Made in Texas: George W. Bush and the Southern Takeover of American Politics by Michael Lind. Basic Books, New York, NY, 2003. Hardback $24.00. Understanding is one of the tools which helps me in acceptance and peace of mind. Ever since the advent of the Bush Administration, Ive been trying to understand its origins in terms of the history, culture, and sociology of the United States. I grew up in progressive, egalitarian Minnesota, with a very different political orientation from that of Bushand with a general populace interested in politics.
I finally decided that in simple terms, the South had risen again and taken over the country, as they promised to do after the Civil War. This is particularly noticeable in northern California, where over the last decade many large corporations have moved, been bought by, run by, or merged with corporations in Texas and in North Carolina. San Francisco is no longer a big financial-corporate center. The money has moved south and east.
Lo and behold, I came across this book, subtitled "George W. Bush and the Southern Takeover of American Politics." It is written by Michael Lind, senior fellow of the New America Foundation, and a fifth-generation Texan.
Michael grew up in Austin, Texas, with very strong family roots there. His lawyer father at one time was assistant attorney general of the state, and Michael had a close acquaintance with Texas and its government. His family had a working class, liberal tradition. One of the sayings of a preacher friend of Michaels was "Tell the truth and spite the Devil." Michael says that is the purpose of this book.
This book is extremely well-written. It portrays the matrix in which GW grew up (which was never the matrix of his New England father), and thus the history and character of the Deep South part of Texas, of the Deep South, and of their relation to United States, which Bush personifies. Although filled with facts and quotes, they are always relevant, and it reads like a novel.
Michael compares two major Texas traditions, the southern oligarchy, which runs the state and which GW represents, and the liberal tradition, personified by Pres. Lyndon Johnson and his drive to push through Civil Rights legislation.
The first chapter is about two ranches, GWs and Johnsons. Michael compares the geology, the climate, the ecosystems, the social systems, the customs, the histories, the traditions, and other forces which shape the viewpoint of an area. After the first few pages, I did, in fact, have an understanding of George W. Bush.
Lind quotes geographer-historian D.W. Meinig, writing in 1969, "The population of the region is perhaps the purest example of the 'native white Anglo-Saxon Protestant'" culture in Texas. And it is such in the popular mind as well as in historical fact. A local religious leader took great pride in noting that the South Plains was settled by a 'pure blooded, homogeneous population from the great Anglo-Saxon centers of the South.' ...The undiluted Southern background has made it a routinely segregationist society."
For most of its history, the South had few immigrants compared to the rest of the country. Add that to its agrarian history, and it became profoundly conservative. Add that to the huge provincial land mass of the U.S., and the poverty of the South, and it is easy to see how the South became isolated from the stream of history in this last century.
During that century history made enormous progress in respecting human rights, on the one hand, and in working cooperatively to solve common problems, on the other hand. The United Nations is an example of both trends.
However, the South has resisted those trends, and has been left behind in the world, relatively isolated in its attitudes.
Waco, 18 miles from Crawford, was a center of cotton plantations and marketing well into the last century. By 1900 Waco was literally the cotton center of the world. Lind says that few residents of Texas were as enthusiastic about the secession of the South from the United States as the white inhabitants of Waco. Six Confederate Generals were Waco residents, and the Confederate States of America raised 17 companies from Waco and surrounding towns like Crawford, Bushs home.
Waco is dominated by Baylor University, owned by theTexan Baptists. Baylor has been, and is, a center of Protestant fundamentalism, and has drawn wilder Christian cults to its environs. An example was the Armageddon-oriented Branch Davidians, who went up in flames after a standoff with federal agents in 1993.
Waco has long been notorious for racism. Until WW II, it was one of the national bases of the Ku Klux Klan. Waco was also a major center of lynching in the United States. Lind tells us of many incidents which illustrate the nature of this center of racial and religious bigotry.
He concludes this section, and this is only page 10, by saying,
"McLennan County, the Texas county that Bush and his publicity staff would like the media and the public to consider a typical example of the wholesome American heartland, is a place that has twice achieved global notoriety: first for the ritual public burning of Jesse Washington and then for the apocalyptic immolation of David Koresh and his cult."
(Jesse Washington was a black youth sentenced to death by hanging in 1916. Onlookers seized him and dragged him to a roaring fire on the courthouse lawn. There they stripped him naked, poured coal oil on him, raised him up, and slowly lowered him into the flames, cooking him alive. After he was dead, parts of his charred body were cut off and sold as souvenirs to spectators.)
According to Lind, Texas had four major "tribes." "To summarize the history of Texas from 1836 until the 1960s in one sentence: the biggest tribe, the Anglo-Celtic Southerners, expropriated the Tejanos, deported the Indians, crushed the Germans, and exploited the blacks."
Michael discusses the complicated threads of history and tradition which make up the Southern Texan, in terms of politics, economics, and culture. Although the Texan may look like a Northern businessman, his mindset stems from the days of plantation aristocracy, when he exploited the land to grow tobacco and cotton, and then moved onto new land, while in the meantime slaves did the work.
He explains Texan capitalism and how it operates. For starters, cotton is a gamblers crop, and cotton was the source of Texas greatest wealth. Oil follows this tradition by being a gamblers business. Bluffing, swindling, and politicking is just a natural part of business.
Lind also discusses what he calls, "Texas modernism," personified by Col. Edward House, Pres. Wilsons close advisor, Sam Rayburn, Lyndon Johnson, Ross Perot, and Barbara Jordan. However, reaction against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has slowly strangled the political clout of this strain
In the chapter on Southernomics, Lind shows us, again through history and through current illustrations, how the Bush Administration is simply Southern business as usual. He also says, "The conservative heirs of Lincoln in the North and the conservative heirs of Jefferson Davis in the South have sought to conserve incompatible traditions This conservative Southern 'President' is the culmination of seventy years of a counter-revolution against the New Deal."
I can testify to that. I have been alive and paying attention to politics for most of those 70 years. Michael Lind makes events that seemed confusing to me at the time crystal clear. This is a really fine, fine history book, with all kinds of threads connected to weave a coherent tapestry.
Chapters on "That Old Time Religion" and "Armageddon" are particularly interesting in exploring the roots of our current Administration.
There are dozens and dozens of concepts and quotes from this book which I would like to share. It truly shines a bright light on U.S. history from the very beginning, and on the present White House in particular.
Do read it for yourself. For all its facts and information, it is short and an easy read. Youll understand much better what is now happening in the world. I was left with the feeling that Bush and Co. want to make the world one big plantationtheirs.