As we were only going to be out of town for a night, I decided to take a short book with me rather than Robert Caro’s tome on LBJ (it’s not easy to lug around). That book was Just How Stupid Are We? by Rick Shenkman, and I’m glad it only cost me $1 at Half Price Books. There were a few pearls of wisdom, but you have to wade through several chapters of insipid observations to find them. You’re better off reading the source material, such as Thomas Patterson’s The Vanishing Voter.
Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institute and Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute have been looking at the redistricting plans offered by Virginia college students as part of a competition sponsored by an independent redistricting commission created by Gov. Bob McDonnell. Mssrs Mann and Ornstein argue that the public availability of redistricting software will result in a decline in partisan protection, particularly through gerrymandering. And speaking of protecting incumbents, Texas Republicans will have trouble protecting 101 incumbents, as well as the need to keep intact minority-majority districts represented by Anglos (of which there are very few left in the Texas Legislature).
Over the weekend, I finished reading Cowboy Conservatism: Texas and the Rise of the Modern Right by Sean P. Cunningham. Cunningham covers roughly the same period as John R. Knaggs in Two Party Texas (Knaggs: 1961-1984; Cunningham 1961-1980), but Knaggs’ account is that of firsthand experience, while Cunningham’s is more of a history of the rise of the modern conservative movement (a populist conservatism) in Texas. The overarching theme of Cunningham’s work is the work done by Texas Republicans, conservatives, etc. to redefine liberalism and tie this new definition to the Texas Democratic Party. Essentially, they nationalised local elections by tying local Democrats to the unpopular liberal politics of the national Democratic Party (something has become a common tactic). Beginning with Presidential elections, this tactic gave conservative Texans (predominately Democrats) a reason to vote for Republican candidates. Over time this tactic became more successful at the state level as Republican candidates were able to paint their opponents as liberals; perhaps most prominently in the 1978 gubernatorial election. Cunningham discusses many of the issues which provide background for the evolution of modern conservatism in Texas, but he spends several chapters discussing the role of Ronald Reagan and the importance of Texas in the rise of Reagan.
As you may have now heard, the House has voted to cut off funding for National Public Radio with HR 1076 (Roll Call 192). Big whoop. When do you guys think you’ll get around doing something about the behemoths of the budget: mandatory spending (Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) and discretionary spending (defense)? NPR is a nice little sideshow, but is of no consequence when we look at the federal budget and our deficit. Anyway, thanks for wasting our time on myopic nonsense that doesn’t benefit the American public.
I don’t think the Senate will vote to do this (nor will it survive a veto), but I think NPR would be able to survive without federal funding, and in the end, might be better for it. The Texas Tribune is paving the way in this state for private, non-profit journalism; NPR can probably do the same nationwide.
While reading John A. Nagl’s Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife, I was intrigued by his comments on the Indians Wars of the American West, which constitute the longest conflict of the U.S. military, as well as being irregular warfare across large areas. Having a significant interest in the West and how it has shaped the United States, I picked up Bill Yenne’s Indian Wars: the Campaign for the American West, which is an overview of the U.S. government’s conflicts with Native Americans from 1849 to 1890. Mr Yenne covers the nature of the conflicts, the military’s strategies and tactics, as well as the other influences upon the direction and outcome of the Indian Wars.
Back in February, Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post wrote an article about the tax dollars use to pay for stadiums, as well as other things, such as flyovers. Well, now we have news about the trust fund used to pay cities for events like the Super Bowl. According to the Dallas Morning News, the state allocated $31.2 million to Arlington for the Super Bowl, and the Legislature is talking about expanding this trust fund to help Jerry Jones bring more events to his mausoleum and stadium.
In other football/politics related news, the resolution allowing Mike Leach to sue Texas Tech University has been filed (HCR 101).
Got to spend a nice quiet weekend away from Austin and SXSW (totally not hip enough for that scene), so I was able to finish up Indian Wars by Bill Yenne, and I’ll be posting a review soon. Now I am going to get started on Cowboy Conservatism: Texas and the Rise of the Modern Right by Sean P. Cunningham. This is a more recent history of the role of Texas in the development of the conservative movement. Another one, which I read last year, is Two Party Texas by John R. Knaggs.
I just finished listening to The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006-2008 by Bob Woodward while sitting in SXSW traffic (as if regular Austin traffic isn’t bad enough). [A few years ago I started listening to audiobooks in the car; I figured I might as well do something productive while sitting in traffic (I also travel a lot while campaigning).] Of course, Woodward’s book is a few years old now, but I like digesting these books well after the events they describe have transpired, because it offers more thoughtful reflection (you’re not judging the book in the heat of the moment). Woodward offered some interesting insight, pulling back the curtain, on the debates which occurred in the lead up to the surge. This is the first of Woodward’s books on the Iraq War that I have listened to, but if I can find them, I will probably listen to the others.
Making the rounds at the Texas Capitol yesterday, who should I see going office to office? Well, former Texas Tech coach of pirate fame - Mike Leach. Coach Leach is currently seeking support for a resolution to sue the state. Meeting the pirate was kinda underwhelming actually. Compared to when he’s talking about player’s fat little girlfriends, giving dating advice or locking people in equipment sheds, he seems pretty staid in person. I hope this guy gets a new coaching gig so that he can keep entertaining us (and hopefully not in the rump Big 12, so that his teams no long send me to the brink of aneurysm).
And while we’re in the celebrity vein, the names of 2 Texas celebs have been floated for U.S. Senate. The first is Craig James, of SMU Pony Express fame (and middling pro career), with worse favourables than Pres. Obama in Lubbock, TX. I kinda hope he runs so that some opposition researcher will expose whether or not he got paid while at SMU. The second name now floating out there is Tommy Lee Jones. According to the Dallas Morning News, a liberal commentator from Houston - Geoff Berg - has created a Draft Tommy Lee website (http://www.tljforsenate.com). By Berg’s reasoning, a Tommy Lee Jones candidacy would energize Democrats and the state. How it does that is anyone’s guess, including Berg’s. Presumably, John Sharp is still in the race.
Our Patchwork Nation by Dante Chinni and James Gimpel is an attempt to quantify and analyse the differences in the communities which make p the United States of America. The central theme - that the United States cannot be defined through stereotypical dichotomies - is common sense if you have spent much time studying demographics or simply traveled around the United States. The first few chapters which define the 12 representative communities the authors have come up with are excellent chapters with a lot of useful information. The last 3 chapters dealing with the economy, politics and culture are not as informative, nor do I agree with some of their conclusions with regard to politics. The appendix is also worth reading as it contains a lot of useful information, including a list of the 3000 U.S. counties and where they fall within the 12 community types. Overall, it was an interesting book, and if you are one of those people who are beholden to the stereotypical dichotomy of America, it will be enlightening.
Today marks the anniversary of the fall of the Alamo. Led by William B. Travis, Jim Bowie and David Crockett, the defenders of the Alamo were besieged by Santa Anna’s forces for 13 days. On March 6th, the battle ended at approximately 6:30am. At 3pm, the bodies of the defenders of the Alamo were burned on a pyre. Their remains (or what is presumed to be their remains) now lie in the San Fernando Cathedral in the center of San Antonio. One of the survivors of the Alamo - Susanna Dickinson, whose husband was one of the defenders - is buried in the state cemetery. The 150 defenders of the Alamo were a diverse group, including many Hispanic volunteers whose efforts should not be forgotten. The Alamo has had a long and colorful history and is an integral part of the culture and myth of Texas.
If you don’t know by now, BYU has removed center Brandon Davies from their nationally 3rd ranked basketball team for violating the team’s honor code. Specifically, Davies was purportedly let go from the team for having sex with his girlfriend. BYU’s honor code, which applies to all students, not just athletes, is actually quite specific, going so far as to set dress and grooming standards for students (e.g., “Men are expected to be clean-shaven; beards are not acceptable”). Jim McMahon, former quarterback for the Chicago bears, attended BYU and had some things to say in an interview with 560 WQAM. McMahon noted the “hypocrisy when [he] was there and that’s what turned [him] off about it;” however, McMahon said he would attend BYU again, as well as recommend the school to other players who would like to learn offense (BYU has produced some good quarterbacks).
BYU’s honor code is tied to the Mormon faith, and any student attending should be fully aware of that fact, as was Brandon Davies, but it does raise the question of honor codes at colleges, and particularly in college athletics. Given the problems we have seen (past and present) in college football with agents, athletes stealing computers or engaging in other illegal activity, while still being allowed to play in furtherance of their professional careers, it would be good if more colleges enforced their honor codes (if they have one). The honor code at BYU is certainly not applicable to every school or region - not every religion bans consuming caffeine, e.g. - but an honor code such as that of West Point stating that “a cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do” seems to cover points on which all people can agree regardless of faith (or the lack thereof).
Last night, while at a reception for church, I had a conversation about the role of social media in American elections compared to the role of social media in the revolutions we are seeing in the Middle East. Working on elections, my instinct is that as most American voters are older and use social media less, Facebook, Twitter, etc. are not as crucial to American elections. This scenario was played out over the gubernatorial election in Texas; Matt Glazer of GNI Strategies made a lot of hay about former Mayor Bill White having more Facebook fans than Gov. Rick Perry, implying this was indicative of Bill White’s chances of winning the race (the final results were: Perry-54%; White-42%). They are certainly important tools, but it remains to be seen whether they can be used effectively to generate votes, advocate, drive message, organize, etc.. Bill White may have had more fans, but that didn’t translate into votes (aside from people who were already inclined to vote for him). Especially on local campaigns, these tools are less usable (from experience), because it takes time to build a following on Twitter and a fanbase on Facebook. Looking at the the census report for the mid-term elections, show that voters 55 and older still make up the largest group of voters, and according to a recent Pew report, this same age group was least likely to use their cell phone for political purposes. The tried and true methods still seem to be the best; going door-to-door and campaigning face-to-face is still an important aspect of the American electoral process. Perhaps as the generations who are more adjusted to the use of social media age, these tools will be more effective (and certainly make use of them - don’t get me wrong), but for now, the internet and impersonal contact don’t take the place busting your hump and glad-handing your prospective constituents.
It seems that several Johnny Come Lately’s have taken up the tactic of the quorum break (amateurs). The Washington Post has an article about the recent efforts, not only of legislators in Wisconsin, of legislators in Indiana and Maryland. Last month, I posted about some of the history of quorum breaks in Texas. Whenever legislators break the quorum, there are questions about whether or not it is a legitimate tactic or anti-democratic. Personally, I don’t think this is an anti-democratic tactic; in order to defend the rights of the minority or to defend the interests of their constituents, it may be necessary to result to extraordinary means. For example, the lower houses of a legislature do not provide for filibusters (and even in the upper house, you may not be able to sustain a filibuster). As to whether this is a legitimate tactic, I would say it should be reserved for substantive issues, such as redistricting, defense of civil rights, etc. Legislative rules do not allow for quorums to be broken, and the chair is perfectly within his/her authority to compel their return, but the rules do make this a viable option. The tactic is much more effective in state like Texas where the legislature meets biannually for 140 days.