Remembering the Alamo used to be fairly straightforward. The battle of 1836, Davy Crockett, John Wayne—okay kids, back on the bus. But ever since 2014, this hallowed Texas monument has become the locus of a notably less cinematic war, all raging around the controversial plan to renovate and redesign it. At first blush, the Alamo master plan presented by Texas land commissioner George P. Bush seems pretty logical and perfectly reverent. Repair some cracks. Create a whole new museum to house the many artifacts that singer and Alamo buff Phil Collins donated, after growing bored of playing the “In the Air Tonight” drum solo with Jim Bowie’s knife. Close off the streets in front that have become home to carnivals, demonstrators, half-naked exhibitionists, and, occasionally, the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile.
But opponents quickly seized on the proposal to relocate the Alamo cenotaph to a new spot—one closer to the funeral pyres where the bodies of the fallen Texas revolutionaries were burned, yet much farther away from the Alamo itself. This swelled into a controversy that grew even more complicated after San Antonio mayor Ron Nirenberg mused in a radio interview that he hoped the newly renovated Alamo would honor “both sides.” This seemingly throwaway platitude—coupled with some vague promise of “healing” on the renovation website and Nirenberg’s recent removal of a Confederate war memorial—has sparked a raging battle of its own, aimed at the supposed scourge of “political correctness” that’s out to erase Texas history. And that preemptive furor finally culminated last week in the wild accusations that Bush is so intent on telling everyone’s side of the story, he even wants to erect a statue of the Mexican tyrant Santa Anna, right there on the Alamo grounds.
The charge was leveled by a group that calls itself Save the Alamo and was launched by Bush’s onetime political rival for the land commissioner job, Rick Range. And it likely would have remained there, swirling in the eternally screaming abyss of panicky Facebook shares, had Bush himself not brought attention to it through his own social media posts calling the rumor “patently false,” “an outright lie,” and “quite frankly, flat-out racist.”
Thanks for reading Texas Monthly
THREAD: One must ask themselves, why am I being accused of honoring the murderous dictator Santa Anna? Is it because my mother (now a naturalized citizen) is from Mexico? I was born in Houston, my wife is from San Angelo, and my boys were born-you guessed it- here in Texas. (1/3) pic.twitter.com/Tjn7Ek2jjB
— George P. Bush (@georgepbush) December 11, 2019
And the fog of war has only thickened now that Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has blundered into this mess. This week, Patrick issued a statement criticizing Bush and his staff, saying they’ve “derided anyone who disagrees with the Alamo redesign as a small vocal minority who are liars and racists. This is offensive and inaccurate.” This is, of course, a rather sweeping mischaracterization of what actually happened, as Bush pointed out in his own official response: “Lt. Gov. Patrick has taken my statement out of context, much like the small group of protesters and activists,” Bush wrote. “To clarify, I stated the accusation that I was erecting a statue of Santa Anna at the Alamo, and protesters continually referring to me with slurs such as ‘Santa Anna Bush’ online is racist.” He then went on to say that Patrick was “twisting my words,” adding, “It is a very dangerous mistake for an elected official with his power to make.”
You might think it all would have ended there, with Bush having made it plain that only those specific rumormongers among the plan’s opponents are the racists. But Patrick—the immortal words of William Barret Travis no doubt ringing in his ears—proudly declared he would never surrender or retreat, issuing yet another statement to aver that he “did not twist words or float rumors.” He also doubled down on his criticism of Bush and the General Land Office for even mentioning those racist attacks in its official statement, saying he was “surprised and disappointed.”
Patrick is right that not all opponents of the Alamo plan are racists or liars, and that they constitute more than the “small, vocal minority” named rather dismissively by the General Land Office. Plans to move the cenotaph have been met with numerous protests, public hearings, and last-ditch legislative proposals over the past few years; clearly, it’s the biggest controversy the monument has seen since that time Ozzy Osbourne peed on it. Still, Bush is right to condemn an outright lie—one that was cooked up by the guy who lost an election to him, no less. Patrick’s attempt to spin that as Bush dismissing all critics is every bit as disingenuous, and a needlessly distracting addition to a debate that’s already plenty contentious and confusing. (We haven’t even touched on the lawsuit filed by descendants of the Native Americans buried there—and who for Bush’s sake, hopefully weren’t among the human remains that were newly unearthed this very week.) Texans want to remember the Alamo, but when this is all over, we’ll be lucky to remember our own names.
Wendy Davis Gets Back on the Campaign Bike
With controversies such as the Alamo kerfuffle, it’s enough to make you wonder why anyone ever wants to run for office. But a new ad from Wendy Davis posits that campaigning can be its own reward, with the former state senator announcing her run for Congress in Texas’s Twenty-first Congressional District with the rather dubious slogan, “Running for office is truly the ‘Gift That Gives Back.’” That’s true in one regard, at least: it’s already given Davis plenty of attention, thanks to its topical-ish spoof of that Peloton commercial that briefly unleashed a storm of online mockery and actually tanked the company’s stock. In her version of the ad, Davis tries to “get back into campaign shape” to run against Republican representative Chip Roy. She documents her journey, from 6 a.m. wake-up calls to “go talk to voters” to (in a fairly loose interpretation of parody) taking video selfies while astride her own Peloton bike.
It’s all perfectly cute, in the self-aware way that all commercial spoofs and campaign ads are, though it’s certainly a muddled message. After all, most of the negative reaction to the Peloton ad was centered on the idea that the woman was something akin to a hostage. She didn’t have to be doing this. She only seemed to be committing herself to this pointless slog to prove something to a man—or, in the most charitable reading, out of some doing-it-for-the-’Gram narcissism. Neither is perhaps the subtext her campaign intended for Davis’s reintroduction to politics. There’s also something slightly desperate about the fact that Davis tagged her post with the accounts for both actor Ryan Reynolds and his Aviation Gin, acknowledging the company’s own Peloton spoof, but also not-so-subtly asking for his help making it go viral—a plea that, adding to the overall cringe factor, Reynolds seems to have ignored. Hopefully Davis’s team will offer something a little more substantive next time, and resist the urge to dress her up as Baby Yoda.
A Nation Divided Over Beto’s Beard
Also spinning his wheels this week, former presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke has lately retreated to the familiar, returning to the comforting bosom and lowered stakes of state politics, and concentrating on offering general support for local progressive candidates. So it comes as no surprise that he’s wrapped his face in the security blanket of a scruffy unemployment beard, which O’Rourke seems to grow whenever he no longer has voters to answer to. Good thing, too, seeing as Beto’s beard tends to be as polarizing as his thoughts on gun control.
Wow, Beto really grew a beard since he dropped out of the race pic.twitter.com/DDeuMI5IO8
— Kathryn Watson (@kathrynw5) December 18, 2019
Much as it did when he grew it out last January, not long after O’Rourke lost to (a similarly freshly bearded) Senator Ted Cruz, Beto’s beard has once again divided the nation over whether it’s a sign of virility or of depression, a bold reclamation of his free-agent status or some form of post-breakup wallowing. (For his part, Cruz himself approves.) But even more troublingly—and metaphorically—Beto’s beard just doesn’t seem to be generating the same level of excitement this time around. Even the parody Twitter account @BeardBeto appears to have lost interest long ago, apparently growing disenchanted enough to switch allegiances to [Elizabeth] “Warren’s Unscented Deodorant.” Maybe Beto’s beard should have stuck closer to his face for a while, until it achieved the fullness it needed before branching out.
Rick Perry’s on the Road
While Beto O’Rourke is out there letting his beard down in the freaky, ramble-tamble of semi-post-political life, maybe he’ll cross paths with Rick Perry, who’s been similarly cut loose to follow his heart—no longer answering to The Man, or the people who want to know how he might have helped The Man exact certain political pressures on foreign countries. Indeed, after bidding a perfectly timed farewell to the Department of Energy, Perry seems to have found a new source of his own. Perry’s apparently been burning, burning, burning, like a fabulously coiffed Roman candle, hurtling across some sort of mad, Kerouacian journey to the heart of the American dream, only to end up stranded somewhere outside of Cisco.
The setback seems to have been temporary, at least, as Perry says he soon found himself rescued by “at least 5 good Texans” and one very good dog, a menagerie that swept Perry off the side of the highway and gave him a lift to the airport for his next adventure.
Who knows where Perry’s boho odyssey will take him next, or what fellow travelers will join his restless search for kicks? Nothing behind him but Ukrainian lawsuits, nothing before him but cozy rewards from the private sector, as is ever so on the road. Why, this time tomorrow he could be watching a bullfight down Mexico way, or appearing on Fox News, or splitting a can of beans with a railcar hobo, or appearing on Fox News. Here’s to the next patch of stars Perry lays his head under. Hopefully it’s nowhere near Washington, D.C. Or the Alamo.