When some people lament the possibility of yet another Texan as president, they need to consider another aspect of this provenance. The problem is not Texas. Ron Paul is a member of the House of Representatives from Texas. The great Barbara Jordon was from Texas. No, the problem is West Texas. Lyndon Johnson was from West Texas and George W. Bush invented himself as a West Texan. And Rick Perry is from West Texas.
West Texas is notorious for producing recalcitrant and bellicose men. They have that swagger that Bush so exemplified, the cowboy walk that makes them look as through they are headed for a shootout. They are uncompromising and stubborn and brook no criticism. When their minds are made up, they are made up. Around the rest of Texas, they are both loathed and admired because of their combination of strength and recalcitrance.
Lyndon Johnson, whose strength enabled him to get the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Medicare and Medicaid through Congress, also got America deep into the Vietnam War. He dressed down military officers who came to see him in the White House if he didn’t like what they had to say, making them stand throughout the meeting and then summarily dismissing them. For all his greatness, he could be mean, vindictive and petty. He liked to be seen riding his horse, high in the saddle. The result of this West Texas mentality was that there was no criticizing him for what he was doing in Vietnam. The CIA so feared him that they doctored the body count so he wouldn’t come down on them. In a once famous incident, when Johnson was touring Vietnam, an officer said to him, “Mr. President, this is your helicopter,” indicating the one Johnson was to board. Johnson’s reply was, “Son, they are all my helicopters.” And Johnson, much as Bush won the presidency by a few votes because of what was fundamentally a hoax, won election to the Senate from Texas by a handful of votes in what most regard as a fixed election, leading Texans to call him “Landslide Lyndon.” Johnson’s lawyer in that episode was Abe Fortas, whom Johnson later appointed to the Supreme Court and was his choice for Chief Justice until Fortas had to resign because of ethics problems
Pete Seegers’s famous song performed at Woodstock, “The Big Muddy” summed up Johnson’s incredible stubbornness, even when reality was staring him in the face. He kept leading the country in a disastrous war that could not be won unless he nuked North Vietnam. All his bombing raids in the north came to nothing.
Next, there was George W. Bush, who was so determined to be seen as a West Texan that he began speaking
like one and wearing cowboy boots to erase his Andover, Yale and Harvard Business School patina as the scion of a wealthy and powerful New England family. George H. W. Bush, who settled in Texas, was forever the New England patrician and Bush wanted none of it. He managed to become president after a fraudulent election that he “won” by some three hundred-and-something votes in Florida, giving him a victory in the Electoral College while he lost the popular vote. When his “win” was confirmed by a weird Supreme Court decision that went entirely along party line affiliation (except for Stevens who went with the Democrats because he thought Gore would win and name him Chief Justice) Bush morphed into Johnson and got America into the war in Iraq, dismissing General Shinseki for telling him he was going in with too few troops. Like Johnson, there was no talking to “mission accomplished” Bush. George Tenet, the Director of CIA, was so terrified of him that he made his famous “slam dunk” response when Bush asked him whether or not Saddam Hussein had WMDs. And Bush was every bit as arrogant as Johnson, ordering Carl Rove to hang up his jacket at cabinet meetings. The argument that Cheney was really the boss was untrue. Bush was like Henry V, determined to invade France, a project that while successful in the short run, proved to be a disaster in the long run. He ordered the disbanding of the Iraqi army, guaranteeing armed resistance, arranged for Iraq to be governed like a colony, with Americans holding key government positions and George Bremer functioning as a Viceroy. Only when the Iraqis themselves demanded elections did he make democracy the objective of the invasion, after it was clear there really were no WMDs after all.
Which brings us to Rick Perry, the West Texan par excellence. Even in a well-tailored suit, he still wears
cowboy boots and a gigantic cowboy belt buckle. You have to know exactly where this dude is coming from. And this one has a chip on his shoulder every bit as big as Johnson’s or Bush’s. Johnson’s chip was that the eastern elite looked down on his as a yokel. He knew full well that Jacqueline Kennedy referred to him as “Colonel Cornpone” behind his back. He went to South West Texas State Teachers College and he believed all the Ivy League liberals looked down on him no matter what he achieved. The anger in him was palpable and it exacerbated his aggressiveness.
W has an anger that cannot be assuaged. He knows full well that his parents’ hopes rested with older brother Jeb, but only when Jeb failed to win election to the United States Senate from Texas, did W emerge as the second choice. After he became president, he never consulted with his father and remained distant from him. That rage, like Johnson’s, led him to adopt a bellicose foreign policy in which he offended most of the world and launched a war because of made-up reasons, much as Johnson made up the Tonkin attack on American vessels that led to the resolution justifying military force in Vietnam.
Rick Perry is a true West Texas Aggie, a product of Texas A& M, a university that bears the brunt of “Aggie’ jokes based on the presumed stupidity of its undergraduates, many from, you guessed it, West Texas. When Perry said that if the chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, were to come to Texas, “We would treat him real ugly,” that was Perry in a nutshell. It must be remembered that when Johnson was Majority Leader of the Senate, he proclaimed in a speech that “American boys should not fight Asian boys’ wars.” But as president, he filed that away somewhere in the limbo of a desk drawer and sent five hundred thousand American troops to Vietnam. Perry will behave in like manner. And much like Johnson, he will appoint his cronies and contributors to high positions. Perry knows the elites in Texas look down on him because he grew up dirt poor and is an Aggie. The Yalie Bushes have nothing but contempt for him and he knows it.
Rick Perry says America should never intervene militarily unless it is “absolutely in America’s national interest.” Already, the old Bush neo-cons are attaching themselves to him, plotting a war with Iran. Perry will really get off on that. He will use the threat of Iran’s nukes as a justification. Bill Keller and Thomas Friedman, the elites of the New York Times, supported the war in Iraq, calling for the invasion from their roosts at the top of the elitist tower. Now, they say how sorry they are that they ever did that. Keller uses his reluctance to look like a Latte drinking liberal defeatist as his justification. But once the reasons for the war include not only those Iranian nukes, but also the existential threat to Israel, they will be egging Perry on. And he will lap it up, his six shooters in each hand blazing away. If America elects another West Texan, it will get what it deserves.