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How Politics in Texas Can Change the World

March 5 2015

Texans have a bizarre pride about their state. If I were not a Texan, I’d find it egotistical, annoying, and maybe a little misplaced. But I am a Texan, I’m incredibly proud of that, I won’t apologize. Perhaps the greatest two words ever uttered in a TV show came out of Tim Riggins’s mouth: “Texas forever”. Yeah, it’s a little annoying.

Really, being proud of something that you had no control over (like where you were born or raised) is pretty silly. But we all do it, and you might as well be proud of who you are, because if you don’t love yourself you can’t really love other people. I digress. That being said, Texas continues to rise in national prominence because people who weren’t born or raised in the state are moving here in droves, whether due to the business climate, the weather, the cheap land, or an appreciation of really great flags. I have some first-hand experience of this: my father was born and raised in Illinois and moved here to start his own business. He is a proud Texan in his own right at this point. His story is very similar to millions of others.

This dynamic growth and influx of fresh blood stands in stark contrast to a political climate that is very conservative. For the most part, good old boys still run the state. The legislature only meets every other year, positions have more or less power than you’d expect (the governor is relatively weak, the lieutenant governor has appointment power over influential positions). The state constitution which creates these institutions also contains clearly unconstitutional oddities such as a religious test to hold office. This all stems from a document slapped together by unique forces in 1876 at the end of Reconstruction.

Honestly, most people don’t care about this stuff. Politics are pretty boring, inane, or absurd, except when they directly impact our lives, state politics even more so. Texas seems even less relevant because we don’t swing presidential elections like Ohio, or Florida, or a number of other states. But this won’t always be the case, and this is why we are talking about something much larger than state politics. Texas has several factors which will make it the battleground state for political issues:

These factors all combine into one obvious fact: if Texas ever turns blue, it will be almost impossible for a Republican to be elected president. If you’re a Republican, this may cause you to dig your heels in and make sure it never happens, if you are a Democrat, it might fill you with absolute joy. I don’t really care about it either way. What I do care about, and the point I really want to make clear is this: Texas becoming a battleground state for political issues is not just an opportunity for one political party or the other to stake their claim, it is an opportunity to use our unique state culture of independence and amiability to reformulate and reshape politics both within our state and across the nation as a whole. It is an opportunity that we cannot miss.

The End of Partisanship

If it isn’t clear from what I have written already, I hate political partisanship. If you are truly being objective about political issues, you must realize that your preferred party doesn’t have everything figured out. It isn’t perfect. The other side actually has some good points. To think otherwise is the height of either naivety or arrogance. I probably just just lost some readers, but it is true. Too often people root for their favorite political party the same way they would for the Dallas Cowboys. The just want them to win, because of blue or red.

What’s more, we need political competition. As I said, each party is making valid points, and represent different constituencies. A state dominated by Republicans is probably not wholly representing African-Americans. A state dominated by Democrats is probably not representing business interests to the extent it could. These are massive simplifications made for the sake of argument, but they stand. If a constituency is not properly represented, then they will fall through the cracks in the political system and you’ll end up with economic or social ills later. If you are lucky these ills can be fixed and your entire political system doesn’t fall apart. Not so lucky? We won’t talk about that.

What does this all mean in regards to Texas? For years the entire south was dominated by the Democrats. If you’d like to read something more academic, V.O. Key has a great book, Southern Politics in State and Nation, about the problems with the single-party South. Basically, not only does single-party domination miss voting blocks (as mentioned earlier), but primaries, which voters aren’t especially aware of, end up being incredibly important. Your governor ends up being chosen by the party primary that only 5% of all voters participated in. Bad idea. A filthy way of doing democracy.

When the Southern Strategy took effect (only made possible by the actions of one giant Texan, LBJ), political domination switched to the Republicans (Jimmy Carter was the last Democratic presidential candidate a majority of Texans voted for, Ann Richards the last governor), and this has been the case ever since. Within the last several years, there has been some suggestion that the growing Latino population in Texas (Latinos should be the majority within 20 years) will lead to a new wave of Democratic victory, but this is probably overstated. Latinos are a diverse group. Talking about Latinos as a single entity is like making a single group out of Southern Europeans, which includes Spaniards, Greeks, Italians among others. Sub groups, such as Mexican-Americans, show strong allegiance to more conservative values or institutions such as the Baptist church.

But even if this switch were to happen, do we really want to be single-party state that flips from one party to another? And if we can avoid a single-party state, are we content with balanced parties which refuse to work together, like the current national climate? I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of bullshit. I suspect most Americans are. They are sick of the grandstanding, the faux displays of patriotism, the my-party-is-holier-than-thou. They just want things to get done, and that isn’t happening.

How do we get past this? To begin with, it requires a change in attitude. They other party is not the enemy, it is not full of uncaring, hateful people. It is full of people who, like you, dearly love their family and friends, have had different life experiences than you, and have come to different conclusions. The hard reality is, unless people face a crisis or cathartic moment in life, they are unlikely to question their own beliefs. That goes for them, it goes for you, it goes for me. I’m so sick of every political debate boiling down to the idea that the other side hates x or y. They might be wrong, they might even be hateful, but often times these misunderstandings come from a lack of exposure to something they fear. Let’s stop elevating political parties to religious struggles of right and wrong.

I’ll give my own experience as an example of this. I am a student at UT Dallas, a great school. I haven’t attended meetings for many student organization, so this last fall I decided that I’d make the rounds. I sent out emails to the Democratic and Republican student organizations on campus, asking about their next meetings. I never heard from the Republicans (why yall?), but I did attend the first meeting of the Democratic student org. The meeting opened with everyone in the room going one by one and saying why they were a Democrat. One of the very first people who introduced themselves stated, “I am a Democrat because I am not a racist”, implying that if you voted Republican you must be a racist. I had a visceral reaction to this. I know some pretty knucklehead Republicans, but also know plenty that aren’t racist (actually I don’t know any that truly are). When it was my turn to introduce myself, I said, “I’m not a Democrat”, and before I could get the, “…but I’m not a Republican either”, there was a noticeable downshift in the faces of some of the people around the room. This very well could have been imagined on my part, and I don’t mean to sound like a big martyr, but it was not fun being judged for something as simple as that. If I’m fair, these same people had probably been judged for other reasons throughout their lifetime which is why they had the political stances they did, the members as a whole were perfectly nice people, and I talked to several that were reasonable in their political beliefs. I’m sure I would’ve seen something similar in the Republican student org. The issue, though, is that it is incredibly important that we avoid tribalism, or anything like it whenever possible.

Have you ever read George Orwell’s 1984? It was required reading when I was in public Texas high schools more than a decade ago. If you haven’t I’m gonna spoil something for you, but the book was written in 1948 (get it), so you’ve had plenty of time. In the book, the narrator describes a dystopia where three major powers remain: Oceania (his home country), Eurasia, and Eastasia. When the book starts, Oceania is at war with Eurasia, and the government (who basically controls all thought) repeats the mantra, “Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia”. Eurasia regularly bombs Oceania and the people are obviously pretty unhappy about that. However, by the end of the book, Oceania is at war with Eastasia, and the mantra has changed to, “Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia”. The narrator, having been introduced to high levels of government, pulls back the curtain for us and gives the suggestion that Oceania, Eastasia, and Eurasia don’t exist as distinct entities at all, the war is actually one conducted by the government against its own people, as a way to keep them riled up and in line.

Now before you think I’m a loon and close this web page, I’m not a conspiracy theorist. I’m not saying the government is waging a war against its own people. What I am saying is that the Republican and Democratic parties, whether intentionally or not, benefit immensely from fostering partisanship and strife. If you can stay pissed off about some tiny policy issue that has no chance of changing, you can be manipulated to follow the party line on a lot of things. This is incredibly dangerous, because as soon as you’ve done this, you’ve stopped operating as a critical human being and reverted to the days when we ran around in packs and followed the biggest and angriest specimen. Not to make too fine a point, but our own shift in political allegiances in this state has some uncanny similarities. You can almost hear the quiet mantra, “Texas has always been Republican. The Democrats have always been at war with conservatives. The Republicans have always been at war with liberals”. But that’s only something that has been the case since the Reagan era, and it isn’t something that will always continue. We cannot allow the highest levels of political circles (with their own agendas, whether good or bad), tell us what is going on.

All the Good Parts

So if we are saying that unbridled partisanship (in the form of either single-party domination or deadlock) is a bad thing, and each of the parties do have good parts to offer, how do we separate the wheat from the chaff? What is a political culture that could actually work within our state? The desire to “turn Texas blue” without a firm answer to this last question is what led to the crushing defeat of Wendy Davis last fall.

We must get back to that strange Texan desire to do things our own way. This surely goes all the way back to colonial days, when you must have been incredibly stubborn, independent-minded, and, frankly, a little crazy to move to this hot backwater that was constantly changing owners and was under frequent threat of attacks from Native Americans. It continued in our national stories about the Alamo, Goliad, San Jacinto, and the Texas Revolution (I’m convinced that bringing my collection of Alamo memorabilia to share with the rest of the class in 3rd grade ruined my chance with any of those girls for the next decade). It was solidified in our existence as a sovereign nation (as pitiful as it was), and was made legend through the image of the cowboy. We are Texans, we can and will do things our own way, and we don’t want anyone else telling us what we can and cannot do.

How ironic, then, when we like to think this way, and our governors rail against interference from Washington, that our own state laws regularly restrict freedom. Why are we against homosexuals getting married? If you believe it is a sin, the hard truth is that stuff is all happening regardless of marriage, anyway. Why is marijuana illegal? More people than you think smoke it on a regular basis, already. We let people get good and drunk and act like idiots, as it is, a little pot isn’t going to overthrow the social order. Let’s talk about money, because that is surely something this state cares about. When we outlaw gay marriage, we turn away some of the most brilliant people in the world from wanting to live here, all because of their sexual orientation. When we make pot illegal, we are giving up a vibrant industry to those Coloradans. I could but won’t get into how throwing people in prison for something like pot ruins families and turns those people into real criminals because they can’t get a job and have been introduced to some truly bad people behind bars. It’d also be nice to stop giving the cartels free lunch money (which in turn drives people out of their countries and into the United States, illegally), but that’s another issue entirely.

Aside from a practical perspective, there is a very real principled reason to believe this. Go all the way back to old school English liberalism or John Locke and others, and you’ll see that the earliest political philosophers who really thought about modern democracy made a huge emphasis of the idea that the state exists to protect, not restrict rights. You’d better have a damn good reason to take away my right to do something, and quite frankly those reasons often don’t exist. Furthermore, let’s be consistent here. If you truly are about “small government”, then you absolutely should be socially liberal. To be otherwise is to be for larger government made necessary by often unnecessary additional laws.

But let’s talk about what this is all really about. It is about religion. A lot of very good people believe that homosexual marriage or smoking pot is inherently wrong, and even if they wouldn’t go out of their way to make these illegal, they can’t be bothered if it is. The problem with such a stance is that it could come back to bite you or your children later on. In Texas and the United States there is some concern about Sharia law gaining a foothold here. Ignoring whether that is likely or not, the issue is that restricting rights for religious reasons sets a precedent that whatever religion has the most voters gets to make the laws. So if we end up in a situation 20 years from now where there are a lot more radical Muslims in the country, and you have set the precedent that religious belief is a valid reason to restrict rights, then you might enable the very foothold for Sharia that you sought to prevent. That’s why a secular government is necessary. Don’t mishear me. Too many people hear secular government and assume that means some kind of war on religion. Absolutely not. You have every right to say and believe whatever you want. In a proper secular government, those rights are fervently protected, because a secular government favors no single religion.

A socially liberal stance also conveniently fits in with the libertarians on the right and the liberals on the left. But what about fiscal matters? You might be expecting a libertarian turn, but you’d be wrong. While the libertarian desire for government to be limited is absolutely correct, too often libertarians get a little whacky on these matters and want to make government too small, or abolish it alltogether, as if that is a valid solution. Government must exist. If it does not, something else will fill the power vacuum. What you really want is a happy medium. When government is too small, you end up with something like the company mining towns of the 1800s where each worker gets paid in company scrip that they use in company stores to buy company food that they eat in their company houses. Damn near slavery. When government is too big, you get Big Brother (which we are uncomfortably close to considering the electronic surveillance conducted by government that nobody seems to give a damn about), the Soviet Union, all that jazz. Oh, brother.

I want to hammer on this point for just a moment. On the right there are often concerns about the government getting too big. On the left, the concern tends to be more about companies getting too large. They seem to be in opposition, but they are not. What both sides are really concerned about is centralization of power. Whether power or wealth is too heavily centered around the government or business, the end result is the same: a lack of freedom. The great shame in our country is that we have a bloated, inefficient government that is being driven by corporate interests. In other words, the worst of all worlds. This is an issue much bigger than Texas politics, but if we do not get it figured out within the next couple of decades, our country will lose its place in the world.

Before we continue any further, we must ask ourselves: what is the proper role of government? This goes beyond the purview of government in Texas, but it is worth reflecting upon. Going back to classic English liberalism (and without considering criticisms of it), government should be a neutral arbiter, a referee. It should never decide the game, your fate, or hand you success in life, but it should make sure that everyone plays by the same rules, and starts the game at the same time with the same amount of points. This is why sometimes government must intervene when long-standing historical inequalities mean that certain individuals or groups are always playing from behind. On the other hand, again, it cannot and should not hand success to anyone. Success is something you must earn, and when you do, it is something you will really appreciate.

Government must stand for the common man. In our worst of all worlds form of government in the United States, we have lost sight of that. We make a big deal about the American dream (which really is a tale of social mobility), but we are not particularly mobile. The middle class or people’s confidence in it as something atttainable and retainable is drying up. Not to make too fine a point, but Republican policies too often favor the wealthy and Democratic policies too often favor redistribution (in ways to don’t favor personal development). The middle class makes it possible for guys like my father to start their own small business and to do a damn fine job at it for almost 30 years. It makes it possible for kids like me to grow up, navel-gaze, and have a decent opportunity to succeed.

To do this, the government has to be ready to take actions against entities that unfairly dominate markets or knowingly strip people of their rights. We’ve seen this before. At the end of the 1800s some businesses and individuals dominated industries. Competition did not exist in many sectors because markets were cornered. This led to horrible situations like the one (albeit fictionalized) in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. We were saved by this, in the words of one political mastermind of the time, “that damned cowboy”, Theodore Roosevelt (he really was a cowboy, among numerous other things). TR was not perfect. He was a bit too full of himself, he got increasingly radical as his life went on, and his vision of government was that government needed to be large to combat large companies. Size against size. H.W. Brands out of UT suggests that Franklin Roosevelt, admiring the policies of his older cousin, finally made this a reality in the 1930s, and our political system has never been the same.

But the great thing about TR, in spite of all of his problems, was that he was not afraid to stand up for the little man. When companies overstepped their bounds, he was not afraid to use a big stick to put them back into their place. If the government is unwilling or unable to confront monopolistic actions, then the individual trying to start their own company will always be at a disadvantage. They will almost always lose. This stifles innovation, it stifles creativity, it stifles growth. Do we want truly free markets or not? TR saw this, engaged in some trust busting (as well as engaged in actions like preserving land in the form national parks - both a progressive and “conservative” move), and we are better for it. His hand-picked successor, Howard Taft, did not continue this to the extent that TR wanted, which led to the fascinating three-way election of 1912 where TR started his own party, delivered a speech after being shot, and ultimately lost to the dark horse Woodrow Wilson (one of only two Democrats elected to the presidency between 1861 and 1933), with Taft coming in a distant third. Wilson in turn continued these progressive policies, but saw his domestic agenda take a back seat to World War I. In the same book mentioned earlier, Brands states that Wilson had the view that government should be small but active, ensuring that other entities stayed relatively small as well (kind of Jeffersonian), but we’ve never really seen that tested in this country due to New Deal policies, the backlash to them, and the continued back and forth.

Side-note: Wilson wasn’t perfect either. He was overly optimistic about world affairs, assuming if we just worked together everything would work out and there would be world peace (though we can’t really know because he had a stroke which prevented his promotion of and the American entrance into the League of Nations). He also may have even been a bit of a racist, in the unconscious way white men of the time often were. Thing is, if we ignore the good parts of people for their faults, we will have nobody left to learn from. Echoing Hemingway (another flawed but fascinating individual) in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris: think about it.

The United States must do something about wealth inequality. It needs to reconsider policies on a large scale. We need to think about whether school loans are actually leading to a more empowered and better educated populace, or leading to credential inflation and trapping people in back-breaking debt. We need to think about corporate subsidies and whether they are strictly necessary. We need to reconsider whether we really need a military budget larger than the rest of the world combined, and if having a military that large only encourages its use. We need to reconsider whether our existing welfare systems are really getting people out of poverty or trapping people there (to be clear, this is not about race, rural white areas are just as reliant upon welfare as urban minority areas). The problem with all of these things is they all benefit specific constituencies of each party. Neither party wants to rethink these because they don’t want to take the chance of losing a voting block. Which is why we are a standstill as a nation.

You might think I’m just saying we should eliminate all spending. I’m not. Any CEO will tell you that sometimes you have to spend money to make money. But they will also tell you (hopefully), that you need to have a good reason for taking on debt, otherwise you are limiting your future and possibly sidelining your company. As stated earlier, we need to think good and hard about how we are spending that money. We need to do a better job of investing in people, in small groups, individuals, instead of from the top down, which we know doesn’t work. It should be cheaper and less time-consuming to get educated (the Internet enables this, we aren’t taking advantage of it). We need to make it easier for people to follow their dreams and to start their own businesses. We have to invest from the bottom up. That’s how we keep the American dream alive.

Getting back to the topic of Texas, the only way we make this possible is by either working outside of the existing parties or changing them from the inside. Our state offers an opportunity to change one or both of the parties form within. The Republican party must change strategies or it will be dead within 20 years. Its current anti-intellectualism and outdated and inconsistent value system does not resonate with my generation. On the other hand, the Democrats will have no more success turning Texas blue by importing national policies than the Washington Redskins have had spending money on big-name free agents over the years (yeah, that’s a dig). I’m not sure people want that anyway. Texas is growing in population largely because of people fleeing from the policies of other blue states. If the Democratic party wants to win this state, they must change. If the Republican party really wants to keep this state (and continue to get presidents elected) they must change. This change means opportunity for the state as a whole to assert itself.

This will require a grassroots effort, one that will require action instead of apathy, and clear minds instead of old loyalties. It will require a new embrace of populism, something that we’ve seen on the right in the Tea Party and on the left in the Occupy movement. The problem with each movement, and the usual issue with populist movements as a whole, is that they are often way too angry, and instead of uniting people they only drive them apart. Clearly both sides have some ideas in common. They both are upset about the centralization of power. If this frustration was harnessed in a movement which disregarded partisan backgrounds and operated in a calm yet serious and driven manner, things could really change. And Texas could be ground zero.

As Big as Some Countries, Why Not Governed Like One?

I’ve been talking in rather abstract terms and ideas, but practically, how do you get the right size of government, not too big, and not too small? I believe you need to get to a more scientific, organic, and evolutionary method of policymaking. Too often our laws are these massive documents with numerous stipulations and amendments irrelevant to the task at hand. Citizens don’t understand each law and neither do the politicians writing them. Even when laws are understood, the bigger a law, the more unintended consequences there will be (let’s not even get into the topic of path dependence). Additionally, these large bills are often pet projects of politicians. Somebody, somewhere along the way got an idea in their head that they just can’t let go of, and because it is a pet project, all objectivity goes out the window. What we must do is limit the size of laws and restrict the content of each one. Each law should have well-defined goals (preferably defined using tools and models that we’ve spent decades working on in political science; academic work can and should have relevance), as well as deadlines for their completion. At the end of a certain period, the law is either renewed, adjusted, or when found wanting, thrown out (this is like existing sunset provisions). This way we hopefully avoid our current situation of creating new law by reforming old law that isn’t very well designed to begin with. As I said, this can be thought of as a scientific form of government, a gradual testing and refinement of policy. This is all quite idealistic and not particularly novel, but it is something worth working towards, and it is more achievable in a proper implementation of federalism, which leads to my next point.

I study political science. Something you see throughout the literature is an emphasis on the importance of federalism. It acts as a safeguard, spurs economic activity, expands voter involvement, and lets sub units act as laboratories for new policy (see work by Jenna Bednar if this really intrigues you). Another author who makes a big point about federalism is Arend Lijphart, who has an entire book which contrasts majoritarian democracy (what we have in the United States), and consensus democracy, which exists in countries such as Switzerland. He basically comes to the conclusion that consensus democracies tend to generate more effective and responsive policy.

Let’s get back to Switzerland for a moment. You might only know about it for its banking systems or chocolate, but within political science it is a bit of a unicorn. Switzerland, due to its geography consisting of isolated mountain valleys, location bordering Germany, France, and Italy, and independence and neutrality throughout both world wars, has a very unique culture both socially and politically. This culture consists of distinct Italian, German, and French cultural areas. It makes room for these different cultures through an embrace of federalism. Instead of states, the country is divided up into cantons (which are roughly equivalent), and each canton has real autonomy (perhaps more so than our own states). The Swiss also make use of direct democracy or ballot initiatives quite regularly. These initiatives are designed in a way so that you don’t get the complete mess (and sometimes betrayals of democracy) that you get in California. What they do enable is for the people to make clear to their representatives what their desires are, and the representatives can act accordingly. Working direct democracy can be thought of as a fourth branch of government, the one most closely connected to the people. Just as importantly, these representatives are chosen not among two major and binary parties, but many smaller focused ones due to the use of proportional representation. As a result, the Swiss are quite happy with their government, unlike us.

Importantly, these intitutions have created a nation which balances the needs of conservatives with thoser of liberals. Conservatives, and a lot of Texans, would be very glad to hear that Switzerland has one of the highest rates of gun ownership in the world (and avoids most of the nasty violence we have). Liberals might be pleased to hear that topics that are unapproachable in this country, like basic income, actually get voted on in referenda. Ignoring whether something like basic income is a good idea or not and the fact that it was rejected, the point remains that novel and even progressive policies at least get discussed. And if we are talking economy, Switzerland, considering its location (no direct access to the sea) and size, has an inviting business climate and one of the better economies in Europe.

Why am I discussing Switzerland so much? Considering that Texas is bigger than France, Germany, or Japan, that our population is larger than any state but California, and has a GSP comparable to the GDP of India or Canada (11th and 12th in the world), maybe it is time we stopped treating politics in this state as a biannual hobby. Contrary to popular belief, the US Constitution makes scant mention of how state governments must be structured. Texas can have a unique and responsive government, and considering certain characteristics, Switzerland may be worth emulating. Switzerland is not a utopia. It has problems, too. However, although this might be crazy talk, it may be wroth considering a new, modern state constitution, that learns from the past and present, and has an eye on the future.

What would this look like here? For one, we could embrace federalism. The other day one of my friends showed me a map of the United States divided according to population instead of old state lines. Don’t get me wrong, anyone who wants to mess with the borders of Texas can go muck themself, but it does make one think. We have some very unique areas in this state. Austin is a liberal stronghold, and has very different concerns from Dallas or Houston (which have an ongoing rivalry anyway). San Antonio, El Paso, and the strip along the Mexican border are entirely different places than East Texas or the plains. We could treat these separate sub regions as the unique entities they are and allow them to craft law which is more appropriate to them. This only makes sense in a state which is so gung ho about maintaining its own identify in the face of national encroachment. It also allows for these sub regions to be laboratories of policy, to test new ideas out before they are adapted at the state level.

This could also serve as an example to the nation as a whole. While I can appreciate the general idea of states’ rights, it is too often used as an excuse to discriminate against people. However, its importance remains. We have over the last couple of centuries perhaps delegated too much power to the federal government. Nobody should be advocating a return to the Articles of Confederation (what a disaster that was), but federalism and local autonomy are incredibly valuable.

Adopting a more full-fledged and intelligently-designed form of government would allow the growing urban liberal areas and the existing conservative suburban and rural areas to coexist well into the future. It would prevent the state from remaining completely red or turning into a carbon copy of every other liberal state in the nation. It allows us to keep our own identify, and it allows Texans to do what they do best: work hard and innovate, in politics as well as we do in business.

What is stopping this from happening, aside from a lot of work? Frankly, it is fear. The two existing parties aren’t about to engage in an action which would threaten their dominance, even if it was for the good of the state as a whole. What is the most infuriating thing about this is the constant reminder of how important free markets are. I’m with you, free markets are great. But what about the free market of ideas? Are the two dominant parties so afraid of having their ideas contested that they are just going to stand pat and prevent movement? Screw that. Let’s let new political ideas and even new political parties compete, and may the best ideas win. This doesn’t just go for Texas, it goes for the nation as a whole.

There is too much at stake to do otherwise. We’ve gotten used to the idea of constant progress, and indeed, if we continue to progress, then this state, this nation, the human species is going to do some really cool things. Give us a hundred years and we might even get off this rock and start exploring the stars. When that happens, nobody is going to stop us. But if we don’t resist fear, if we don’t resist apathy, all that progress can be lost. China, while slowly liberalizing, could still threaten world security. Russia already is. Muslim radicals are using our own actions against us to further inflame the region. Outside factors matter. But truly, what we should really be afraid of is the potential for continued political deadlock to make us weaker and unable to meet these challenges head on. Sometimes people act like the United States is a threat to the world, that we can’t act as a force for good, or we won’t ever be great again. They are wrong. That’s just a load of jealous and/or cynical bullshit. The United States can be great, it is great, and it can do good, but that can only happen if we stop kidding ourselves, we learn from our past, we make government responsive, transparent, and efficient, and we stop our political bickering. I’ll say it again: Texas is in the unique position of being ground zero for this happening. It’s just a matter of whether we want to.

Conservative progressivism

At risk of sounding arrogant or just plain ignorant, I’d like to call the general political idea I’m discussing conservative progressivism (maybe I should trademark this, or, we could fix our broken trademark and copyright system and stop stifling creativity). If you are a progressive, you probably read “conservative” and thought, “oh, hell no”, and conservatives choked just as hard on “progressive”. But wait, this apparent contradiction is intentional. I consider myself a conservative in the sense that I am inherently skeptical of new ideas. I’ve seen enough bullshit in both life and academia to know that people need to show me some proof for what they are talking about. I’m not going to just believe you because you say so, especially in the case of politicians. This is why I am inherently skeptical of massive government programs. Someone is selling something, there will always be unintended consequences, and our form of government seems pretty broken anyway, why would I want to put it in charge of something else? I also consider myself a conservative in the sense that I believe the government must be extremely conservative in doing anything which will restrict my rights (again, you’d better have a really, really good reason to do so). This is in sharp contrast to many modern “conservatives”, but we won’t get into an argument over definitions right now.

On the other hand, I consider myself progressive in the sense that, unlike some conservatives, I don’t believe we can afford to sit on our hands, or invoke the slippery slope argument for everything new that comes down the pike. To be creative, to innovate, to learn, you must try new things. This, too, is something we all learn in life, or if you are unlucky enough to do so, academia (I’m kidding?). New ideas come along, they are tested, and then they get improved upon or rejected. We can’t afford not to try new things. If we don’t we will get left behind, we will fail to adapt, and we will die as a nation and as a dream.

Conservate progressivism, therefore, is a desire to continually try new policies at the state or local level in small, incremental, and reversible chunks, connected strongly to an inherent skepticism and show me attitude. To repeat one final time: Texas, due to its history, culture, and current place in the world, is uniquely suited to try it out. This is a political philosophy that fits our culture and allows for both conservative and liberal engagement.

Eyes and Hearts

Truth be told, revising the state constitution in the shape of something like the Swiss constitution is almost certainly a pipe dream. No matter. All, I, and many other Texans and Americans want is for politicians that we can really believe in. We don’t want or need ideologues. We’re tired of being talked to like we are children, as though we are too ignorant or stupid to understand what is really going on behind the scenes. We want someone who is going to really believe what they say, who isn’t afraid to disagree with their party or constituents when they are wrong. We just want an honest, good person who will respect the person across the table from them, cut the bullshit, and get things done.

Is that possible in today’s political climate? Who knows? Maybe politics self-selects egotistical jerks or drives away honest people, and maybe the sound-bite nature of today’s media makes true honesty impossible. Would someone or some political party actually try, though? Is that too much to ask? Despite being a political science student, I haven’t voted in six years. I’m slightly embarrassed to say that. But then again, I’m not. There’s nobody and no movement worth believing in.

Outside of finding politicians worth electing, on the ground level we have to snap out of our apathetic stupor and stand for something, something that is not just partisan politics as usual. This stuff is easy to just ignore, but way too much is at stake to act like it isn’t important.

I’m not sure if anyone will bother reading this far, I apologize for the rambling perhaps incoherent mess this post might be. However, I’ll end it with a quote from the same great Texas show about much more than football that I started with. You might be familiar with it if you ever watched the late Stuart Scott on ESPN:

Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.

Attempting to change politics in the state or nation as a whole is a huge task, maybe a hopeless one. But it is one, if we keep clear eyes (a clear head), and clear hearts (because we know it is worth trying), is not a losing proposition, regardless of what happens. So just one more time:

Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.