Oh, oh -- racial politics in Texas

Posted: Apr 23, 2002 12:00 AM
Watch out, here comes the "dream ticket" (previously the "dream team," Texas Democrats having finally made the connection - duh - with the O.J. Simpson defense). Thus, a black for U.S. senator, a Hispanic for governor, and, oh, well, a white man for lieutenant governor; all this in George W. Bush's home state. No woman, to be sure, but when your teams, like those of the post-Ann Richards Democrats, keep getting shut out, you have to restart somewhere. And what a place to restart! The possibilities for racial demagoguery are limitless. As Texans have begun to notice. A spokesman for Republican senatorial candidate John Cornyn rashly suggested that the Democrats appeared to have adopted a quota system for their statewide ticket. Ka-boom! Cries of wounded outrage from Democrats, followed by quick repudiation from Cornyn. The spokesman hadn't known he was supposed to dissemble. Racial stuff is serious stuff with Democrats. You take it on their terms, or you zip up your lip. Quota, what quota? They inquire innocently. What the Texas Democrats (whose all-white primary provoked the U.S. Supreme Court, in 1944, to an early clampdown on officially imposed racial discrimination) did was cunning as could be: not choose the candidates, of course; rather, put in the voters' way such candidates as seemed likely to combine racial with personal attractions. Gubernatorial candidate Tony Sanchez's personal attraction, offsetting his lack of political exposure, is a huge personal fortune, from banking and oil. Democratic leaders courted and cooed over him. Senatorial candidate, and ex-Dallas mayor, Ron Kirk - whose passion for national and international policy had previously gone unsuspected and undetected - brings to his present quest an aptitude for schmoozing and an amplitude of connections with big Dallas money. More courting, more cooing. Both men became, in effect, the anointed candidates of the Democratic establishment. They stayed that way to the end. Lone wolf Hispanic candidates who mounted independent challenges to the anointed ones received from establishment leaders cold shoulders and stares of shock. Well, now, it's easy, really, to grasp the establishment's point. Black and Hispanic votes are the key to any future Democratic comeback in Texas. Why shouldn't black and Hispanic candidates help lead that comeback? Any of us in the same position might do as party chairman Molly Beth Malcolm did - plump up the pillow for especially promising black and Hispanic candidates. With many Democrats, alas, politics isn't an instrument for the amalgamation of blacks and Hispanics into the political, hence the social, order. It's a way of scaring and thwarting Republicans: a lawful enough objective, just not always a very nice one. The crucial thing Democrats won't do is admit what they're doing - namely, contriving a quota ticket, just as their spiritual forbears in Massachusetts and New York did long years ago; Irishmen chosen for being Irish, Italians for being Italian, and so on. If Mr. Kirk goes to Washington - as he might, given his early success at intimidating Cornyn - he will see how the game is played by pros. The recent scuttling of Judge Charles Pickering's nomination to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals - on account of his alleged racial "insensitivity" - was a scandal. Senate Democrats and their allies at the left-wing lobbies (e.g., People for the American Way) pretended that Pickering, a moderately conservative Mississippian, was Theo Bilbo in a black robe. Mississippi blacks who knew and had worked with Pickering gave the indignant lie to such accusations. Never mind: The truth wasn't what this thing was about. Beating a Bush judicial appointee, with race as the club, was the point here. What galls about racial politics is the dishonesty: the pretense that we (liberal Democrats) are beyond racial reproach, whereas you (extreme right-wing, David Duke-like Republicans) would set the slave ships to sail once more if you could. We'll see how the Texas Democrats handle this thing as the 2002 campaign fires up. Already, there's vast room for improvement.