, I then ask each of you to help me plan the changing of the Observer into more. Send to me, or give to me, your ideas, your responses to my ideas, and word or fact of every practical resource that we can use to build the Observer into more. Second, I want to tell you that, upon Jim Hightower’s suggestion, I have begun legal and financial investigations concerning the incorporation of the Observer. As her high-minded husband confirmed to me when I went to him in Houston to discuss this with him, Mrs. R. D. Randolph, the Observer’s first pub lisher and my partner in it, knowing that I would keep it both free and progressive, meant and intended that I keep full control of it, and I will do this. Lawyers I have consulted convince me that this is compatible with incorporating the Observer for the purpose of raising capital. How much capital? For what new Observer? I have had discourse with a highly recommended specialist in the capital markets, the while also reading the Wall Street Journal the morning of every business day for two years. Clearly this is not yet the time to go into the market with a stock issue, but that time may not be more than a year, more or less, from now. My own ruminations about making the Observer more began with an expanded picture in my mind of staff and locations. Instead of continuing to be an Austinbased periodical, the Observer could, for instance, if Texas-bounded, become triangularly based in Houston, San Antonio, and Austin, and eventually perhaps Fort Worth-Dallas also; we could have editorial staff and office each place. Perhaps the second major progression in my reflections about the Observer’s future \(which have been continuing, in ers an editorial focus on the social and structural implications of new energy sources, especially the sun. It is the revolutionary economic characteristic of solar energy that it destroys the economies of scale. A small solar energy system for a house or a co-op or a small factory is proportionally just as economical as would be a national solar energy grid or the big corporations’ piein-the-sky for a satellite grid to concentrate solar energy into earth-burning beams. The one fact, the utility of solar energy for small applications, means that it can become the foundation of a new economic system combining selfsustaining small units with a centralized technology of a servicing kind. But my thought for the Observer here is only a focus, not an exclusion of other concerns nor neglect of the various works of idealism “For the cause that lacks assistance,/ For the wrong that needs resistance,/ For the future in the distance.” Gradually and at last, there has dis-. solved my conservative persistence in the assumption, grounded in experience, that the Observer must continue to be only regional. The principal concerns of the evolved Observer are regional manifestations of national and international realities. Very few of us are still truly regional people. Think back broadly on the concerns expressed by Texans in this issue on the next 25 years. Texans, Mexicans, Africans, Chinese, we are all here 56 DECEMBER 28, 1979
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