Say what you will about Michael Lind, at least he’s never predictable. That is, of course, unless your prediction is that he’s once again trying to find a way to disagree with everyone else.
Lind first made a splash in 1996 with The Next American Nation, a strident assault on both multiculturalism and its elitist opponents alike. Three years later, in his descriptively titled Vietnam: The Necessary War, Lind chided those across the spectrum who try to “heal the wounds” of a war the author revises as a “justified” attempt to “preserve the military and diplomatic credibility of the United States in the Cold War.”
Before you peg Lind as a reflexive hawk, however, do consider his latest target: the influence of the pro-Israel lobby over US foreign policy. How many apologists for Lyndon Johnson’s war wage blistering assaults on Ariel Sharon’s relentless expansionism? Very few, although that’s probably because, except for Lind, there are almost no fans of LBJ’s foreign policy left.
Lind’s newest target is George W. Bush, a fellow Texan, as well as an equally steadfast opponent of multiculturalism, cultural elitism and dovish revisionism. But Lind clearly holds no brief for our forty-third President. Bush, in his view, is an heir to the worst traditions the Lone Star State has to offer, to a Texas that is a “toxic by-product of the hierarchical plantation society of the American South.”
Lind for his part carries the torch for the Texas “modernists,” figures like Sam Rayburn, LBJ and Ross Perot. In so doing, he manages once again to stake out his own ground. Like many foes of the President, he resents Bush because he’s a swaggering oilman from Texas. But, more uniquely, Lind also rails against him in the name of the “other Texas,” the rural folk who were the proud beneficiaries of New Deal projects of rural electrification and other vast public works.
Even though Lind and his colleagues at the New America Foundation like to position themselves in what they call “the Radical Center,” many of their ideas sound like variations on mid-twentieth-century liberalism, which actually places them to the left of either of the major parties. Unlike Bush or the Democrats, Lind advocates sizable state intervention in the market in order to redistribute wealth, population and even land. Yet, like Bush, a good portion of Lind’s program is really only partly native to Texas soil.
Made in Texas opens with Lind’s stark contrast between two regions close in proximity but miles apart in temperament. The first is the Waco area, which encompasses Bush’s Western White House in Crawford. Known mostly for its twin legacies of racism and Protestant fundamentalism, this benighted stretch of ranches and cotton farms has historically been a seedbed for the KKK and later the Branch Davidians. Lind sees such traditions as matching those of the West Texas culture where George W. grew up, and it’s in his ranch outside Waco where the President now feels most at home.
Just an hour away is the Texas Hill Country, whose regional identity derives from the freethinking, pro-Unionist German settlers of the mid-nineteenth century. “The region in which [Lyndon] Johnson grew up was a land of small hills, small rivers–and small producers,” Lind writes. The author tends to wax rhapsodic about the region. For Lind, the Hill Country is an oasis of “racial and ethnic pluralism,” a world apart from the “black/white caste system” of East Texas and the greater Deep South to which it belonged.