antagonistic to what you’re trying to do. But think about that .. . Or are they? Oh, no. They’re not. NOt at all. To begin with, Bentsen is a guy who understands coalition politics. All of us running in ’82, Ann [Richards] and [Jim] Mattox and [Garry] Mauro and me, new kids on the block, got the nomination, to the shock and amazement of conventional wisdom at least. And Bentsen, who was up for reelection, and Hobby, could have made the decision then and there, as some folks did, that, jeez, this was way too crazy . . . and said, you know, y’all are sweet kids, you go over there and run. But instead, they joined with us in a coalition effort. Using the large sums of money that they had access to in order to put into a get-out-the-vote program and a voter targeting program. And then using us to go into communities, to say, “these are our friends Lloyd and Bill here; vote for them too.” And that kind of coalition thing worked. Bentsen in the national campaign was the one who understood first and clearest the value of Jesse Jackson. And was very instrumental in bringing Jackson into the fold not that Jackson was the problem, it was the Dukakis people that had the welcome mat taken away. Bentsen saw that that was going to be a big problem for them and played a major role because, again, he understood coalition politics. If you look at what Hobby does in the state Senate: He’s been the one to take the leadership on right-to-know legislation on pesticides; he’s been the one to take the leadership with Ernie Cortes on some of his proposals; he’s the one for indigent health care, and etcetera. So, these guys aren’t caricatures of the conservative Democrat, no more than I’m a caricature of the left Democrat. The Bentsen factor I think is interesting. Voters I talked to before and after the election it was so easy to find all around Texas people who expressed the wish that it would have been Bentsen running for President. And some people describe Bentsen as the state’s most popular politician. You’ve said in the past that the true mainstream politically in this state is populist. I wonder sometimes if the true mainstream is “Bentsen-ist.” And he’s no populist. No, he’s not. But bear in mind what his uh . . . I mean, up against Michael Dukakis he was! And he was likeable in the campaign. And you couldn’t be a Democrat and be out there working for the ticket and not be impressed with the fact that this is a guy who knew that they were going down the tubes but that was out there you know, hitting ten events a day to still try to pull it off and stand with us in the battle. That doesn’t make him a hero of the left, it just says that he is a likeable guy who did an excellent job in this campaign and did a better job than the so-called progressive nominee for President in articulating true Democratic issues. So sure; you’re going to end up liking him. But the truth is that the center, the mainstream of politics rarely is measured in an election. Because you’re dealing with many factors beyond where they position themselves, including do they like one candidate do they like their own candidate, you start with that. And then do they like the other candidate. And then another factor is do they vote at all? You see, I didn’t say that the mainstream of the voting public was populist, I said the mainstream of the Texas electorate is populist. After the election I heard, I believe it was George Will, quote a poll, and 1 don’t have the specifics, but a poll showing that even in the great pool of non-voters out there the sentiment was pretty evenly divided between Democrat and Republican, trying to make the point that that non-voting pool out there really wasn’t any more progressive or populist than those who did go vote. Yeh. Typical insightful comment by Brother Will. One, they chose not to vote, which says something. Two, that was a choice not of positions, but of candidates. And I’ve got polls around here that show very clearly Michael Dukakis was much less liked as a human being than was Bush. And thirdly, what was their choice? It was not a choice between populism or Bush elitism; it was a choice between Bush elitism and Dukakis elitism. If you got a guy that starts off the campaign saying the issue is competence, number one, you’re in trouble there, because that is not the issue. Number two, he proved to be incompetent, and demonstrated it on a regular basis in the campaign I don’t mean him personally but I mean in the campaign. And number three, [he] did not until the last three weeks of the election run openly as a Harry Truman-FDR Democrat. The low point for me in the election was when the Dukakis campaign announced his housing plan. House America. And the guts of it were an individual could use their IRA to make a down payment on a house. Eighty percent of Americans don’t have an IRA. Those that do, their problem is not a down payment, for the most part. It was a proposal that could have come from the Bush camp. Well it became for me sort of a watershed of what the campaign debate was about. Democrats would let you use your IRA and the Republicans would not. Not much of a debate. So there’s a non-voter out there, or even a voter, and he’s thinking “Which one of these guys is which?” Part of your plan must be to find some way to bring that pool of non-voters back into the process. In the last two elections the Democrats have not successfidly done it; do you have a plan to start working on that? No, I don’t. This is not a entity that has sprung full-grown from my mind. This effort that I am making is to simply plant the flag and say “I think if we all got together, interested parties, people who wanted to try this got together, we can make something happen.” And I’m willing to put my political energies, whatever political capital I have, into giving this thing a try. We haven’t tried to do this in at least 20 years in Texas. And haven’t done it successfully since probably the late ’50s, early ’60s. But now might be the time. Let’s admit one thing that everyone admits, whether they’re conservative Democrats or liberal Democrat or populist Democrat: what we’ve been trying isn’t working all that well. So maybe we ought to try something else. I am offering to help find that something else. I don’t have it in my pocket, to say here it is, sign up on this. I want other people of good will and progressive and populist instincts, and liberal instincts, to come into this and let’s work together and see if we can’t build something here that is bigger than whoever the next candidate is going to be. Of course a lot of people have probably given up on the Democratic party at this point. I wonder if you saw the piece by Bernie Sanders on the New York Times oped page this week arguing exactly the type of coalition and progressive politics you’re talking about but with the idea that it’s got to come from a third party… . Maybe where he lives it’s got to come from a third party. I don’t think in Texas that is true. Because I think the populist base is there and I think it is very willing to be in the Democratic party if the Democratic party shows itself to have this populist expression. There’s a lot of talk about third parties. There’s talk about a labor party. There is talk about national third party efforts; there’s a lot of ferment on the progressive side of the ledger, and that’s nothing but good as far as I’m concerned. Everybody knows that we’ve got to do it different. And there’s going to be a lot of ideas popping up as to how to make that happen. I just have one of them. And I’m going to try mine inside the Democratic party, to which I am .a sustaining member. 1 don’t think it was insignificant that the labor leader Joe Gunn stood directly behind you at today’s announcement. Not at all. Joe is set to be elected the new president of AFL-CIO in July, Jackie St. Clair to be the Secretary-Treasurer, as I understand. They are both very committed 10 JANUARY 27, 1989
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