Point Austin: Politics, As Usual

When it comes to governing, one-liners aren't much help

Point Austin
Among the mixed pleasures of an unexpected absence is discovering how well everyone can get along without you. I owe my colleagues on the Chronicle's small news staff considerable thanks for continuing their excellent work over the last month, when my brief vacation was twice extended by a family emergency. That crisis – my mother's illness – is now happily resolved, but in the interim I missed all the work and preparations for the Chronicle's 25th anniversary issue (returning just in time for the first of many parties), much of the "Best of Austin" slogging, and even the final fascinating details of the City Council's budget decisions. (For the latter, I owe even deeper thanks to Wells "Scoop" Dunbar, who held down this space in my absence while I was vainly promising my imminent return. Once again next door, Wells ably sums up that matter today.)

That lesson of course goes double for grander political affairs – that the heartfelt wisdom of "Point Austin," however earnestly delivered, is hardly indispensable to the health of the polis or the republic. When I was last in this space, with much help from Noam Chomsky I wrote that (whatever Our Local Daily reported) the official casus belli in Lebanon – the capture by Hezbollah of an Israeli soldier – was very far from being the whole story. In the meantime, that mainstream mythology has now become so thoroughly established by repetition that I might sooner dispute the Virgin Birth. (Hey, if Chomsky can't convince them, you'll get nothing but chopped liver here.)

In any case, on my travels I watched (endured) more cable news shows than I normally do here, learning thereby that far more important national matters were at hand – e.g., the transparently fake confession of a deranged and deluded man to a decade-old murder in Colorado. If you know what I'm talking about, you also watch too much television.

I Like the Boring Guy

Closer to home, we've just passed the quasi-official Labor Day kickoff of the political season, with the curious five-candidate race for governor gathering most of the early attention. Whatever the eventual outcome, it seems certain the winner will be a minority governor, with the latest polls suggesting that Texans have grown so weary of incumbent Rick Perry that his actual electoral support is sinking into the thirtysomething-percent territory. Alas, that may not mean he's in real trouble, because, of the four opponents divvying up the remainder, none yet seems clearly able to grab the brass ring. When recent polls showed "independent" Carole Keeton Strayhorn either in the low 20s or single digits, there was much circular bluster about the pollsters' "methodology." My amateur's guess is simply that the numbers are now so volatile because so few people are yet paying real attention.

But I also think that when push comes to shove in November, most Republicans will be staying with Rick Perry, and most Democrats – inspired in part by the Bush regime-created chances of real national and local races – will be defaulting to Chris Bell, despite Strayhorn's fundraising and ID advantage. (Political street rumor has it that some trial lawyers and teachers are regretting their early bolt for Grandma, but that could just be Democratic wishful thinking.) The amiable but unriveting Chris Bell, on short rations, is somehow managing a reasonably visible campaign, although in a TV-saturated age that may not be enough. Bell's predicament provoked a couple of journalistic wags at last week's Chronicle party to come up with a new campaign slogan appealing directly to the Texas voter's best-kept secret: "Boring, yes. But so are you."

Stop Me if You've Heard This One

So I have a good deal of sympathy for the Friedmanites, who desperately look to the Kinkster to enliven the conventional political discourse and to represent (ad nauseam) all those folks who have "abandoned electoral politics," but who will surely vote this time instead of shrugging or forgetting. Maybe so.

But thus far Kinky has done very little more than sloganeering himself, apparently under the willful delusion that Willie Nelson and casino gambling are sufficient unto all things Texan. Now that he's being asked to propose real solutions to real state problems, he's become a fountain of bad jokes (nothing new there) and self-contradictions. Although he insists he wants increased education funding, he apparently believes slot machines and the lottery will do the job, having called this week for a 3% cap on property-tax appraisal increases – making "5%" Perry sound like a spendthrift liberal. He called Houston's New Orleans evacuees "crackheads and thugs" and dismissed the resulting outcry (much of it from African-American leaders) as timid "political correctness." Apparently, the Kinkster still hasn't learned the difference between "politically incorrect" and "stupid."

Most absurdly of all, last week Kinky abandoned his ludicrous plan to bribe Mexican generals and instead announced that the best way to address illegal immigration is to further militarize the border, with 10,000 more national guardsmen (like the helpful sort who drunkenly shot up Eagle Pass over the weekend). While we're at it, why don't we send a few thousand part-time soldiers into the Hill Country around Kerrville and assign them to search out and arrest meth heads, pot-smokin' musicians, and over-the-hill comedians? Makes about as much sense.

There's probably some political lesson in the one-time Peace Corpsman, cokehead, and dedicated dog-lover transformed on the campaign trail into a would-be Minuteman, pretending to solve at a military stroke complex social problems that certainly wouldn't take Jack Bauer more than 24 hours. Could one lesson be that state politics is not quite as easy as it seems to someone who is simply not paying attention? The details of reforming and managing major public institutions may not always be entertaining, but when it comes to running Texas, we've already tried all the jokers we can stand. end story

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Texas politics, Noam Chomsky, Hezbollah, Israel, Rick Perry, Carole Keeton Strayhorn, Chris Bell, Kinky Friedman

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