PICTURE THIS: American soldiers are welcomed to Iraq with garlands and return home within months. Democracy spreads through the Middle East with the viral ferocity of the Snakes on a Plane marketing campaign. A Congress led by a feisty Texas exterminator dedicates itself to zapping budget-busting earmarks and eradicating a culture of corruption rooted in decades of “Democrat party” control. A Texas political genius capable of microanalyzing the voting habits of Field & Stream readers finds the secret formula allowing ideologically pure Republicans to lead our republic in perpetuity. And for good measure, throw in this Texas told-you-so: The entire worldwide cabal of scientists finally confesses to the greatest scientific hoax since Darwin—global warming.
Just imagine it! With Western civilization staring into the abyss, assailed from without by martial Islamofascists and from within by marital homosexuals, a band of intrepid Texans saves the world and renews the American dream! Instead of State of Denial, Bob Woodward’s latest book is State of Destiny —and we all know he isn’t talking about Rhode Island! The whole world embarks on a vast pilgrimage to our sacred soil, hoping to pick up some of that Texas mojo that enabled one man’s gut instinct to outperform whole conclaves of so-called experts! When he leaves office, President George W. Bush will probably have to set up some kind of public policy institute affiliated with his Dallas library, just so we can answer the question everyone will be clamoring to ask: How the heck did all you Texans do such a heckuva job?
Of course, we can only imagine this—except the part about the think tank the president wants to bundle with his half-billion-dollar library at Southern Methodist University. The reality, alas, is brutal: Never in the annals of this nation has one state held so much power in its hands, with so much at stake, with so much potential to tip the balance of history on a fulcrum of those “Texas values” everyone was crowing about just a few years ago. And never has one state so hopelessly blown its date with destiny. History hooked us up with the homecoming queen, and we just barfed all over her prom dress.
How bad is it, really? Well, consider that the same Texans who were pretty much running the world after the 2004 “mandate” have now pinned their ambitions on long-term rehabilitation. The president is hoping to come back as Harry Truman II, with historians someday reversing the judgment of his dismally low approval ratings—even if he’s had to redefine victory in his defining battle, Iraq, as the same sort of bloody quagmire that led another Texas president to ruefully conclude he’d already lost Vietnam. Then there’s “Hot Keys Tom” DeLay, not long ago the most powerful man in Congress, now blogging away in hopes we’ll forget that he scored an almost inconceivable twofer, in one stroke bringing down his Republican majority and emasculating Texas in the new Democratic Congress. Math whiz Karl Rove? He just wants another election to refute the evidence that the only numbers he actually knows are 9/11. As for global warming, even the president’s Jurassic-era thinking on the matter (he was once advised by a prominent denier, novelist Michael Crichton) has evolved into a tepid acknowledgment of “climate change.”
So let’s get real, Texas. The world’s not going to come here asking, as Bob Woodward did back in the triumphant days of Bush at War, if our greatness is rooted in the very soil of our fair state. The world is just going to politely ignore us; the sucking sound you’re already hearing is our state’s political clout vanishing into some deep-space void. Instead, this would be the time to have a little Texas straight talk among ourselves. If we really had saved the world, we’d hardly be reluctant to broadcast our unique Texas virtues; maybe one of those virtues should be a similarly forthright admission of failure. Now that Texas has messed with everything from the long-term stability of the Middle East to the near-term prospects for polar bears, it’s time to ask: How the hell did we screw it up so abysmally? Is it something bred in the bone, some defective cultural gene, a warped Texas weltanschauung? Is it just possible that the roots of the present debacle really do run deep in the Texas soil?
Certainly the Bush administration has gone out of its way to characterize itself, from the top down, as uniquely—if not necessarily authentically—Texan. When he ran for Congress in 1978, Bush was portrayed by his opponent as a city slicker, a snotty scion with an East Coast—elite, Andover-Yale-Harvard résumé. But Bush bought his Crawford ranch on the eve of his run for the presidency, and it became an effective set piece for an administration that tried to make a virtue of its swagger (“In Texas we call it walking,” the president once said). The mainstream media bought into the president’s phony cowboy act, citing Crawford as the psychological incubator of a Decider who drew as quickly as a gunfighter and held his ground like the defenders of the Alamo. The best Texas leaders, however, have historically been cautious, calculating pragmatists, in a lineage that runs from Sam Houston, who tried to make peace with Indians and Mexicans and keep Texas out of the Civil War, to former Secretary of State James Baker, whose Iraq Study Group unsuccessfully attempted to nudge the president toward a diplomatic solution to Iraq’s civil war. Bush himself campaigned in 2000 as a disciple of no-nonsense, no-nation-building realpolitik, and even after 9/11 he proceeded prudently—evidently too prudently—in Afghanistan. The extent to which Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld cowed an isolated, impressionable president into a disastrous Iraq adventure will certainly be the subject of lengthy debate among historians.
If Texans didn’t exactly bring a hair-trigger bellicosity to Washington, they did bring something altogether more dangerous and deeply rooted in the Texas experience: the spirit of ’76. That would be 1876, the year that