Lone Star Populism

Out of thin air—or of mythic consciousness—a Texas governor once plucked unhesitatingly the mot juste. The governor, Allan Shivers, who served back in the 1950's, was indignant over some piece or other of legislative tomfoolery. As he saw it, the whole enterprise was downright "un-Texan."

"Un-Texan." Right there we had the nub of the matter. No deeper truth, no higher reality, needed to be fingered. The governor's listeners were to understand that two standards informed political discourse and deliberation—one for Texans and another for everybody else. The Greeks, whose word for foreigner was "barbarian," would doubtless have understood.

Texas is different, yes, when measured against the standards of Michigan, North Carolina, and South Dakota. Has any measure of uplift or social transformation ever been condemned as un-Carolinian? Un-Dakotan? In the federal union of states, Texas is distinct all right. It may be even more distinct than the legends suggest and all the more meritorious for that—at least from a certain philosophical vantage point.

I give fair warning: we are traversing here the countryside of myth. Step carefully. The Texas myth of real men in the wide open spaces is notoriously potent, engaging—and dangerous. Dangerous because it leads to exaggeration: the blam-blam, take-that-you-varmint kind. I never cease to be amazed—yes,...

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