By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
I asked whether he wanted to be president like his dad. He gave me the line that he used until he announced his candidacy--he was going to concentrate on being governor and just see what happens. His main focus as governor? Child literacy. He added that it was hard to stay in shape because he had to eat a lot of barbecue at fund-raisers, and not to eat heartily would be offensive.
On the way out Bush noticed that the plates on my car were from New York.
"Better get that taken care of," he said. "That's against the law."
A Texas Ranger laughed at me. Good thing he didn't see the roach in the ashtray.
I saw Bush several times after that, but never as intimately. When I did, it seemed I was always drinking. There he was in Kingsville at a fund-raiser in the form of a barbecue, there I was drinking beer. There he was, running for president during the primaries and duking it out with John McCain, there I am gathering rumors and eavesdropping in the back for my political column, drinking wine.
And there I was on election night in Austin, standing in the rain waiting to hear if the man I bird watched with, the man whose wife I had a crush on, would win the presidency. And as we waited in the cold for results that never came, I got drunk then too.
There were plenty of people drinking on the night of Election Day on the streets of Austin. Many were journalists.
The world's press corps was there, stacked together on a mammoth lighted platform facing the stage. Television reporters huddled in lighted cubes like bees; I saw CNN's Candy Crowley make a face and take off her parka, ready to go on the air to say that nothing happened. When her broadcasts were shown on JumboTron screens, everyone would cheer insanely. On the stage a single lectern stood expectantly, waiting for the Big Speech. (There was nothing expectant about it later; in my notes I compared the lectern to a headstone when the talking heads gave Florida to Gore.) The press was placed in a pen at the back of the crowd but conveniently close to the beer vendors. The masses waited in thick lines, but media could approach from an exclusive side. It was a strategic edge over the masses that the press exploited until the kegs went dry. Four dollars got you a beer, sold to you by nondescript women wearing Bush-Cheney pins.
Four square blocks full of Republicans were waving signs and hooting. Many were young, some high-school age. There were freaks there too, wearing Uncle Sam costumes or dressed as sequined American flags. I saw maybe six black people there, all middle-aged. That doesn't surprise me; anyone who thought Bush's reach-out to minorities would attract anyone other than white swing voters is nuts.
I didn't feel out of place in that crowd, except for the press ID hanging around my neck. It's conventional wisdom that the mainstream press is busy trying to stamp right-wing thought out of existence, and judging by the Clinton years it's true. Television is such a stupid medium that even 24-hour news channels manage to tell only one-quarter of the news, and newspapers dutifully tell both sides of every story even if one side is clearly lying.
Chris and Ed felt right at home. Chris had never voted Republican before, but the convulsions of the Clinton years pushed him toward it. He never forgave himself for voting for Clinton in 1992 and has turned on the man and everything associated with him. At the top of the list is Al Gore, cursed by association and unable to charm his way out of the doghouse that Bill built. Chris turned Republican while being fed on a steady diet of talk radio and Time-Life history books about World War II. His crappy job pays well, and his salary was increasing. Suddenly he had more to lose. He was an instant Republican: Just add paranoia and stir.
He's got a lot to be paranoid about these days. For people like us, the Clinton legacy includes bending and breaking laws with impunity, executive orders of dubious merit, bombings of a medicine factory in the Sudan, military intervention without clear goals or exit strategies, an ineffective expansion of the drug war, forcing the Middle East peace process and ruining it, domestic anti-energy policies, and lots of legislation by litigation. (On the plus side, most street Republicans like his free-trade initiatives, as well as portions of his blowjob policy, if not the cover-up that followed.) Clinton's our Nixon, a despised man.
Gore was his enabler. So was Hillary, who received a deep chorus of boos from Austin when she won the New York Senate seat. One clearly drunken man snuck into the restricted press area and berated reporters. "How could anyone in New York vote for that fucking bitch?" He was escorted back into the crowd by police.
I don't know what my fellow New Yorkers were thinking. That seat belonged to lifelong New Yorker Nita Lowey, the congresswoman who stepped aside to let Hillary run. I'm no Lowey fan, but at least the woman earned her right to run. I bet against Hillary and lost $20. I underestimated the star factor. I never will again.