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Selected reviews of Made in Texas are available below:
The New York Times
Sunday, January 12, 2003
The historian trying to understand the present, Arnold Toynbee said, is like the man with his nose pressed against the mirror trying to see his whole body. Michael Lind, a fifth-generation Texan and author of five earlier books on American history and politics, is mindful of Toynbee's concern: What did Zhou Enlai think of the French Revolution, Lind recounts Henry Kissinger's famous query to China's prime minister. It is too early to tell, Zhou replied.
Lind understands that his slender book, published less than two years into George W. Bush's presidency, is going to be seen as questionable history, even though he focuses principally on Bush's prepresidential Texas roots. But Lind is less interested in writing an authoritative history than in "telling the truth to spite the Devil." He wishes to lay bare Bush's domestic and foreign policies, which he sees as disastrous to America. Yet Lind's anti-Bush polemic seems less likely to stir opposition to a second Bush term (it's too shrill to convince swing voters) than to become a starting point for future debate about the economic, political and social origins of the Bush presidency and the degree to which it represents "the Southern takeover of American politics."
For the most part, Lind's book is a recounting of Texas history: the story of a divided state with two conflicting traditions. One is the Texas of Lyndon B. Johnson, Ross Perot and Sam Rayburn; it's "a society eager to embrace the Space Age and the Information Age." It's "led, not by good-old-boy businessmen and political demagogues, but by a visionary and earnest elite of entrepreneurs, engineers, reformist politicians and dedicated civil servants. . . . The preferred society of these Texans is a broadly egalitarian meritocracy, not a traditional social order stratified by caste and class." These folks are "sentimental nationalists" with "little if any sense of Southern identity" or loyalty to their region. They believe in an activist federal government that serves ordinary Americans.
George W. Bush's conservative Texas is "a society with a primitive economy based on agriculture, livestock, petroleum and mining, with a poorly educated population of workers lacking health protection and job safety. . . . This Texas is a toxic byproduct of the hierarchical plantation system of the American South, a cruel caste society in which the white, brown and black majority labor for inadequate rewards while a cultivated but callous oligarchy of rich white families and their hirelings in the professions dominate the economy, politics and the rarefied air of academic and museum culture." These folks are attached to "military values unknown anywhere else in the English-speaking world, except in other Southern states. The inhabitants of this Texas are deeply localist and tend to view Washington, D.C., as the enemy."
More interesting than Lind's reductionist two-Texas, black-and-white, good-versus-evil concept is how Bush's state and regional roots have registered on his presidency. Lind does not paint a pretty picture: an illegitimate president whom the conservative faction of the Supreme Court installed in the White House after a majority of American voters rejected his candidacy, Bush has "used the power of the presidency to promote the economic and foreign policy agenda of the Southern far right." Its principal features are a regressive tax cut, "the plundering of nonrenewable natural resources" and the substitution of a " 'faith-based' religious charity" for the New Deal-Great Society social safety net at home. Lind hopes that "for the sake of America as well as the world" the advocates of this "bizarre strategy" will be defeated in 2004. This "aberrant president," Lind asserts, is "one of the worst in American history."
Some Democrats and independents and even some Republicans, agree, troubled by Bush's aggressive dismantling of environmental protections, partiality for corporate enterprise over the needs of less affluent working-class citizens and eagerness to appoint demonstrably conservative jurists to the bench. But Bush remains extremely popular; he has a 65 percent job approval rating, mostly for his response to Sept. 11 and the relatively bloodless war in Afghanistan.
Nevertheless, Lind is greatly troubled by Bush's foreign policy, describing it in a chapter title as "Armageddon." He sees Sept. 11 as giving Bush an excuse to expand his efforts to cancel treaties and withdraw from international conventions, plan a war with Iraq and endorse Ariel Sharon's uncompromising assault on the Palestinians. Bush's national security plan for what the world would look like in the 21st century is "almost hallucinatory in its vivid detail." We would maintain our status as the world's sole superpower by "shrugging off international law and diplomacy" and waging " 'pre-emptive' wars against regimes that might pose speculative threats, even if they did not threaten the United States and its allies with imminent danger." The "political muscle" for Bush's foreign policy, Lind states, is provided by the Deep South's "unilateral militarism, which is compatible with a contempt for civilian diplomacy." That foreign policy is also, in his view, indifferent to world opinion on environmental protections, arms control, trade and international justice.
For all Lind's chilling reminders of just how much the Bush administration is a reflection of ultraconservative views, his portrait of the Bush presidency is overly stark and deterministic. It is too much a caricature and too little an account of other forces at work in the American economy and politics that have slowed and partly deterred Bush from excesses offensive to a majority of Americans. Indeed, what seems most striking about the Bush presidency so far is not only the extent to which he is a representative of reactionary influences in Texas, the South and other parts of the country but also how important moderate centrist influences remain in shaping national policies and actions. Jim Jeffords's departure from the Republican Party was an initial indication that Bush would not be able to force the Senate into following a right-wing agenda. Senate resistance to some of Bush's judicial appointments, his limited concessions on stem cell research, his signature on campaign finance and corporate accounting laws, his agreement to Harvey Pitt's resignation as head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, his acceptance of an independent commission to investigate 9/11 and his repudiation of Trent Lott's endorsement of Strom Thurmond's 1948 presidential bid on a segregationist platform are other examples of how centrist influences in American life push a president, regardless of his agenda, toward the center.
As much to the point, Bush's impulse to attack Iraq without clear congressional or United Nations backing lost out to domestic and international pressures insisting on a consensus for war at home and abroad. A more cautious president would immediately have seen national and foreign support for an attack on Iraq as essential to American success in a conflict and a postwar settlement. But Bush's reluctance to run roughshod over domestic and foreign opponents last year speaks forcefully to the steady power of moderation in American politics and his flexibility in bending his policies to those influences. It is also testimony to the truth of that old adage that a politician's first aim is to be elected and the second aim is to be re-elected.
Two years from now, and possibly six if Bush should win a second term, we will be able to measure more confidently the gap between right-wing rhetoric geared to the Southern base of the Republican Party and actions meeting the hopes of conservatives eager for more and deeper tax cuts, fewer and smaller federal social programs and a world more than ever intimidated by American power. If history is any guide, a Bush attempt to follow through on reactionary designs would probably bring a surge of opposition that could force him back toward the center and defeat him in 2004 or a conservative successor in 2008.
How seriously future historians of Bush's presidency will take Lind's book partly rests on what happens in the next several years. Were Bush to win a second term and inflict a series of retrograde measures on the country, Lind's analysis would become a standard for measuring the historical forces shaping Bush's administration. By contrast, if Bush shows himself to be a skillful politician, as he already has in part, Lind's book will be remembered as too much of an anti-Bush polemic to be considered a reliable history. By Robert Dallek
, Professor of History at Boston University
Monday, January 13, 2003
Lind (The Radical Center: The Future of American Politics) delves deep into the heart of George W. Bush's Texas, and what he finds may give moderates pause and send liberals scurrying. According to Lind (a fifth-generation Texan), the politics of West Texas are steeped in racism, environmental exploitation, jingoistic militarism, crony capitalism, an anti-public education bias and a fundamentalist evangelicalism inconsistent with the separation of church and state. About President Bush's relation to these beliefs, Lind in part merely implies it by association, saying, "Cultural geography is of little use in analyzing the personalities of politicians -- but it is indispensable in understanding their politics." However, Lind argues, with considerable verve, that the constellation of political beliefs embodying Bush-style politics is designed to exploit the nation's natural and human resources for the benefit of a powerful oligarchy. According to Lind, Bush's election translates to the "capture... of the vast power of the federal apparatus by Southern reactionaries...." And is "a threat to the peace and well-being not only of America but of the world." Stopping the threat, for Lind, does not necessarily mean reelecting Democrats, although unseating Bush would be a first step. Provocative as his examination may seem to some, Lind's hyperbolic tone is comparable to that of the most incendiary talk-show host. And his ultimate solution is strange and radical. Lind suggests that the federal government encourage a portion of the American population to relocate away from crowded, nonwhite, poor urban centers to the currently depopulated western plains to create a "decentralist utopia." Well, perhaps.
Thursday, January 16, 2003
First things first -- cover photo and subtitle notwithstanding, Michael Lind's Made in Texas: George W. Bush and the Southern Takeover of American Politics is not about Bush.
The president is in there, of course, and the author clearly holds strong (and negative) opinions concerning his fellow Texan, describing him as an "aberrant president" and "one of the worst in American history." But Bush is primarily a poster boy for the book's real purpose -- to espouse Lind's theories on Southern conservatism and the ruination it has brought to the nation.
Distilled down like that, Lind sounds like a crank -- and Bush backers will no doubt argue that he is. Made in Texas, however, is not some stream-of-consciousness screed. Lind, a native Texan and author of several previous political books, marshals 150 years of history to make his case. And he connects the Southern conservative positions on trade, race, regulation and even Israel in a way that Team Bush would do well to rebut rather than dismiss.
In a nutshell, Lind's argument is this: Southern elites have relentlessly worked to preserve the economy and social order of the Confederate South. The interests of resource-rich landowners have been pursued regardless of their cost to the common good. And while the New Deal and the civil rights era put an end to the "Confederate Century," the rise to power by Bush and other Southern conservatives has brought these elitist policies to the top of the national agenda.
So when the White House proposed amnesty for illegal immigrants from Mexico in 2001, Lind argues, it was to ensure that service-sector wages would remain low. Farm subsidies are deliberately geared to benefit "a small number of agribusiness corporations and... their out-of-state owners." And global free trade is pursued to perpetuate the South's economy of "exporting agricultural commodities and raw materials while importing manufactured goods in return." The president's new stimulus and tax-cut plan could easily be tacked onto the list.
Made in Texas is not entirely focused on money and class; the book is particularly provocative when it comes the seemingly strange alliance between conservative Protestants with their "apocalyptic ideology" Jewish neoconservatives committed to a strong Israel. But Lind is a New Dealer at heart, and the country's growing economic inequality clearly tops his list of concerns.
There are two Texases, he argues. The Texas of Bush and his fellow conservatives is "a society with a primitive economy based on agriculture, livestock, petroleum, and mining." In this Texas, "low wages and inadequate spending on public goods like education and pollution abatement are considered a source of comparative economic advantage."
Then there is the Texas of "Lyndon Johnson, Bobby Ray Inman, Ross Perot... and others in the modernist tradition," with its wealth based on knowledge instead of resources. That society is led "not by good-old-boy businessmen and political demagogues, but by a visionary and earnest elite of entrepreneurs, engineers, reformist politicians, and dedicated civil servants, many of them self-made men and women from humble origins." It's not difficult to determine which version Lind prefers.
Because Made in Texas is aimed at an audience far larger than just the Beltway crowd, Lind devotes large chunks of the book to brief accounts of the political debates and decisions he uses to make his case. Unfortunately, many of these "Cliffs Notes" summaries gloss over important complexities or mitigating factors. (Yes, Dick Cheney made millions by selling his Halliburton stock weeks before the price plummeted, but largely because he was pressured by critics to do so.) And while Made in Texas has plenty of examples that require no such framing, the selective omissions give Lind's inevitable critics an easy line of attack. An argument that was not quite so black-and-white would have been less attention-grabbing, but far stronger.
That said, Made in Texas raises questions that are worth asking -- if only so conservatives can answer or debunk them. And it's safe to assume that Lind will not be the only questioner between now and 2004. -- Troy K. Schneider, Editor & Associate Publisher, NationalJournal.com