Dustin’ Off The Stetson

It takes slant-heeled boots and a strong jaw to campaign in West Texas; a Ph.D. probably doesn’t help.

San Antonio

The candidate for Congress had forgotten his cowboy belt; his hair was a bit curly and he looked more like Ed Muskie than John Connally, but his legs were long enough, and slant-heeled boots didn’t appear to hurt his feet. Yet he seemed too introspective for an aspiring Texas politician, and his voice was all wrong: precise in its consonants, expansive in its vowels—the Eastern-educated kind of accent that used to curl Lyndon Johnson’s lip.

“I take it we’re all here,” he said. “Shall we go?”

We departed downtown San Antonio in typical fashion—the politician in a supporter’s Cadillac, the press following in a Volkswagen—and I wondered about Bob Krueger’s chances.

He was a small-town success story all right. His father in New Braunfels accumulated a shrewd fortune in the Forties by buying and storing all the used cars he could find when the war erupted in Europe, cashing in when Detroit converted from automobiles to tanks, then landing several new-car fleet sales to the military installations around San Antonio after the war. Krueger thought he wanted to be a stockbroker when he went to SMU in 1953, but his interests shifted toward literature. He studied at the graduate level at Duke, the University of Nottingham, and Oxford. At Oxford he lived in a room once occupied by T. S. Eliot, drank wine in goblets older than the United States, and wrote his dissertation on Sir John Davies, a 17th-century poet and the attorney general for Ireland who originally implemented the bright idea of settling Protestants in Ulster: his book on Davies will soon be published by Oxford University Press. After five years in Europe Krueger returned to Duke, where he taught Shakespeare, redesigned the undergraduate curriculum, and was appointed dean of arts and sciences by president Terry Sanford, the former North Carolina governor and presidential aspirant.

However, about 1960 Krueger decided he wanted to run for Congress. He said it had nothing to do with John Kennedy: “It was when I went to England that the immense importance of everything America does came home to me. I was, obviously, at a distance and starved for news from home. But everything America does is on the front page every day. And I found myself constantly in the position of having to defend or explain American policy to people because it had such impact on their lives, and they knew perfectly well what our government was doing.

“I recall one particular incident—it’s not significant but it’s illustrative. When the British Overseas Airlines Corporation was denied the opportunity B to fly from New York to Honolulu with a stop in Los Angeles because our Federal Aviation Administration set the rates, this was front-page news for a week in The Times of London and The Manchester Guardian. Of course, no one in New Braunfels or San Antonio or San Angelo—or probably New York—would have known or cared about this, but it was of major impact there. I was an American citizen, and I was in some way responsible for what happened to their lives. So one is much more conscious abroad of the importance of what America does than one could ever be at home.”

Krueger wasn’t sure where or when the political opportunity would present itself, though he doubted it would be in North Carolina. “I didn’t feel it there,” he says. “The towns were foreign to me. I was a resident of Duke University, not North Carolina.” He planned to wait until he had landed a college presidency and then make his move, but in early 1973 his father died in New Braunfels. Krueger told Sanford he was resigning to return home, become a businessman, and run for Congress, so Sanford gave Krueger his political blessings.

However, while Krueger’s academic credentials may be impressive in many parts of the country, there are miles of sea and pasture between Oxford, England, and Ozona, Texas. What Krueger is counting on, of course, is that 1974 will be the year for political newcomers.

The 21st Congressional District where Krueger is running is a monstrous godchild of one-man, one-vote democracy. It stretches from northwest San Antonio to Alpine, Del Rio to Winters, and encompasses more territory than Pennsylvania, Mississippi, or Great Britain. And standing in Krueger’s way was a sixteen-term Democratic incumbent, 0. C. Fisher of Junction. Fisher used to campaign as “the only man in the U.S. Congress with a zero rating by the ADA,” and he was an uncompromising hawk. At the beginning of the Watergate disclosures he came home to applaud Nixon’s mining of Haiphong and warn, “Even now there are those in Congress who would make of the American Eagle a sitting duck.” Not exactly a Shakespearian turn of phrase, but Fisher spoke the language of his constituency and the 21st District favored Nixon’s re-election by a three-to-one margin.

Krueger planned to campaign as a businessman untainted by previous political involvement, carry the affluent neighborhoods of San Antonio, and try to undermine Fisher’s strength in West Texas. But late last year the incumbent threw the challenger a curve; he said he was retiring because of poor health and intended to vote for Nelson Wolff, a young state senator from San Antonio. Wolff had the backing of some of the most influential men in San Antonio, and the day of his announcement a KTSA radio commentator, Logan Stewart, speculated that Wolff might be taking his first step toward the White House. Nobody said that when Krueger announced a couple of days later though San Antonio Express political analyst Kemper Diehl cracked that Krueger’s erudite speech had sewn up the Adlai Stevenson vote.

In the announcement speech Krueger touched on inflation, the energy crisis, law and order, agriculture, and care for the aged, but it was philosophical in tone. “Unlike the nations of Europe,” Krueger said, “we are a nation founded on a dream: a dream of a land of plenty, of a society in which all men are entitled to

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