Oh, sure, blame it on Texas. It’s all our fault Jim Jeffords walked. Many, many people in Washington are assuming "the Texans" in the White House are responsible for this massive screw-up. Whereas everybody in political Austin assumes it. It’s often hard to discern the difference between Texas Tough and Texas Stupid.
Sheesh, you play a little hardball, and the guy quits the party over it? So there was a slight miscalculation. As Lyndon Johnson used to say, in his charming fashion, "You got their peckers in your pocket, their hearts and minds will follow." There was just a tiny error about the localization of Jeffords’s pecker. Texans are also proud that Senator Phil Gramm, so noted for his charm, also played a role in Jeffords’s departure.
Karl Rove, the man known as "Bush’s Brain," would never do anything mean, dirty, petty or tacky. I say this because one of the things I have learned from Rove and Karen Hughes–counselor to His Bushness and also known as Nurse Ratchet–is that if you say something often enough, like "compassionate conservative" or "leave no child behind," the reality makes no difference; people remember only the slogan. (One of the funnier slogans, from Bush’s last run for governor, was "end social promotion." Social promotion is the story of Bush’s life. The Lege just ended ending social promotion–it doesn’t work.) Rove is the master of bait-and-switch politics: Talk moderate, govern right. It took a real moderate like Jeffords to bring this to the media’s attention.
One of the post-switch defenses put out by the White House is that Jeffords left the party over a petty social slight: If it was petty of Jeffords to mind not being invited to the ceremony honoring the Teacher of the Year, how petty was it of the Bushes not to invite him? This kind of circular thinking leads people to conclude the Bushies think their own shit don’t stink.
When Texas sent the nation Billy Bob Forehead for President, we did, in fact, try to warn y’all about Rove. He not only goes after Democrats, his record of attacking Republicans who cross him is equally distinguished. Rumor and slur campaigns are among his favorite methods. He started using dirty tricks when he was with the College Republicans and has since been linked to the rumors that Ann Richards is a lesbian (a perennial for any woman in politics), that John McCain is crazy as a result of his years in prison camp and several other notable doozies. The campaign against McCain in South Carolina during the primaries was a Rove classic. McCain was simultaneously rumored to be gay and a tomcat who cheats on his wife, who in turn was rumored to be a drug addict. The news that McCain has a black daughter (adopted from Bangladesh) was spread judiciously under the radar of the national media. Anonymous leaflets put under the windshield wipers of cars parked at white fundamentalist churches on Sunday are good for this purpose, as are certain radio call-in shows.
According to the May 14 issue of the conservative Weekly Standard, before Jeffords switched: "The White House and Senate sources say it [the social snub] was a taste of things to come for Jeffords. ‘The White House is not giving specifics,’ says a senior GOP source. ‘But there’s a one- or two-year plan to punish him for his behavior. And it’s stuff that may hurt him, but stuff that’s not going to draw a significant amount of attention. So they’re going to get him.’" This fits so well with Rove’s past patterns that the reaction to Jeffords’s switch at the Texas capitol was unanimous–a Rove play that went bad.
In intraparty fights, Rove often uses money. Tom Pauken is a Dallas lawyer and sort of a right-wing populist who was elected chairman of the state party against Rove’s wishes: He was the candidate of the Christian right, and the Bushies favored a more establishment candidate. So after Pauken won, Rove called the big party donors, and their money suddenly went to political accounts controlled by Rove rather than to the state party. Then two sort of wacko Christian Republicans on the state school board went to New Hampshire last year to endorse Steve Forbes and returned to find their opponents flush with money from Bush givers: a rare confluence of Rove’s revenge and general civic betterment. "You don’t cross Karl Rove and not expect repercussions," said Bob Offutt of the state school board after he lost the primary.
Meanwhile, the Texas capitol has just lived through a session-long hangover from the Bush years. Tax cuts in two successive sessions, ’97 and ’99, left the state’s cupboard bare. There was no money for getting up to average in anything: Our state motto is still "Forever 48th." Despite a record $114 billion budget (that’s for two years), we are not even sure many of our miserly programs will keep pace with population growth. If they didn’t cost money, a lot of things Bush opposed could get done this session. The Lege passed a hate crimes bill, gave prison inmates in the Cowboy Gulag access to DNA testing and made it illegal to put kids in the back of your pickup. Unfortunately, they could not bring themselves to stop executing the retarded. We did finally get health insurance for teachers–now there’s a coup. Despite a rousing economy, all the money was blown by Bush in tax cuts that came to a Big Mac a month. Most Texans never saw even that much, since the desperate school districts hiked their tax rates as soon as the state cut its.
The lobbyists, who know more than anyone else, are betting Texas will have to go to an income tax within two sessions because of the Bush cuts. A state income tax is anathema here, and has been desperately avoided by generations of pols.
Bush was replaced by his exceedingly Lite Guv Rick Perry, who has really good hair. Governor Goodhair, or the Ken Doll (see, all Texans use nicknames–it’s not that odd), is not the sharpest knife in the drawer. But the chair of a major House committee says, "Goodhair is much more engaged as governor than Bush was." As the refrain of the country song goes, "O Please, Dear God, Not Another One."