Strange Obsessions

Texas house speaker Joe Straus wields his gavel in 2013. (Reuters photo: Mike Stone)
Does the path to power run through Texas toilets?

Texas Democrats have a rich fantasy life.

“Dennis Quaid or Eva Longoria for Senate?” asked the Texas Standard, a liberal radio program based in Austin. “Tommy Lee Jones for governor?” Texas Democrats, the gentleman on the radio declared, are “looking for star power.”

Quaid, Longoria, and Jones were the names that figured prominently in the radio promotional segment. The actual conversation with Democratic analyst Harold Cook was somewhat lighter on that coveted “star power,” offering up such stale and lame figures as Julian and Joaquín Castro and Annise Parker, the heavy-handed former mayor of Houston who once attempted to subpoena the sermons of local clergymen she suspected of opposing her transgender-rights culture-war program.

As Cook tells it, Democrats desperate for an inspiring leader are asking themselves: “Where’s Wendy?”

Wendy Davis, he meant.

It must kind of stink to be a Texas Democrat.

For those of you who missed the Wendy Davis saga, a summary: Davis, an attractive and young-ish state senator from Fort Worth with a colorful personal story (“Her father quit his job to pursue work in community theater, leading his child support payments to dry up,” as the world’s most delightfully dry Wikipedia writer put it) and a couple of abortions on her résumé, staged a highly publicized filibuster of a bill that would have tightened some abortion regulations in Texas. She did this while wearing a pair of red sneakers, which immediately became a Democratic fetish item. Democrats are funny about that sort of thing: See Melissa Harris-Perry’s tampon earrings, etc.

That was the big moment for Texas Democrats, who were sure that Davis’s bringing the issue of abortion to the center of  . . . state politics in Texas . . . was just what was needed to reinvigorate the moribund political machine inherited from Lyndon Baines Johnson. They were excited — they were pumped. They all went out and bought red shoes as though they could click their heels together and return to political power.

Of course, the bill passed over Davis’s dotty objections. The Democrats, who have a habit of rewarding failure (Hello, Mrs. Clinton!), subsequently nominated Davis as their gubernatorial candidate. There were the usual fawning profiles and declarations from Austin and Washington liberals that Texas was finally ready to go Democratic. Election Day came, and Davis did not even win 40 percent of the vote. As in the case of the failure of Jon Ossoff (remember that sad little guy?) in Georgia, Democrats declared that they had won a moral victory, even if the old-fashioned kind of victory — the kind where you get more votes — eluded them.

That’s what Texas Democrats apparently mean by “star power” — losing in the polls but winning the Washington Post style section.

“Star power” does not cover the likes of the Castro brothers or Boss Parker. In fact, the Texas Standard segment could not even be bothered to mention their names until well into the conversation, after the discussion had already touched upon the political ambitions of Kid Rock and Caitlyn Jenner, not to mention those of such unlikely figures as Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren. Even Texas Democrats do not want to think very much about the actual Democratic party in Texas, as dreary a knackery of hackery as can be found in this vale of tears.

Texas governor Greg Abbott, who does not yet have a Democratic opponent to his reelection campaign, already has raised $35 million. He does not give the impression of being much worried about his reelection prospects.

Maybe he should be.

The Democrats have not yet figured out that being the party of little old liberal white ladies with a fanatical dedication to defending the abortion license is a thing of the past for a party whose future is younger and browner than its present.

Texas politics is in the midst of a kind of double civil war. The Democrats have not yet figured out that being the party of little old liberal white ladies with a fanatical dedication to defending the abortion license is a thing of the past for a party whose future is younger and browner than its present. The Democrats are torn between being the party of Elizabeth Warren and the party of the guy who cuts her grass, and it is inevitable that the people who provide the Democrats with their votes and manpower are going to eventually start asking why it is that their policy agenda, which is economically focused, is being held hostage to the excretory and sexual obsessions of a relatively tiny cabal of Wellesley graduates and puffed-up assistant vice principals.

You’d think that Republicans, who like to think of themselves as the party of economic growth and opportunity, might reach out to a few of those voters interested in upward mobility for themselves and their children. But Republicans are locked in the political toilet with the Democrats.

Texas Republicans are in open revolt against the party’s leadership in Austin. Conservatives from Houston to the South Plains hardly ever even mention the Castros or the Parkers of the state, but bring up Joe Straus, the speaker of the house, and they’ll spit. They want him deposed: “Oust Straus” is their slogan. Like Boss Parker on the Democratic side, Texas Republicans are to an extraordinary degree invested in political questions having to do with which toilet men in dresses are obliged to use: Straus and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who presides over the state senate, have been locked in a deeply stupid and fruitless confrontation over the “bathroom bill,” which now will be considered in a special legislative session. Normally, the Texas legislature meets for no more than 140 days every other year. The pressing toilet issue is not the only item on the agenda, to be sure, but it is remarkable that the question looms so large in the political consciousness of Texas Republicans that it would be taken up in a special legislative session, as though the Lone Star State had suddenly been invaded by . . . California Republicans such as Caitlyn Jenner, I suppose.

As it turns out, Texas Republicans have a rich fantasy life, too.


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