Thursday, September 14, 2006

Rest in peace, Ann Richards

I was dozing off on the floor with the local nine o'clock news on in the background (as is my routine these days) last night, when I was literally jolted awake with the words, "Breaking news...Former Texas governor Ann Richards" - at which point I immediately knew what was to follow - "has died at the age of seventy-three..."

It's a sad occasion for many of us in Texas. I always liked Ann Richards. Most people who know who she is know her mostly for her keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in...was it 1988 when she skewered George H.W. Bush with the line that he was "born with a silver foot in his mouth"? It was a brilliant speech that was the perfect reflection of what she incredibly intelligent, witty, creative and compassionate person who'd experienced quite a lot in her life to that point. She became a national star that night.

Looking back, it's amazing that a woman - from the Democratic party, no less - was elected governor of Texas. Granted, she ran against a man who was an unintentional caricature of an idiot, southern good ol' boy...quite possibly the stupidest person to ever win his party's state primary election for governor. He was better suited as a cast member for "Hee-Haw" and proved himself as such as the race with Richards progressed.

Ann Richards was liberal in some regards, but for the most part, she was a Bill Clinton Democrat. She could have never been elected had she not been. But beyond that, what made her so special was that she was a true, natural character. She was always so likeable whether she was doing or saying things people agreed with or not; she was the mother or grandmother everyone wanted to have or know. She was, despite her experiences and affiliation with the Democratic party, one of us. A very rare quality among politicians.

It was disheartening as hell for me to watch her re-election campaign unfold against George W. Bush. Her approval rating, as far as I can recall, was extraordinarily high for an incumbent...most especially surprising because she wasn't a Republican. That election was hers to lose. That she was running against someone who had no political experience whatsoever - name recognition was his only promotable quality - should have made it even more of a no-brainer. She had established an identity for herself not just in Texas but across the country; political parties don't award those keynote convention speeches to just anyone...they had plans for her. Just as they did for Mario Cuomo. Just as they do now for Osama Obama or whatever the hell his name is. I'll say it again: that election was hers to lose.

It became obvious at some point that someone new to her camp, but not new to the game of politics, was running her re-election campaign. When it became Richards versus Bush, the tone of her campaign immediately became negative. And not in a flattering way. Had she chosen to run on her record, her charms and her principles, I have no doubt she'd have won easily. But she gave in - or was forced to give in to - an attack campaign designed to appeal to base instincts. Bush did the opposite, smart thing, and ran based on his plans, his ideas/ideals, and appealed to the hopeful voter. Everyone knows a voter without hope is someone who doesn't vote.

We all now know who the person who crafted that campaign was. It didn't seem terribly revolutionary at the time, but with hindsight, one might question whether anyone would have stood a chance against Karl fucking Rove. I'm here to say Ann Richards did. I was speechless as I sat back and watched her campaign torpedo itself the way it did. And I still wonder who was responsible. Was it Ann? I cannot believe in my heart that it was.

The reason I write this - aside for my admiration and appreciation for Ann Richards and what she accomplished - is because I started thinking this morning (I don't usually blog before seven in the morning) about what might have been. But not what might have been had she been governor for another term or gone on to national politics, as it seemed she was destined to do. But what might have been if she'd simply run a campaign that was honest, positive and not nearly so political in the dirtiest sense of the word.

Where would we all be right now if the person chosen by the Rove-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz cabal to be its public face - the next ruler of their vision of the free world - had been defeated? As he should have been. As he easily could have been. And as he had been in every other election in which he'd campaigned.

Think - think - about everything that implies. About America, about the world, about this era we've entered into. About Iraq, about New Orleans, about Israel, about Guantanamo Bay, about Halliburton / Exxon-Mobil / Raytheon / Wal-Mart. It's staggering to imagine. To me, anyway.

Would they have just chosen another stooge in another state? Did they have a list down which they would go (perhaps they'd already started down the list) for another public CEO for their vision?

Or would it have ended there? Would the road we're on now have never been turned onto if Ann Richards had simply taken what was already in the palm of her hand?

I can't imagine it would have changed anything. But it's nice to try. And it's certainly worth pondering...

It's impossible to know whether anything is forever. History suggests that's not the case. But then our history, of course, is ongoing and just isn't quite long enough for us to know for sure. Nor will it ever be.

Rest in peace, Ann Richards. You did a good job while you were here and we're all better for having you in our midst, however briefly it may have been. Rest in peace because you deserve it.

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