This is an excerpt from the new ebook Molly Ivins: Letters to The Nation, a collection of articles by the esteemed writer who graced our pages for twenty-five years. The eBook is now available on tablets, smartphones and computers—download yours today.
We’ve just survived another political season largely unscathed. I voted for Bobby Locke for governor: he’s the one who challenged Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi to hand-to-hand combat. In the Gulf of us. On the Line of Death. At high noon. Next Fourth of July. “Only one of will come out of the water alive,” said Locke. Locke thinks the trouble with America is that we’ve lost respect for our leaders and this would be a good way to restore same. Me too. Besides, you should have seen the other guys.
The Republicans had a Congressman running who thinks you get AIDS through your feet. That’s Representative Tom Loeffler of Hunt, who is smarter than a box of rocks. His television advertisements proudly claimed, “He’s tough as bob war” (bob war is what you make fences with), and also that in his youth Loeffler played football with two broken wrists. This caused uncharitable persons to question the man’s good sense, so he explained he didn’t know his wrists were broken at the time. Loeffler went to San Francisco during the campaign to make a speech. While there, he wore shower caps on his feet while showering lest he get AIDS from the tile in the tub. He later denied that he had spent the entire trip in his hotel room. He said: “I did walk around the hotel. I did see people who do have abnormal tendencies. I’d just as soon not be associated with abnormal people.” If that’s true, what was he doing running for governor of Texas?
Perhaps Loeffler’s most enduring contribution to Texas political lore was a thought that seemed to him so profound he took to repeating it at every campaign stop and during televised debates as well: “As I have traveled around this state, many people have said to me, ‘Texas will never be Texas again.’ But I say they are wrong. I say Texas will always be Texas.” Hard to add anything to that.
On the Democratic side, the nerd issue was dominant. The ugly specter of nerditude was raised by A. Don Crowder, a candidate from Dallas. Crowder’s platform consisted of vowing to repeal the no-pass, no-play rule on account of it has seriously damaged high school football and is un-American, un-Texan and probably communist inspired. No pass, no play was part of the education reform package enacted last year by Governor Mark White and the State Legislature. If you don’t pass all your school subjects, you can’t participate in any extracurricular activities, including football. Quite naturally this has caused considerable resentment and could cost White the governorship. So A. Don Crowder holds this press conference in which he says the reason Mark White favors no pass, no play is because White was “one of the first nerds in Texas.” As evidence, Crowder produces White’s high school annual, and there it was: the guy was zip in extracurricular activities in his school days. We’re talking, not even Booster Club. Not Glee Club or Stage Crew. Not even the Prom Poster Committee. According to Crowder, this explains ‘‘the psychological reasoning behind White’s dislike of football.”
There were headlines all over the state: “Gov. White Called ‘Nerd’ By Yearbook Wielding Foe.” “Nerd Charge Merits Scrutiny.” Meanwhile, we tracked down Donnie Crowder’s high school annual and guess what? He was captain of the football team. Played baseball. Ran track. And was in the French Club. French Club! Need I say more? Quel fromage.
White’s initial response to this slanderous aspersion was to whine about how tacky it was for Crowder to be so ugly right after the explosion of the shuttle Challenger. Nerd City. Then his campaign manager tries to pull it out by saying, the guy was not real active in high school—but he was super-involved in after-school activities at the Baptist Church. Nerd! Nerd! Finally White gets his act together, comes out and says, Look, grew up poor. His daddy had an accident when the guy was just a sophomore and he couldn’t work after that, so the guy spent his high school years working summers and after school. While A. Don Crowder was in French Club, doubtlessly conjugating highly irregular verbs with busty cheerleaders over the paté and vin rouge, our Governor was out mowing lawns, frying burgers and pumping gas to help his dear old silver-haired mother. Great stuff. Besides, Bubba never joined no French Club.
Marko Blanco, as we call him in South Texas, will meet former Governor Bill Clements for a rematch in November. Clements was defeated by White four years ago on account of he’s an awful grouch. Grumpy versus the Nerd—what a match-up.
Also contributing to the political festivities of late is that peerless, fearless commie-hater Charlie Wilson of Lufkin. When folks started calling from around the state, and indeed the nation, a month or so back saying, “My God, do you realize there’s a Texas Congressman over in Afghanistan, killing Russians? And he’s wearing black monogrammed cowboy boots, and he’s got a former Miss World with him?”—I, of course, replied, “Must be Charlie Wilson.’’ What else can you say at a time like that?
It’s possible to get used to Charlie. He has a certain charm. When I called him to verify some of the more bloodthirsty quotations attributed to him in The Houston Post’s account of his latest trip to the Afghanistan border, the first thing he said was, “The only thing those cocksuckers understand is hot lead and cold steel.” I was especially pleased that he took his lady friend, Annelise Ilschenko, a former Miss World U.S.A., along on the Afghan jaunt. According to The Post, she is a “dark-haired and sloe-eyed beauty,” and you hardly ever find a good case of sloe-eyed beauty in the newspapers anymore. The Post said, “[She] went everywhere with Wilson, not even flinching as she sank her high-heeled white leather boots into the thick brown ooze [of] Darra’s main street.” No sacrifice is too great when you’re fighting for freedom.
Charlie told the Post reporter he went over there hoping to “kill Russians, as painfully as possible.” Myself, I think it had more to do with an observation he made after he got back: “Hell, they’re still lining up to see Rambo in Lufkin.” Patriotism is always in good smell in East Texas. The night El Presidente started bombing Libya, the deejay at Benny B’s, a honky-tonk in Lufkin, made all the patrons stand on their chairs and sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” He said if anybody refused to do it, “We’ll know you’re a commie faggot.” Of course, they do the same thing at Benny B’s for David Allan Coe’s song “You Never Even Called Me By My Name.”Sometimes living in East Texas can be a real challenge.
Living anywhere in Texas is getting to be a challenge as the price of oil slides gracefully toward single digits. Texas-bashing seems to be a popular new national pastime. “Let ’Em Rot in the Sun” said a cordial headline in The New Republic. Some Northern papers ran stories on our oil woes with heads the likes of “Sorry About That, J.R.” I don’t see that we’ve got any cause to whine about this vein of snottiness: some of the Bubbas did put bumper stickers on their pickups a few years back that said, “Let the Yankee Bastards Freeze in the Dark.” Somehow I forebode that Yankees going and doing likewise is not going to teach Bubba any manners. The rest of us down here been having poor luck at it for a long time.
I would point out, though, that Texas is not a rich state, never has been. Never even made it up to the national average in per capita income until the tail end of the oil boom, and then we slid right down again. Poverty level here is always among the nation’s highest and, according to a recent study by a team from Harvard University, Texas has more counties beset by hunger and malnutrition than any other state. Our second-biggest industry after oil is agriculture, and you’ve maybe read something about how it’s going for farmers these days. Citrus crop in the Rio Grande Valley was wiped out by a freeze three years ago. Now they got drought and 40 percent unemployment, and the peso is still going down: Our banks had their money in oil, agriculture and Mexico. We’re losing a lot of banks.
There is no social support system for the poor in Texas. Adults get nothing; children get $57.50 a month. Bubba’s got a beer gut he can let shrink some and not be hurting, but almost half the children in this state are black or brown and they have no cushion. If Eddie Chiles goes broke, it’s Don’t Cry for Me Texarkana; John Connally and Ben Barnes on hard times, search me for sympathy; and I could give a shit about J.R. But that’s not who’s hurting.
Good thing we’ve still got politics in Texas—finest form of free entertainment ever invented.