Free advice from the only man on earth who’s had the misfortune of running against both Bill White and Rick Perry.
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An election, they say in Louisiana, is when they let the fat hogs out and the skinny hogs in. In Texas we are a bit more nuanced. In November, for instance, many people will hold their noses and vote against Washington. Others will hold their noses and vote against Rick Perry. It is a far better thing to be able, with a clear conscience, to vote for somebody. This is why I suggest we refer to the winner of the race for governor of Texas as the lesser of two boll weevils.
Here at the Bandera Home for the Bewildered, my fellow residents continually remind me that I am the governor of the heart of Texas; Rick or Bill, they say, will merely be the governor of the state of Texas. This is mostly bullshit. But as I wander the grounds unattended I am constantly confronted by people who claim to have cast their ballots for me, and some of them, no doubt, actually did. Just yesterday, in fact, as I was putting away the croquet wickets with Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, I met a man who shook my hand and told me he was proud to have wasted his vote for me. Of course, he also mentioned that Janet Napolitano was trying to poison his menudo.
I got out of politics because there’s too much politics in politics. But that doesn’t mean I’m not the perfect choice to give advice to Rick Perry and Bill White. After all, I’m the only man who ever ran against both of them and lived to lecture the Medina Men’s Garden Club about it. A third of them loved me, a third hated me, and a third went into a diabetic coma just as I was going into my PowerPoint presentation on Bill White. I ran against Rick in 2006 as an independent. I ran against Bill as a Democrat in the 2010 primary before I dropped out, upon realizing that Bob Dylan was right when he said, “Money doesn’t talk, it swears.” I know the strengths and weaknesses of both men, and I’m always eager to give advice to people who are happier and more successful than I am. The only problem with this notion is that absolutely no one takes good advice. Not even me. That’s how I got into politics.
But now the campaign season is finally beginning—let’s meet the candidates. First we have—coming out of the closet on a bulldozer—the incumbent from hell, Governor Rick Perry! C’mon, folks. All I hear’s the sound of one hand clapping.
I don’t know if Will Rogers ever met Rick Perry, but I do know that Oscar Wilde never had that pleasure (though he did have other pleasures). Oscar died broke and exiled in Paris in 1900, long before the governor ever picked up his first pom-pom at A&M. Nevertheless, Oscar’s description of one of his own contemporaries fits Perry perfectly: “He hasn’t a single redeeming vice.”
I’d file Rick in the Strong Candidate—Weak Leader Department, a breed we see so much of these days. He’ll invariably greet you with a firm stare and a firm grip, especially if you own a firm. He has the God-given, uncanny ability to be the wrong man in the right place at the right time. The best advice I can give him is to stay the course—keep doing nothing. Don’t take principled or potentially unpopular stands, and never do anything that may actually accrue to the betterment of the people of Texas. We like to be forty-ninth in education, fiftieth in health care coverage, and first in executions. We like to pay the highest home insurance premiums, utility bills, and property taxes. We like to watch our homes, farms, and ranches get eminent-domained and fat-armed out of existence to make way for foreign-owned toll roads. But you know this already, Rick. You realize we must like all these things you’re doing for us or else we must be as stupid as the rest of the country thinks we are.
One other little word of advice, Rick. That great line you told the tea party folks the other day, what was it? “If Nancy Pelosi gets one more face-lift she’ll be wearing a beard”? If that’s what it was, that’s a crowd-pleaser, dude! Keep it in the act. The public’s memory is short. Keep railing against Washington and they may forget you live in Austin.
And now it’s time to meet Mr. Bill, which is not like meeting most other politicians; indeed, it is almost like encountering another human being. There is no overly sincere, unctuous, talonlike handshake that always lasts a little longer than you’d like it to. Instead of a penetrating, political stare, Bill may, at times, seem to be peering furtively over your shoulder as if he were trying to establish eye contact with a unicorn. You should not be alarmed by this. Someone who isn’t a slick candidate might just emerge to be a strong leader. We live in hope.
Bill White has three things going for him: He doesn’t have much hair, he’s never been a cheerleader, and he’s not Rick Perry. Those are enough reasons for many of us to want to rush right out and vote absentee for him now. We have to vote absentee because, no matter who wins, the way things are going, most of us are moving to Costa Rica, providing, of course, that we can get over the Mexican fence.
If you’ll just make your weaknesses your strengths, Bill, you may do something no Democrat has done since Christ was a cowboy—win. You should say things like “We have nothing to fear but Rick Perry’s hair itself.” Hell, I’ll even give you a slogan I never got to use in 2006: “I’ve got a head of hair better than Rick Perry’s—it’s just not in a place I can show you.”
Ann Richards once told me at a long-ago Democratic fundraiser, “Bill White reminds me of a talking penis.” She was smiling when she said that. She really did like you, Bill. You see, you can make your lack of hair work for you. You can beat it to death, and the public will love you for it. Have fun with this, Bill. Trust me. The cheerleaders should not be allowed to have all the fun. Besides, Texans are tired of former cheerleaders getting into politics. Hell, we’ve already had George W., Kay Bailey, and Rick. With cheerleaders like that, we’re just lucky that Jesus was our quarterback.
All this notwithstanding, in Perry vs. White we have a classic choice of paper or plastic, each candidate invariably toeing the petrified party line. Yet as they promise us things they will never deliver, they must at least feign an interest in the issues that would make up their platform. The best platform for any politician, of course, is one with a trapdoor in it.
An obvious issue that will clearly be around for many years is the BP oil leak. Perry has already called it “an act of God,” and White has hammered him for it. Enlightened voters will side with White, but the lowest common denominator will go with Perry, believing White is attacking God. Advantage Perry.
White is left with the unpleasant task of defending the administration upon whose watch the spill occurred. He should emphasize the positive—we’re finally making good on our promises to export oil to Mexico.
Perry should keep up a steady drumbeat of criticism upon the administration, saying things like “Why not plug the hole with the Nobel Peace Prize? Or Bill White’s head?”
Immigration is also a major issue, though neither candidate has the cojones to take a whack at that poison piñata. Nevertheless, they should at least pretend to be deeply concerned. Perry doesn’t mind open borders because it helps provide cheap labor for his fat-cat corporate benefactors. He should adopt a wait-and-see policy and let Arizona take all the heat. A wait-and-see policy has worked for ten years, why stop now?
White wants open borders as well, to help build the Democratic voter base. He can’t say that, of course. About all he can do is strap on an oversized sombrero, take a healthy swig of Mexican mouthwash, and tell the mariachis to play “Don’t Fence Me In.” Or out.
The budget is Perry’s ace in the hole, and he will play it for all it’s worth. Though we are the tenth-largest economy in the world, according to the comptroller’s office, we continue to pay our teachers well below the national average. In a run-up to his presidential campaign, Perry will trumpet the fact that, while most of the country’s in the red, he’s kept Texas in the black. Having run against Perry myself, I know how hellish it is to try to trump him on this issue. I’m afraid White may have to resort to the truth. The fact is, we’re a rich, beautiful, sprawling, warm-temperatured state with a colorful cowboy legacy that appeals to everybody in the world. We have no state income tax and no powerful unions to speak of. White has got to stop Perry from jumping in front of this parade. White must shout to the mountaintops what is the plain, undeniable truth and just pray somebody’s listening: A blue-buttocked baboon could’ve kept Texas in the black. All you have to do is nothing.
My final advice to both Rick and Bill is to not be content with being important. Strive to be significant. Strive not to be politicians but to be statesmen. One good way to accomplish this is to be the only true Christian in the race: Speak out against the death penalty. I apologize that you had to hear this from a Jew. But remember, gentlemen, that’s who you heard it from the first time.
Now for the disclaimer: I know Rick Perry and Bill White, and I like them both personally. They are good sports and good people (they’re just not good at sports or with people). But when all is said and done, Perry and White are creatures of narrow habit; they are the packaged products of the two political parties whose self-interest is infinite and all encompassing. It is only the tea parties, the independents, the Libertarians, the people on the outside looking in who might be capable of producing a leader who truly cares about representing all the people; the Republicans and the Democrats have become, inexorably, the same guy admiring himself in the mirror. In Austin, as in Washington, they are little more than the bullies of the playground, and the longer they remain in power, the worse, and the more corrupt, they get. That is why term limits are so important. I suggest limiting all elected officials to just two terms—one in office and one in prison.
And finally, some sad news has reached me tonight at the Bandera Home for the Bewildered. I was just coming out of a career-planning seminar with Farouk Shami when I learned that the last liberal in Texas had died. At the pearly gates, he reportedly told Saint Peter that he would enter heaven only if he could be assured that he’d never encounter Rick Perry there. Saint Pete laughed and told him not to worry, it would never happen. Nonetheless, just as the liberal was checking into his green, solar-paneled penthouse, he looked out his window and saw a guy with a humongous coif of black hair, wearing a Gucci camouflage jumpsuit and carrying a hunting rifle. The guy was pushing some angels around and shouting, “Get out of my way—let me get on down the road.”
Well, the liberal raced right back to Saint Peter’s office, mad as hell. “You promised me!” he said. “But I just looked out my window and there he was! Rick Perry!”
Saint Peter had to chuckle. “That wasn’t Rick Perry,” he said. “That was God. He just thinks he’s Rick Perry.”