The years that Texas Democrats have spent wandering in the wilderness make Moses look like a Middle Eastern tourist. Christopher Hooks of Texas Monthly summed it up a couple of years ago.
"Texans haven’t backed the Democratic candidate for president since 1976. Democrats haven’t won the Governor’s Mansion since 1990. They haven’t held a chamber of the Legislature since 2003."
No Democrat has even been elected statewide since Bob Bullock and John Sharp in 1994. And the Texas Democratic Party Convention a couple of weeks ago illustrated why. The Republican convention in Houston was energized, angry and eager to put together a platform that demanded every draconian proposal except the death penalty for parking violations.
The Democrats in Dallas (and were two cities ever chosen more wrongly for their conventions?) couldn't be bothered to produce a quorum to approve a new platform. Beto O'Rourke has raised more campaign money than Greg Abbott and gave a rousing keynote address to the adoring faithful. He will lose of course, and said gathered faithful will consider it a victory is he gets closer than others have before. Texas Democrats have adopted the philosophy of the Washington Generals, the fake basketball team who play the Harlem Globetrotters. It's also the mantra followed by that early Fox liberal token, Alan Colmes, when he was paired with Sean Hannity years ago. Keep it close, but lose. But, hey, we're close to turning Texas, uh, purple? Right?
Texas Democrats, and it showed at the convention, have pointed in horror at the Republican overreach in the area of social policy, and apparently think that is all that is needed to win. In principle, they are right, of course, as Abbot, Patrick and the crew have sacked and pillaged public education, personal privacy, marriage equality and exhibited not so subtle racism in discussions about the border. And as Democrats work themselves up into a state of high dudgeon and shout "J'Accuse!," Republicans are actually winning votes in the valley.
The party that most supports unions, Social Security, a national health system, higher minimum wage, public education and the social safety net find they are anathema to working folks. It gives whole new worlds of meaning to the word, inept. And then they reelected the guy who's lead the party into a ditch since 2012, Gilberto Hinojosa.
By all accounts a nice fellow, Hinojosa was a County Judge and political activist all his adult life. He is a Democratic stalwart in the Valley and is again leading a party that is slowly losing votes there. Ironically, we are seeing a rise in groups whose avowed aim is to displace political leaders who are, well, my age. And I begin to believe they have a point. Hinojosa is 70, 2 years younger than me, and though I still feel passionate about many issues of the day, let's face it. Those of us who grew up with role models like JFK, Ike, LBJ and MLK find ourselve hopelessly wedded to the past. Those who lived through the 60's, Viet Nam, civil rights and the woman's movement might find it hard to believe but politics today is more brutal and partisan than we've ever seen. You can see that divide in President Biden's laughable belief that bi-partisanship is still a thing. While he casts about for across the aisle agreement, Texas working people voted for a guy with a gold-plated toilet in Manhatten.
Many so-called leaders are also, frankly, more stupid than ever before, and yet still are elected. And worse, their Gomer Pyle-level rhetoric attracts a following among those who feel left out and used to vote Democratic. To take the argument abroad, when the Prime Minister of the UK, voted out by his own party, says to parliament, "Hasta La Vista, Baby," we are truly in the shallow end of the political swimming pool.
So, perhaps Democrats are ready for a new generation of leadership who understand the moral high ground simply makes you a more visible target. Oh, don't get me wrong, that's where you want to be, but dig trenches and prepare for a protracted battle. To paraphrase Prussian General Carl Von Clausewitz, "War is politics by other means." Democrats haven't figured out that the opposite is true as well. That's what Republicans have been doing since Bill Clements and John Tower began the slow chipping away of a dependably blue electorate in the Lone Star State. They have been dogged and determined, and made inroads in demographic groups no one thought could ever vote red. Sometimes the arguments are simplistic, but effective.
In 1987, I interviewed Bill Clements on Houston TV. He was running against John Hill, a genial but ineffectual guy who defeated the sitting Governor Dolph Briscoe in the primary. And the big issue for Clements was runaway spending. He vowed to "scrub the budget" if elected. I asked what that means. What will you cut? He persisted with generalities, and I asked again...and again until I figured the viewers could see he wouldn't answer. He never named a single program or line item he'd cut claiming that would give away his ideas, but in the end he won and was elected the first Republican Governor since Reconstruction. Two terms.
And so, this year's state Democratic Convention slowly wound down, with parties and hot and cold running scotch lubricating the wheels, until in the end, they couldn't muster enough people to vote on a platform, which is what these affairs are about. That casual attitude toward the political game is what will keep them in the minority for the forseeable future.
And this will be blunt, perhaps offensive, but it is the truth. Democrats in Texas are counting on demographics as their road to majority. They know the Hispanic population is growing at a faster clip than any other. That's why Republicans gerrymandered districts with all the subtlety of a Sam Kinison monologue, all in the hopes of walling the Latino vote off in a way that Trump's wall couldn't. But they also work the streets and the precincts. They know, for example, in the largely Catholic Hispanic population, abortion is a troubling subject. So, guess what becomes the one trick pony of a GOP campaign in the Valley? Is that exploiting someone's faith for votes? Damned right it is and it's beginning to work. And, to be honest, Republicans should be glad that President Trump and his demeaning and ignorant anti-Mexican rhetoric are gone. He didn't help candidates make the case with anyone other than Anglos along the border.
What's hard for my Democratic friends to understand is that this is the party of Ann Richards, for crying out loud. Let me repeat, Ann-effing-Richards. A more folksy, clever and dynamic politician you would be hard pressed to find. Beto has energy and youth going for him, but he isn't the jalapeno-flavored Kennedy he hopes to be. At least not yet. But, how many near-misses does he get before the reality sinks in? The real JFK had actual wit, and what Richards had going for her, among many other attributes, was humor. Oh, she was sharp as a scalpel, but she couched it in that corn pone demeanor that made the sting funny, not mean. "George W. Bush was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple."
Which brings me to Will Rogers, whom I have woven through this meandering piece. As usual, he had pretty much the perfect observation for any political subject and this is the kind of attitude that can win elections for either party. We tend to forget that people like to vote for people they like. Politicians are so serious, insulting and, honestly, mean that we'll see a resurgence in the clothes pin industry for distribution at the polls. I've been racking my brain to think of an honestly funny, engaging politico these days, though I'm sure I'm missing someone. Democrats, and Republicans as well, have lost the human touch. Snark has replaced humor. Insult has taken the place of real debate. And the intellectual level of our political discourse is sinking faster than Biden's poll numbers.
So, If I were to play James Carville for a moment for Texas Dems, I'd say look for that person who can leaven the tough arguments with humor and genuine humanity. Sadly, Ted Cruz (R-Cancun) is the perfect exemplar of where we are. Humorless, though he thinks he's amusing; shallow, though he thinks he's deep; and a man who sees a peripatetic Twitter account as a substitute for leadership. Beto seems to think energy equals charisma, and an open collar and rolled up sleeves make him a man of the people.
Slow down, eat some fajitas at the best joint in town and go to church with folks in rural Texas. Democrats have lost the working class because the condescension is obvious and they obsess over issues the average family doesn't care about. Yes, climate change is an existential threat, but balance that with jobs and the economy, or better yet, show how it affects jobs and the economy. Both parties seem to think the social issues are what people are discussing over the dinner table. They are not, except when Tucker is on TV to tell them they are being replaced with gay, illegal immigrants in skirts who spread critical race theory in Ukraine and want to fund Jewish space lasers.
But if their convention tells us anything, Texas Democrats are still lazy and smug, waiting for birth rates to determine their future. When Republicans grab the headlines with a boisterous, if extreme, convention and you can't be bothered to stick around to finish your work, you're in trouble. If you're not careful, the next convention will be held in a single room at Motel 6.
Now, he is part of the Texas Outlaw Writers, and if this doesn't pan out, the outlaw part will still work as he will indeed resort to robbing banks.