Wednesday, November 23


On the fiftieth anniversary of the Texas Observer, Bill Moyers pens a tribute rife with reminiscences about the past fifty years in the Lone Star State.

No Texas liberal should miss it. No one else should, either. A sample:

Some years ago the classicist scholar, William Arrowsmith, writing in The Texas Observer, described the “worst of Texas attitudes—the rock-bottom conviction, expressed in stone throughout the state and in the hearts of politicians, that what counts is always and only wealth, that everything is for sale and can be bought.” Including now the Faith of Our Fathers, the Old Time Religion, the Rock of Ages. Right-wing religion provides the political and corporate forces running America a cloak of “moral values” with which to camouflage the plunder of America. It is the Texas machine duplicated many times over. For, as The Texas Observer once put it, “The men who run the Lone Star State, through a tacit but powerful interlocking directorate of politicians and corporation executives [joined now by preachers] are perpetrating and perpetuating a monstrous deception on the public” —namely, the illusion of self-government.

Everything President George W. Bush knows, he learned here, as the product of a system rigged to assure the political progeny needed to perpetuate itself with minimum interference from the nuisances of liberal democracy. You remember liberal democracy: the rule of law, the protection of individual and minority rights, checks and balances against arbitrary power, an independent press, the separation of church and state. As governor, Bush was nurtured by the peculiar Texas blend of piety and privilege that mocks those values. With the election of 2000, he and his cohorts arrived in Washington like atheists taking over the Vatican; they had come to run a government they don’t believe in.

The results have been disastrous: reckless tax cuts, a relentless assault on social services, monumental debt, pre-emptive war, an exhausted military, booming corporate welfare and corruption so deep and pervasive it has touched every facet of American government.

Much has been made of the president’s inept response to Hurricane Katrina. His early response was to joke the fun he had as a frat boy in now-grieving New Orleans. When a reporter pressed him on what had gone wrong after the hurricane struck, he sarcastically asked: “Who says something went wrong?” His attitude would surprise no one who read the 1999 profile of Bush by a conservative journalist who reported how the then-governor had made fun of Karla Fay Tucker’s appeals to be spared the death penalty. The journalist—a conservative, remember —wrote that Bush mocked and dismissed the woman, like him a born-again Christian, as he depicted her begging him, “Please don’t kill me!” But this is not what she had said. Bush made it up.

Such contempt for other people’s reality is embedded in a philosophy hostile to government except as an instrument of privilege and patronage. This is the crowd, remember, that was asleep at the switch in the months leading up to 9/11 when the intelligence traffic crackled with warnings about terrorist attacks (look it up in the official commission report). It’s the same crowd that made a mess of the occupation of Iraq—and then awarded themselves Medals of Freedom for the wreckage they had created. Their mentality was well summed up by Donald Rumsfeld, who, after Baghdad’s libraries and museums were sacked, shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘Stuff happens.'

Hurricane Katrina uncovered what the progressive advocate Robert Borosage calls the “catastrophic conservatism” of the long right-wing crusade to denigrate government, ‘starve the beast,’ scorn its purposes and malign its officials. We are seeing the results of an economic policy focused on top-end tax cuts and deregulations to reward private investors, as opposed to public investments in the country’s vital infrastructure. On the day that Katrina struck the coast, the census bureau reported that last year, one million people had been added to the 36 million Americans living in poverty. A few weeks earlier, the Labor Department had reported that while incomes had grown impressively last year, the gains had gone mostly to the top—the people with stocks and bonds and income other than wages. But the 80 million people who live paycheck to paycheck barely stayed even. It took a natural disaster to expose the stunning inequality and poverty produced when people are written off and shoved to the margins. And to remind us, as Borosage writes, of the dearth of basic investment in the boring but essential public works vital to civilization—schools, public transport, water systems, public health, and yes, wetlands and trees.

We are seeing now the results of systemic and spectacular corruption and cronyism and the triumph of a social ideal—the “You get yours/I’ll get mine” mentality—that is diametrically opposed to the ethic of shared sacrifice and responsibility.


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