Monday, January 25, 2010

Who wears the cowboy boots in Texas?

by Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 1/25/10

First out it was Levi Johnston v. Sarah Palin. Then Letterman vs. Sarah Palin. And Steve Schmidt, way post-seasonal in the marketing curve, coming in just in these last few weeks. But now in Texas it is George H.W. Bush vs. Sarah Palin. The stakes couldn’t be higher. The Republican primary race in Texas is now virtually a referendum on federalism.

George H.W. Bush supports Kay Bailey Hutchison. Sarah Palin supports the current governor Rick Perry.

“She [Hutchison] was a Lone Star Republican before it was cool to be a Republican in Texas,” Bush said.

Yes, but Perry was a Texan before it was cool to be a Texan. His family goes back to five generations of ranchers in Paint Creek, north of Abilene, while Bush has barely arrived. It was an issue that came up when H.W. decided to run for President whether he was a Texan or a Connecticut Yankee. His appearance in public debates wearing cowboy boots brought muffled laughter. He had to keep telling the press that he really was a Texan.

Bush paraphrases the tune made popular by Barbara Mandrell and old-school country legend George Jones: “I took a lot of kiddin’ cause I never did fit in . . . now look at everybody tryin' to be what I was then . . .” ‘Everybody’ suggesting people like H.W., Texan by way of Milton, Mass., Greenwich Country Day School, Andover, Yale Skull and Bones. Bush was Vice President when, “I was country when country wasn’t cool,” became popular.

That Bush has entered into the fray raises the profile of this election to a national referendum on issues of taxation, federal spending and state sovereignty.
Perry was one of the first national politicians to speak out in opposition to the government bailouts. In a Wall Street Journal essay titled “Governors against State Bailouts” published on Dec. 2, 2008, he said we were crossing the Rubicon in regards to debt as Washington has thrown bailout after bailout at the national economy with little to show for it.

“In the process, the federal government is not only burying future generations under mountains of debt. It is also taking our country in a very dangerous direction -- toward a "bailout mentality" where we look to government rather than ourselves for solutions.”

H.W.’s post-Presidential cache is a little mysterious. As President he was a prancing lightweight and the closer for Ronald Reagan. He represents a tradition or a sort, as the Kennedys do. As the Kennedys did.

Company men of the Bush “brand” like Dick Cheney and Karl Rove join H.W. in opposition to Perry. So does Karen Hughes, counselor (and proxy?) for W. But not all mainstream Republicans are hunkering down against what Maureen Dowd calls “Tea-party-style voter revolts.” In an interview with Dowd in the Sunday New York Times California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger says: ““People change very quickly, and you can’t complain because that’s the way people are. Work somewhere in a soup kitchen or something if you can’t take the pressure.” And in a recent interview on Fox Business, Mitt Romney, who showed in the 2002 Winter Olympics an instinctive ability to turn a circus into an opera, said the grass roots revolt was better than seeing the Republicans sit on their hands in despair, as they were doing a year ago.
Consider for a moment that Kennedy/Bush is a binary political abstraction which ran all the way from Boston to Texas but one that trailed back to Kennedy (Father Joe) and Lodge (Henry Cabot) here in New England generations ago and indeed carried in contention all the way back to the Old Sod since Cromwell invaded Ireland. These two are symbiots and when the one dies the other begins to look pale and watery. Like Holmes and Moriarty, they tend to go over the waterfall together.

My father was the archetypal Boston Irish Catholic who became an altar boy by default well into his eighties because no one else went to daily early morning Mass anymore. Very late in his life he developed a liking for George Romney, Mitt’s father, who ran for President briefly in 1968. Say what you like about Mormons in the Deep South and elsewhere, but up here, this was never their fight.

That age has passed with the old century. And in this season of endings and beginnings, what we are seeing in Texas today and America is a new awakening.