By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Bill Clinton is busy patting himself on the back in magazine articles for getting the federal government involved in the day-to-day affairs of Americans. This intrusion sets our hair on end, kindling fears that we have grown up and gained our own strange form of independence only to find a nanny government watching all our crude moves.
So we struck back. We voted Bush. Some of us held our noses, but we did it. And now the trouble was just starting...
I've never met George W. Bush, the next president of these supposedly United States, while sober.
I'd be lying if I said I was ashamed of this fact, but I'm not really proud of it either. I can say the same about voting for the man; as a 27-year-old journalist I seem to draw a lot of fire in the Dallas Observer newsroom for voting Bush in 2000. Me, a New Yorker by birth and a reporter by trade! What the hell am I thinking?
It's only fair to say that I had a rare chance to check out W. Bush at close range, under strange circumstances, and he came off well. I don't buy the charge that he's dumb, or that he's at heart out to screw the little guy. Most voters haven't had the one-on-one exposure to George W. Bush and his family that I had. He won a vote that day without even trying.
In 1997 I worked for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. I was a 22-year-old junior reporter with a year's experience, already burning out on the constraints and requirements of the newspaper-of-record business. Word came down from my editor--the governor is coming on a junket to tout Texas tourism. Of course, his family had to come along. And, of course, I had to go out and listen to him prattle on about bird watching at some exotic game ranch near Falfurrias.
On the way I quietly fumed. Journalism school did not teach most of the soul-sucking work that accompanies reporting for a daily, the work that trained apes would handle if they could read. That day I smoked some grass on the way to the Rio Paisano Ranch and thought of ways to goof on the governor.
As I pulled up the driveway I noticed several fed sleds and a single television crew. Everything seemed quiet, too quiet. Was the governor even here? Buzzed and nervous, I approached the ranch slowly and let myself in. Bush was in back, making a statement for the television crew. He was wearing a shirtsleeve top with a collar and a baseball cap. Binoculars dangled from his neck. He was here to bird watch. "People are constantly trying to enhance land values. I'm looking for a firsthand experience so I can sell people on different neat things to do here," Bush said. I rolled my red eyes. What a boob--it's a free vacation on the taxpayer dime!
"Ranchers have found that hunting is a big business. They have to maintain habitats to maintain land values," he said. OK, score one for the gun guys. Even before there were NRA bumper stickers reading "Sportsmen for Bush," there were actual sportsmen for Bush. The ranch doubled as an exotic game-hunting ranch, where for a fee you can hunt turkey, quail, and bobcats, along with exotic animals like wildebeest and antelope. I didn't ask how importing animals from Africa and shooting them was maintaining native habitats, but I was a lot younger then.
It was time to bird watch. The TV crew had no desire and drove back to Corpus for a quick edit. It was me and the governor, Laura Bush, and Victor Emanuel, whom I described in the next day's paper as a "world-renowned birding expert." Birding, I thought. How lame.
I was wrong. Birding is excellent, if you do it with the right guy. Victor Emanuel had those birds flocking. Some were lured in by playing recordings of other horny birds. Two green jays skirmished with a roadrunner while Emanuel narrated like Lorne Green. I rode in the back of a safari-converted jeep chatting happily with Laura Bush about what it's like to be the governor's wife. She charmed me. I remember how pretty I thought she was, and I still think she is. The governor had a good time, in a way that's hard to fake. He was clapping his hands, hooting at the antics of the birds like a kid. I'd been exposed to stodgy politicians before, lifeless and soulless creatures who look at you in the same way a buzzard eyes fresh roadkill. Bush was alive, relaxed even after an hour of forced birding with an unknown reporter.
The tour ended and the governor gave me a friendly look. I think he was grateful I hadn't pestered him while we were birding. "You want an interview?" he asked. "Sure," I said, and we sat on a porch and had lemonade. I asked him a couple of questions concerning a story I was working on about illegal immigration and drug smuggling. We started talking about Mexico, where I had spent a year reporting for an English-language daily. I told him the cops in Mexico mugged me more than street thugs. He told me Mexico was a vital trade partner. We talked politics. He said that if the tax burden weren't lowered, there would be a Texas "tax revolt."