Texas readers take Robert Bryce to task for overlooking the state's populist roots and scrappy progressives.

By Salon Staff
Published November 13, 2004 11:35PM (UTC)
main article image

[Read "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," by Robert Bryce.]

As we say in Texas, Mr. Bryce, that's some bullshit.

Take another look at those "generations" of Texans you suppose to be "generally unconcerned about social inequality."

Is that a label you can honestly apply to the Populists of the late 19th century? Texas was at least as populist as Kansas, if not more so, and Texas brought (integrated!) populism to the South.


And what about the later generations who elected the likes of Henry Gonzalez, Barbara Jordan, Jim Hightower, and even, bless his redistricted heart, Lloyd Doggett to public office? To label them unconcerned with social inequality is a disgrace.

You might argue that their constituents were minorities in the larger state, and that might be fair. But what about Lyndon Johnson, who was widely popular in Texas in his time? In your haste to tar him with the same militarist brush as the Bush family, you forget wee details like the Civil Rights Act. Unconcerned with social inequality, my sweet left foot.

It seems to me that what you're doing, Mr. Bryce, is taking the particularly ugly twist that one political family, and those who rode them to power, put on the myths of the state for the spirit of the whole thing. But Texas cowboys can be genteel as well as bigoted, good neighbors as well as gun-wielding rowdies. Same as anywhere.


Lay the blame for what you consider the Texan way of doing things at the feet of the carpet-bagging Bushes, where it belongs, and reach out to the real people living there. They'll respond.

-- Esther Cervantes

You're going to be getting a lot of mail from pissed off Texas liberals for publishing Robert Bryce's "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," so allow me to be one of the first to tell you how disappointed I am that Salon would publish such a load of codswallop. Hell, I just moved to Dallas (where we elected a Hispanic, lesbian sheriff last week) five months ago, and even as a non-Texan I'm getting really tired of the constant pre- and post-election Texas bashing. Ignorance exists nationwide, and I would have thought that Salon would know better than to pin our country's current woes on one state.


Thirty-eight percent of us did our damnedest to get that idiot out of office, and we do not appreciate being told that Bush's Hollywood cowboy worldview represents us.

-- Karolina King

Robert Bryce's article on the influence of Texas was well-written, largely on the mark, and scary as hell, even to this native Texan. But he sold the Lone Star State short just a little when he ignored the progressive, populist strain in our politics. Bryce talked a lot about LBJ, but never once mentioned his total support of the New Deal, his genuinely progressive Great Society, and the fact that he did more for black Americans than any white man since Abraham Lincoln. And Johnson was not a fluke -- he came out of a progressive tradition in the Texas Hill Country, one that continues even today in Austin. To me, that tradition contains the true Texas values. The "Texas values" Bryce despises came west from the slave-holding South into the cotton country of East Texas, and they were never the values of real cowboys. Those of us who live here and love Texas in spite of itself look forward with hope to the day when the real cowboys like LBJ are back in the saddle.


-- Brian Farrington

As a sixth-generation Texan who has lived all over the country since I graduated from high school in Houston 15 years ago, I am compelled to both reaffirm and dispute Mr. Bryce's argument. The reason for this is simple: just as there are, to some degree, "two Americas," there are also two Texases, flip sides of the same coin. There's the Texas Mr. Bryce mentioned -- the one with the cowboy persona that is derided not just in other countries, but also in this one. In both blue states and red states, people I've never met before will tell me that I don't seem like I'm from Texas, and will then proceed to blithely make derogatory generalizations about Texans that no one would ever dare to make about, say, minorities or women. I am somewhat baffled as to how this loathing of Texans has translated into a love of Bush 43 (for both Texans and non-Texans knew that Bush 41 wasn't really a Texan). But Mr. Bryce is right: Somehow it has.

I feel, however, both proud of and representative of another Texas. It is a Texas that is and has been remarkably tolerant of newcomers of any variety. It is a Texas that was far more racially integrated than any place I've lived since (and that includes New York and San Francisco). While I grew up among Republicans, it was a big surprise to me when I went to a private college in the Northeast to find that some people were bothered if you were Jewish or gay: It had simply never occurred to me because no one around me was bothered by such things. My friends from high school never spoke with accents or packed heat. They were, however, daring and principled and inventive -- the other side of the Texas coin.


There was -- and remains -- a Texas of quirky ingenuity, of tolerance for eccentrics, and of unabashed friendliness. I hope to return to that Texas someday, so let's hope it wins out.

-- Sarah Rogers

You may be right that the star of Texas is ascending, but you neglected to discuss its demographics: They are becoming more Latino and black. It is foreseeable that whites will be a minority in Texas before long. And because it is a state with a strong tradition of racism, its politics will reflect the long memories of its citizens on both sides of that mindset.


The Bushes are much less racist than other Texans, but they are unusual conservatives on that score, and you will not see large numbers of minorities being included in the Republican Party in Texas. And that will be noticed by the voters. After all, white Southerners generally flooded into the party of Lincoln only after Reagan sent signals that racists were welcome there. They won't lightly tolerate giving up political power in the party structure to non-whites again, as they were forced to by the Democrats.

So keep an eye on strategies to keep minorities from voting in Texas. It's the only way to prevent a complete revolution of power there one of these days.

-- Douglas Wilson

As an avid reader for the past two years, I am extremely saddened and disappointed in your recent string of Texas-bashing articles. You frequently treat and lump all Texans into the "backwater yokel" category. Shame on you!


If you were truly the progressive voice, instead of pointing blame and comparing us to a bunch of hicks with guns, you would provide a sufficient outlet for a useful discussion.

As it stands though in your two most recent articles, "Tex Ed" and the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" you refer to all Texans as over-militarized and abusive. First, there is nothing wrong with a strong martial history and tradition of serving your country. It is a sad affair when this is looked at as a minus. Service to one's country should be saluted, not tacitly insulted and sneered at.

The most outrageous statement comes from the Tex Ed article when an Austin attorney says of Texas families that "mom's drunk and dad beats her up." This is blatantly unfair, and no counter point is provided. Are you guys the "liberal" counterpoint to Fox News? Shame on you for giving these purveyors of hyperbole a platform. Are you trying to cast off the insult of being economic girlie men?

As a Texan living in a blue state, I am sick of the stereotyping. Do realize that more than 2 million people voted for Kerry in Texas during the previous election? Every time articles like this come out, the opposition to DeLay et al. will become less and less. Independents like me are more and more turned off. Why would I want to have anything to do with a progressive movement that insults me time and time again? I get equally frustrated when people refer to Massachusetts as Taxachusetts, unless it is in total jest. We are part of the same country and have to learn to play nicely on both sides.


-- Nicholas Souders

Well, yeah. There are lots of things that suck about Texas, and Robert Bryce is right to call us out on them. We don't educate our kids very well, nor do we provide them with healthcare, and we sure do put a lot of people to death.

But don't assume that everyone from Texas is, as Bryce puts it, "militarist, self-absorbed, piously Christian, dominated by big business, generally unconcerned about social inequality, and perfectly happy with regressive taxation." Here in Travis County, a lonely blue dot in the middle of the Lone Star State, John Kerry won a big majority of the vote, voters said yes to a new light rail proposal that would clean up both traffic problems and the environment while growing the economy, and most importantly, we said a big "fuck you" to Tom DeLay by reelecting, in a landslide, our beloved Lloyd Doggett, whom DeLay tried to redistrict right out of Congress.

Don't get me wrong -- there are plenty of "W '04" bumper stickers around here. But there are lots more Kerry ones, and lots more people who protest Bush's policies on a daily basis: people who drove to Arkansas to stand in the pouring rain for hours to increase Kerry's turnout; people who frantically phoned voters in swing states; people who believe that gays and lesbians and women and nonwhites are equal citizens of the United States of America.


Maybe we're fighting a losing battle. But as long as people are wearing "Keep Austin Weird" T-shirts, we won't surrender. That's our Alamo.

-- Ashley Shannon

Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------