Cities and suburbs, real and imaginary.

Monday, December 7, 2009

"You look at the men that founded it — the Bowies and the Travises, even Sam Houston, in my opinion possibly the greatest leader this country’s ever developed. . . ." said Rick Perry in "The New York Times"

People didn't come to Texas back then because they had clean pasts. It's where you fled to after you killed a rival in a duel, or wanted to go to build a gigantic plantation where all you could grow fat on the labor of your slaves.

Great Leaders?

Travis was suicidal. That's why he stayed in the Alamo. It wasn't courage. He had lost the woman he loved, and decided to fight like hell against impossible odds so he could die with some sense of honor. Instead of choosing to try and make the best of his life, he wanted to die with the blood on his hands of brown-skinned Indians up from Mexico to liberate slaves and maintain the legal boundaries of a once-great nation. Travis wasn't a leader, he was a psycho-ward patient.

Bowie? He was in a bar fight that escalated to become a full-scale riot. He killed the sheriff of his little town, and like most murderers in the American South, hopped across the border instead of facing justice. Leader, my ass. He died at the Alamo to fight for the right of a bunch of white people to own slaves instead of hiring a lawyer and facing the consequences of his actions back in Louisiana. He was a land speculator, of all things, which is not exactly a reputable, upstanding profession.

And that leaves us with Sam Houston. I applaud Sam Houston's failed efforts advocating the Native American rights of his first wife's family - a full-blooded Cherokee. But, in the years following the massacre of his wife's entire tribe while he was off in Washington negotiating treaties to try and protect them, Sam Houston was struggling with alcoholism. He was famous for getting blitzed, then tearing off his clothes and burning them in the middle of the street. He'd do this in broad daylight. The governer, completely drunk, rips off his clothes in the middle of the street, and lights fire to them. I feel sorry for him. I wish he had been able to do right by his first wife and their culture. I also can't help but think of him more as a pathetic figure out of a Gabriel Garcia-Marquez novel instead of a great model for leadership.

Anyway, the thing I always hated about Texas was this blind hero-worship of very un-heroic people. I find it hard to respect the Republic of Texas when it was born out of the desire to keep people in bondage. Call me crazy, Rick Perry.

The first and great Texas leader I can think of was Lyndon B. Johnson. Before that? I can't think of a single one. (Of course, we have to point out Lyndon's failure in Vietnam... But he's the one who got Kennedy's civil rights legislation through, and I will always think highly of him for that.)

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