October 17, 2004


The Birthplace of Bush Paranoia: How the political culture of Austin, Texas, infected the presidential race. (Andrew Ferguson, 10/25/2004, Weekly Standard)

Condescension is a key to the outlook of the Texas progressive. Tinged with paranoia, it finds its perfect expression in a dizzy, half-brilliant, half-mad book by Michael Lind called Made in Texas: George W. Bush and the Southern Takeover of American Politics.

A Texan himself, and a graduate of Austin's University of Texas who grew up to become a fellow at a Washington think tank, Lind tries to explain George Bush for the rest of the puzzled world by means of the state's geography. Unlike many Bush paranoids--Dubose and Ivins among them--Lind thinks W. is not a pretender from the East but "an authentic cultural Texan," which is to say, a rube, a Neanderthal, and a racist to boot. Having grown up in oil-patch Midland, and now a resident of hell-hole Crawford, Bush is the product, Lind says, of "the most reactionary community in English-speaking North America," where "the sadism of the white supremacists...has few parallels in the chronicles of human depravity." Those Aggies can be fearsome fellows indeed, and Lind is relentless in bringing the point home. Made in Texas is full of parenthetical asides like this: "As it happens, the George Herbert Walker Bush Library at Texas A&M in College Station, like the younger Bush's ranch, is in the heart of the historic lynching belt." Coincidence?

In opposition to Bush's Texas, this scrubland-of-the-soul, Lind posits the Hill country that has the paradisiacal Austin at its heart. "While the Waco/Crawford area is infamous for its violent religious fanatics and its shocking lynchings, the Hill country has long been a haven for mavericks of all kinds--the very sort of people who are not welcome among many of George W. Bush's neighbors." Historically it is a region that "came as close to an egalitarian society as any in the country. Most people did their own work. Labor was not considered a dishonorable activity to be carried out by helots of a different race or class." Such happy worker bees! "Their beer gardens rang with the melodies of their singing clubs, and scholarship, journalism, and the composition of verse were valued in a society founded by surplus nobles and refugee professors. . . ." Yet all the while, lurking just beyond the horizon of the Austin Shangri-La . . . was Texas.

And slowly, Lind concludes, Texas has come to infect the entire United States, and beyond. "From its conception of economics in terms of the exploitation of cheap labor and the plundering of nonrenewable natural resources and its plan to replace the modern social safety net with faith-based religious charity, to its minimal government political theory, its bellicose militarism and the Bible Belt Christian Zionism"--here you may take a breath--"the second Bush administration illustrates the centuries old tradition . . . of the traditional Texan elite." Bush's America, in other words, is Bush's Texas, except even bigger. "Texas politicians, like George W. Bush" and his colleagues, are "a menace to the prosperity and the security of the world as much as to that of the United States."

Lind's book is the obverse of liberal condescension, Texas style. It is shot through with another essential characteristic of the homegrown anti-Bush paranoids: hatred for themselves as Texans. "Keep Austin weird" is the cute, self-congratulatory, semi-official motto the city's residents repeat insistently, and there is, sure enough, something weird here. But the city isn't weird in the way Austinites think it is. No matter where in Austin you find yourself--the waiting room of an auto body shop, the men's room of a beer joint--you'll be confronted with a community bulletin board coated thickly with fliers announcing a poetry contest or some new development in Hatha Yoga technique. In that way Austin is no weirder than any other college town. It's weirdness lies in the fact that, unlike every other college town--Madison, Wisconsin; Lawrence, Kansas; Eugene, Oregon--it has never made peace with its home state. Texas progressivism sets itself in opposition to its surroundings, defines itself by what it isn't. It depends on a blend of boosterism (for Austin and for a few progressive neighborhoods in Houston) and contempt (for everything else north of the Rio Grande Valley and south of the Mason Dixon line). "The feeling you get in Austin sometimes," Nathan Husted told me, "is like we're all living in West Berlin during the Cold War."

Michael Lind is unusual in recent American political discourse in that he is motivated almost exclusively by hatred, mostly of people who have religious beliefs of any kind. This loathing of the secular for the faithful seems about the last bastion of open bigotry and hatred in American society.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 17, 2004 12:55 PM

Remeber, Austin was the hometown of Madelyn Murray O'Hair, and the Hill Country area around Austin and San Antonio has been home to a very liberal strain of the Democratic Party daiting all the way back to the rise of LBJ and Maury Maverick during the FDR years, and his son who followed in his footsteps. It's just that the overall conservatism of the rest of the state has traditionally masked the state capital's liberalism to outsiders.

(I suppose it's also worth noting that when the Supreme Court passed its Brown decision while GWB was in elementary school in the 1950s, West Texas was the first part of the state to intergrate. But I don't expect to see that in any of Lind's writings)

Posted by: John at October 17, 2004 1:15 PM

For my money the depravity and sadism of Manhattan wins hands down.

Love the use of "helots." Haven't heard it since I last watched "Meet John Doe" when Walter Brennan used it.

Posted by: Rick T. at October 17, 2004 2:12 PM

"the Waco/Crawford area is infamous for its violent religious fanatics and its shocking lynchings."

Except Janet Reno is from Miami (Fla.).

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at October 17, 2004 4:40 PM

Your last paragraph is well-said. The loathing of the secular for the faithful IS the true last bastion of open bigotry in our country. Hatred toward people of faith is strangely acceptable in our 'tolerant' and Judeo-Christian based society. There are no PC rules against it at all, in fact in comedy, speech, and even serious writing, it is absolutely fine to belittle such a person and is often applauded (consider the preacher in the movie - he is always dull, sometimes a nutcake, and often a pervert). I strongly believe that this hatred plays an enormous part in explaining the inexplicable hatred of G.W. Bush. I think that were he not a man of faith, while some would oppose him ideologically, this would be a very different race. I can see no other way to understand the strength of the force of hatred aimed at him.

Posted by: DL Meadows at October 17, 2004 5:31 PM

Austin has changed dramatically in the last decade such that it is far more in line with the rest of Texas than it ever was before.

People who have trouble with the fact that most Americans are religious should not be listened to when they opine about politics. They simply don't get it.

The more I think about it, the more likely it is that I will look into conservative Christian denominations when I move South.

Posted by: Bart at October 17, 2004 6:58 PM

Hellman's Mayonnaise...


If you do, I hope that you find the spiritual grounding that your Reform temple isn't giving you.

You have to want to change, though (sorry if this sounds like a lightbulb joke).

You might want to peruse Rabbi Brody's web log before quitting the Jewish religion. It has bucked me up a few times when I was feeling down (The Rav welcomes non-Jewish readers too, of course.)

Posted by: Eugene S. at October 17, 2004 9:06 PM

I think that were he not a man of faith, while some would oppose him ideologically, this would be a very different race.

DL, what was Bill Clinton, if not a man of faith? We've never had an athiest president, they've all been men of faith, so your theory doesn't make sense. This is not a predudice against religion, it is a prejudice within religion, of one against the other. It is cultural snobbery, most of these people like Lind are religious.

Before enumerating the remaining prejudices, you might want to consider that of the religous against the irreligious. Last bastion, indeed!

Posted by: Robert Duquette at October 18, 2004 1:10 AM


No, they're mostly, like Lind, just anti-religious. He hates Jews just as much as born-agains.

Posted by: oj at October 18, 2004 1:23 AM

"...[West Texas],the most reactionary community in English-speaking North America..."

Rats. I thought that honor went to eastern West Virginia.

Posted by: Earl Sutherland at October 18, 2004 9:56 AM

Bill Clinton may have been a "man of faith," but it seemed as if his faith was of the same stripe as John Kerry's: mention it when it could score you points, but don't let it have much of an impact on what you really want to do.

PS: OJ, why doesn't your comment form accept a gmail address? I get this message: Your comment could not be submitted due to questionable content (and the questionable content is a string starting with "gmail" and ending with ".com"; it won't let the combination go through)

How is gmail any worse (or better) than a Yahoo email address?

Posted by: Roy Jacobsen at October 18, 2004 11:54 AM


You got the point. JK is a man with the 'faith of opportunity'. And BC was quite the same, as testified to by his lifestyle. There is no hatred against this kind of faith, in fact it is embraced by many.

And by the way, Robert, it was Orrin who made the comment about the last bastion. I was simply supporting his statement, and still do. I wonder why you got so riled up, rattling off the common secular thought about the "religions against the irreligious". I do believe this is a poor and outdated argument unless you want to go back to the Crusades or talk about the jihadists who kill anyone.

Posted by: DL Meadows at October 19, 2004 3:34 PM