Fat-cat legacies

Made in Texas
December 12, 2003

Buy Michael Lind's Made in Texas and you will find a splendid example of how consumers are duped by a well-crafted jacket. This one features an eye-catching image of Dubya wearing a confident expression, a black cashmere coat too expensive for the common man and a crisp ten-gallon hat.

So is US president George W. Bush the central figure of this book? Does it guide you to an understanding of his political strategy? No, on both counts. The book is hardly more about Bush than Waiting for Godot is about Godot.

The jacket was obviously devised to cash in on the thinking population's yen to unravel the motivation behind Bush's mad desire to divide the world into "good" and "evil". But, instead of finding the answers, the reader is dragged into a dry, ponderous portrait of the state of Texas, one that could have been cut to article length and published in an academic journal, with a few more references.

Lind's intention is to prove that having the product of traditional Texas conservatism in the White House has "profound implications for both the US and the world", and that the Bush doctrine was informed by the warped world-view prevalent among residents of one particular region of Texas (while most regard Texas as a western state, Lind argues it is southern because it shares the South's legacy of racism and slavery). Lind wants to build the case that Bush's ideas are the scions of a heritage of wrong thinking and that no amount of world unrest can change the course of the creation of his "new world order" because "the Confederate tradition continues to influence politics in Texas and, through Texan conservatives in Washington, the nation and the world."

While the book may answer a few riddles about how Bush's brand of Texas conservatism (which Lind rightly points out bears no relation to the "compassionate conservative" banner under which he was elected) has led him to curry favour with big business, it does not support Lind's larger assertion that the reason Bush is making such a mess worldwide is because he is from Texas.

Lind divides the state into two distinct ideological camps. Lyndon B.

Johnson, the 36th president of the US, hailed from the area west of Austin, where, Lind writes, there is a tradition of open-minded, hard-working and progressive citizens. Bush, the 43rd US president, was raised north of Austin, in Crawford, the land of fat-cat oil barons who, Lind suggests, made their money only by the dumb luck of owning the right piece of land when oil was discovered. This part of Texas is predominantly white, due in large part to the powerful presence of the Ku Klux Klan from the post-civil war era through to the 1960s. Conversely, Johnson's portion of the state is ethnically and religiously diverse, partly because it was settled by the population of non-southern whites who also constituted the largest white ethnic group in the nation: immigrants from Germany. The two sides further divided over Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal and, according to Lind, those from Bush land never forgave the Johnson camp for supporting civil rights for African Americans. Sadly, Lind's clear preference for the Johnson point of view causes him to stumble into Bush's own simple-minded knack for boiling down the complex and nuanced into "good" versus "evil". This division in ideologies is the crux of Lind's argument and he repeats it over and over.

Lind is also guilty of making sweeping, unsupported generalities. For example, "the Texas Germans (were) for the most part opposed to slavery, and found Southern culture abhorrent". The book is littered with the kind of unsubstantiated soft fact that would not get past most high-school teachers. Lind never comes right out and calls Bush a bigot or a racist, but his innuendos are clear enough.

Though much of the world loathes Bush, Lind unfairly pushes his personal disdain too far, attempting to manipulate the reader by insinuation. He should be capable of offering hard evidence that Bush's doctrines stem from a prevalent Texan tradition of closed-minded hostility to outsiders. What is lacking in this book is primary research; Lind's argument is buttressed mainly by magazine and newspaper articles.

This is a disappointing effort for a talented political journalist and historian. Being a fifth-generation Texan himself, Lind is perhaps too close to his subject and becomes mired in details that will mean little to most readers. His book is for only the most committed Bush scholars. It sheds about as much light on the psyche of the president as a book on the history of Manila would on Imelda Marcos' obsession with designer shoes.

Madeleine Gruen is a security-research analyst who lives in New York City.

Made in Texas: George W. Bush and the Southern Takeover of American Politics

Author - Michael Lind
Publisher - Basic Books
Pages - 201
Price - £18.50
ISBN - 0 465 04121 3

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