The Jeffersonian: Politicks, Sports, and Culture

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Bell And Reform

We live in a state where Democrats currently hold no statewide, elective offices. A state where our last two gubernatorial candidates haven't cracked 'the magical' forty percent ceiling. Think about that. And yet, for some reason, we still walk around engaging in the same arguments. Should we become more or less liberal? Do we really need more religion, or can we just put stronger religious words in our platform? Are we becoming Republican-lite, or are we just moving towards the center? Should we call ourselves liberal or progressive?

All while we held onto fewer and fewer seats in the State House. While statewide elections- which were once decided in the Democratic primary- moved from afterthoughts, to highly contested elections, to excercises in futility.

And as we've continued to go round after round with these arguments, Rome's been burning.

We've all been guilty of it. Putting petty partisan bickering aside is tough for even the best of us to do. But every once in a while, there comes an opportunity to run a campaign that can truly transcend established party lines. According to Jason Stanford of Team Bell, Chris Bell is the person to do just this:

When a new politician refuses to conform to established classifications, when he rejects the established caste system, sometimes political insiders have trouble hearing what he is saying. This is a strange thought, but stay with me. If you’re watching C-SPAN, and they show a Democrat standing up to announce his candidacy for Congress, you can predict with a high degree of certainty what he will say—health care, education, yada yada. Same goes with a Republican candidate. Our political divisions have become so ossified that listening to what someone has to say is no longer required in order to know their positions. The entire political culture has become a cliché, predictable and devoid of real meaning and therefore increasingly irrelevant to radical changes in life all around us. The whole world has become the baseball card that the political culture can’t sort.

Chris is getting some of that reaction in Texas political circles, and as a card-carrying member of the political culture, I can understand what the problem is. Chris isn’t predictable; he doesn’t yield easily to categorization. This is a guy who helped lead the charge against corruption and for a tax rate rollback in Houston, and who also fought discrimination against gays and lesbians. Does that make him liberal? Conservative?

Unlike something as vital as sorting baseball cards, I’m not sure ideological labels still have much importance in the way people look at the world. We—Democrats, Independents, disaffected Republicans—have to eschew pedantic political rhetoric that lapses into jingoistic clichés. As George Orwell has written, political rhetoric can be a form of deceit, and when everyone else is telling lies, the truth is going to sound out of place. And that is exactly why we’ve been calling what Chris is saying “radical common sense,” because there is nothing more radical than common sense amid the hoo-hah in Texas politics these days.

I'll be honest, I've e-mailed Jason myself, trying to get a handle on where Chris Bell lies on the political spectrum. And he's right, it can be a bit disconcerting to place him entirely in one camp or another. But you know what, right now it doesn't matter. There's an issue right now that transcends our petty intrapartisan bickerings. To paraphrase Robert McNamara in the movie, 13 Days, "This is a new kind of language. A new vocabulary, the likes of which the world has never seen!"

Our vocabulary should begin, and very nearly end, with one word- Reform.

We live in a state that can't pass school finance reform, but can find a way to kick off 150,000 children off of CHIPs. A state where fifty lobbyists can get into a room and decide how we're going to fund our schools. Not teachers or parents or legislators- Lobbyists. A state where one man single-handedly gives nearly $3 million to various candidates and then has the gall to have his press secretary tell us he expects nothing in return. A state that can remove any and all caps off of tuition increases, and give tuition-setting power to unelected, unaccountable Boards of Regents whose only main qualification is giving Rick Perry, Inc a whole hell of alot of money. A state where one US House Majority Leader's PAC can, for example, accept X numbers of $250 checks from corporations and then three days later send out X numbers of $250 checks to State House candidates; knowing full well that corporate donations to state government candidates are prohibited by state law. And we can go on and on and on.

To steal a phrase from a political idol, "It doesn't have to be that way." We can do better, much better. They've controlled the Governorship for 11 consecutive years now. Every statewide office for seven years. The legislature for three years. And it's failed. Miserably.

It's about bringing good, clean, honest, transparent government back to the citizens of Texas. Once this happens, everything else falls in place. Because without smoke and mirrors they can't get elected, much less pass their agenda. This campaign can't be about anything else. If it is, we still won't be able to break 40 percent.

It's time to put out the fires kids, before they get too hot and too big to control.