Made In Texas: Geogre W. Bush And The Southern Takeover Of American Politics

Made In Texas: Geogre W. Bush And The Southern Takeover Of American Politics

by Michael Lind


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Everyone knows that President George W. Bush is from Texas. But few of us know the role his home state plays in his presidency, and in our country. In this dual biography of man and state, Michael Lind confronts the chief crises of Bush's presidency—the economy, the Middle East, and religious fundamentalism—and traces their roots back to Texas, a state, Lind argues, that yields salient clues to the future course of our country.Widely praised as an iconoclastic and brilliant political observer, Lind, a fifth generation Texan, chronicles the ethnic clash that produced modern Texas, the well-known plundering of the state's natural resources at the hands of its elites, and finally the deep strain of "Old Testament religiosity" which, having originated in Texas, now reaches all over the globe in the form of Bush's foreign policy.In the tradition of Gary Wills's Reagan's America, Made in Texas provides a wholly original cultural history that should change the way we understand not just our president, but our country.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780465041213
Publisher: Basic Books
Publication date: 01/01/2003
Series: A New America Book Series
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 6.39(w) x 9.56(h) x 0.83(d)

About the Author

Michael Lind is a Senior Fellow of the New America Foundation. His three previous books of political journalism and history, The Next American Nation (1995), Up from Conservatism (1996), and Vietnam (1999), were each selected as New York Times Notable Books. He lives in Washington, D.C.

Read an Excerpt

Between 1964 and 2000, the state of Texas was home to three elected presidents (Lyndon Johnson, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush), two vice-presidential candidates (George H. W. Bush and Lloyd Bentsen), and one independent presidential candidate (H. Ross Perot), who in 1992 received 19 percent of the vote-more than any third-party candidate since Theodore Roosevelt in 1912. The Lone Star State, having long been known for its exports of cotton, oil, and cattle, was now exporting presidents and would-be presidents.

Other states have produced presidential dynasties. There was a Virginia dynasty in the early 1800s, and an Ohio dynasty in the late nineteenth century, followed by a California dynasty made up of Nixon and Reagan. But the presidents belonging to other political dynasties from a single state tended to belong to the same party and to share a common outlook; the Virginia presidents believed in states' rights, the Ohio presidents favored industrial tariffs, the California presidents were vigorous anti-communists in foreign policy. The Texans, however, have been not only remarkably diverse but also incompatible-and in some cases, mutually hostile. In less than three decades, Texas gave the country the most liberal president in American history-and two of the most conservative. Ignore Lyndon Johnson for a moment; George H. W. Bush and Ross Perot-whose independent presidential bid probably cost the elder Bush the election in 1992-might as well have been from different states, if not different countries, so dissimilar were their values and programs. In 1992, Americans in other parts of the country along with foreign observers could have been forgiven for thinking that a civil war in Texas had spilled over into national politics.

It had. There is indeed a civil war in Texas, and it has been going on for generations. The division between the rival forces does not correspond to a simple left/right dichotomy. Lyndon Johnson and Ross Perot have been on one side, and the Tory Democrat Lloyd Bentsen along with the Republican Bushes have been on the other.

The two sides in this old and continuing struggle can be described as the Texan traditionalists and the Texan modernists. The traditionalists are content for Texas to have a low-wage, low-tax, commodity-exporting economy-even if the result is a society with enormous inequalities of wealth and opportunity. The modernists treasure the good aspects of the rural folk heritage of Texas as much as the traditionalists do, and their military-tinged patriotism is, if anything, even deeper. But the Texan modernists have had a radically different vision of what Texas, and, by implication, what America should be: a high-tech economy with a meritocratic society. If traditionalist Texas is symbolized by oil companies, ranches, and farms, modernist Texas is symbolized by the Johnson Space Center in Houston and the computer industry that grew up in the late twentieth century in Austin's "Silicon Hills."

From the 1960s until the present, the conservative traditionalists-led in national politics by the two Bushes and Republican congressional leaders like Senator Phil Gramm and Representatives Tom DeLay and Dick Armey-have displaced the modernists in Texas, whose power peaked in the 1950s when Sam Rayburn controlled the House and Lyndon Johnson controlled the Senate. As this suggests, the rise of the traditionalist right and the decline of the New Deal since the 1960s have been at one and the same time a trend in Texas and a national phenomenon.

While the Texan modernist tradition, like the broader New Deal tradition of which it was a part, has been marginalized, even in Texas itself, the reactionary conservatism of the Texan traditionalists has grown in confidence and political influence. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to speak of the "Texanization" of the American right as a whole. From William F. Buckley, Jr., the son of a Texas oil man, to those two other Texas oil men, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush, conservative thinkers and politicians rooted in the old Texan commodity-exporting oligarchy have redefined what conservatism means in the United States. Even in the Northeast and Midwest, older, rival conservative traditions-the conservative progressivism of the New Englanders, the isolationist and protectionist conservatism of the Midwest-have been replaced by a recognizably Texan (and broadly Southern) conservatism that unites a belief in minimal government at home and a bellicose foreign policy abroad with religious fundamentalism.

Although they influenced the administrations of Reagan and the elder Bush, as well as the House of Representatives after the Republican takeover in 1994, it was not until George W. Bush became president and the vast machinery of the executive branch was in their hands that the Texan traditionalists and their allies had the power to shape national policy. The result was not just a conservative administration, but a conservative Texan administration. In domestic policy, any conservative president would have been solicitous of the interests of business, but the Bush-Cheney energy plan, like its environmental policy, reflected the agenda of the Texas oil patch in which the biggest player was Enron, whose bankruptcy shattered confidence in the U.S. economy in 2002. Bush's foreign policy was made in Texas, too. In the first two years of his administration, Bush alienated America's closest allies with a reflexive unilateralism influenced by Texan traditions of militarism and a policy of uncritical support for right-wing nationalists in Israel influenced by the Protestant religious right in Texas and other states of the American South.

The fact that a product of traditional Texan conservatism was in the White House at the beginning of the twenty-first century, then, had profound implications for both the United States and the world. To a degree that has not been the case since the mid-twentieth century, when Lyndon Johnson led the Senate and Sam Rayburn led the House, national politics and Texan politics are intertwined. How and why the same state, within a few decades, has exported radically different political philosophies and programs to the rest of America and the world is the subject of this book.

The story I tell is necessarily one of "dead white males." Until the 1960s, Texas was a rigidly segregated Southern state with a gender code based on age-old notions of masculine and feminine honor. The battles over politics and policy in Texas were almost exclusively struggles among white male Southerners of British Protestant descent. Since the Civil Rights Revolution, black and Latino Texans have helped to transform the politics and culture of Texas, even as immigration has transformed its demography. This is a story that deserves to be told-but it is not the story I tell in this book.

The political history of Texas and its implications for America and the world is a topic of more than scholarly interest to me. A fifth-generation Texan, I was born, raised, and educated in Texas and never lived outside of the state until I studied foreign policy in graduate school at Yale in the 1980s. I have to go back three generations, to my great-grandparents, to find ancestors who were not born and buried inside the borders of the Lone Star State.

One of my ancestors who migrated to Texas was a native of Connecticut who married into a Virginia planter family but was driven from Virginia to Texas because of his abolitionist views, while a distant collateral relative, a Confederate slaveowner, had his farm in Georgia burned by General Sherman's army. Another ancestor of mine, a German immigrant, Joseph Goodman, who according to family tradition was Jewish, showed up in Austin following the Civil War in the Federal army of occupation of General George Armstrong Custer, in which he had been a hostler (horse handler). The Goodman Building, the store he owned next to the state capitol in Austin, with a deed signed by Sam Houston, is now a historic monument.

On my mother's side, my ancestors were largely Scottish, Scots-Irish, and Anglo-American pioneers, who migrated westward from Virginia, where the first of them arrived in the 1620s, along the Appalachian and Ozark mountains to Texas. My great-grandfather, the first acting dean of Southern Methodist University, educated at the University of Wisconsin, grew up on a farm in Arkansas. His father, crippled when a train hit the carriage he was driving, had been forced to make soap for his neighbors in order to support his family; his sons took turns working on the farm in order to put one another through college. One of them, my Great-Great-Uncle Jasper, became a Methodist circuit preacher in Arkansas and Texas known for the severity of his views. By way of my mother's family, I am a distant cousin of Larry Hagman, who portrayed the archetypal Texan wheeler-dealer

J. R. Ewing on the 1980s soap opera Dallas, as well as a distant nephew of his mother, the actress Mary Martin, a native of Weatherford, Texas.

My father's family consisted of Swedish peasants who immigrated during the Scandinavian famines of the 1870s and 1880s to East-Central Texas, where they picked cotton until they could afford small farms of their own. In the early twentieth century, from the family farm on the prairie, my Swedish-American grandmother remembered seeing, in the distance, a bonfire of the Ku Klux Klan. The Swedish farmers were not liberals, but they lacked the violent racial prejudices of their Southern neighbors. My Swedish great-grandfather gave black neighbors permission to build a church called the Blue Goose on his farm, and, around World War I, would sit in his rocking chair on the porch, listening to the sermons and the songs.*

My paternal grandfather worked during the Depression as a janitor sweeping the floors of the student union building at the University of Texas, where he listened to the impromptu talks of a young man who, he told my grandmother, would be important someday: the young John Connally. The first of his family to receive a college education, thanks to the GI Bill, my father in his 20s was elected county attorney of Blanco County, Lyndon Johnson's home county. My mother's most vivid memory of LBJ is of his annoyance when, at a county picnic, my mother served Lady Bird before she served him. As a young lawyer in Austin, my father met Frank Hamer, the legendary Texas Ranger who had shot and killed the bank robbers Bonnie and Clyde. When drinking at the Driskill Hotel in downtown Austin, Hamer was always careful to sit where he had an exit nearby and a view of all entrances. Perhaps he had in mind the fate of Ben Thompson, the gunslinger whom the city of Austin hired as marshall, before he was gunned down at San Antonio's Vaudeville Theater in 1884.

Growing up in Austin, the state capital, where my father became an assistant attorney general, I knew the attorney general and the mayor as visitors to my parents' house. One of George W. Bush's White House aides, the son of a family friend, as a child wore hand-me-down clothes that I had outgrown. My aunt by marriage, the novelist Shelby Hearon, assisted Barbara Jordan when she wrote her memoirs. At the other end of the political spectrum, the son of Martin Dies, the red-baiting Texan congressman who was the head of the House Un-American Activities Committee, was a family acquaintance. My own experience in politics included working during college for a liberal Democrat in the State Senate-where one of my tasks was to pick up new laws from a lobbyist whom I would meet in various dimly lit, smoky saloons-and heading the neoconservative Federalist Society at the University of Texas Law School.

My background, of course, is no warrant for the truth of my views. But personal experience and family tradition, along with political lore passed down by friends and acquaintances but never committed to paper, give me an advantage over other scholars in sifting fact from fiction in controversies about the past in Texas. If I was not there, I know a lot of people who were, or who were told what happened by their predecessors.*

Although I was fortunate enough to grow up in a middle-class suburb, in my youth I knew and often worked with members of the majority of Texans, including many of my relatives, who belong to the working class: impoverished white "cedar-choppers" in the hills west of Austin, Mexican-Americans whose families arrived in different waves of immigration between the nineteenth century and the present, black Americans only a few generations removed from slavery and only one generation removed from segregation. One of my paternal grandmother's neighbors in East Austin, the late Horace Fowler, mowed lawns for a living in order to support his vocation as a preacher to inmates in prisons throughout Texas. A saying of his has always stayed with me: "Tell the truth and spite the Devil." Although my Devil, unlike his, is a symbol, telling the truth to spite the Devil is the purpose of this book.

Table of Contents

1A Tale of Two Ranches1
2The Confederate Century25
3Philip Dru, Texan51
5That Old Time Religion108
7A Choice of Traditions160

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Made in Texas : Geogre W. Bush and the Southern Takeover of American Politics 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Wow. Mr Lind provides a well-documented and thoughtful account of the making of not only Dubya, but also the new Republican party. It is an eye-opener that should be read by anyone that is thinking of joining their ranks. This book will not disappoint anyone who is seeking to know more about the changing face of America.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Lind is a highly respected intellectual and presidential historain. "Made in Texas" is a sober look into American politics, including southern and conservative areas. The book will serve well as a text for introductory political science, or for any reader simply interested in American politics.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read "made in Texas" with just a bit of a chip on shoulder. As a desendant of southern Texas liberals I didn't know what to expect. I found that Lind had put into organized thought and the printed page what I have sensed for years. The slave/plantation mentalty has always been there and I have had a dread that combined with the ultra conservative Christian right our nation was in danger.