UPSTAIRS at the White House after all the lights are out, Lyndon B. Johnson must sometimes thrash and sigh and wish the United States were Texas. Texas need not cope with Charles de Gaulle, J. William Fulbright, or Stokley Carmichael. Texans, unlike Ho Chi Minh and Nguyen Cao Ky, know how to reason together.
But if he were President of Texas, he would find scant peace. He would preside over the rapid disintegration of his party’s consensus. He would find Republicans where once there were Democrats, enemies where once there were friends. He would watch peace demonstrators parade down the quiet main street of Austin. He would hear dark rumors from his cities’ ghettos, and his scouts would report the bitter speeches and even more bitter talk from the labor rallies, the chanted slogans of Mexican farm workers on the march. He would survey his cities’ smog-shrouded spires and jammed expressways and polluted bayous. Even in Texas, the biggest Texan of them all would not have an easy reign, for despite all the indigenous myths, the state has not been immune to problems and concerns that harass the rest of the nation. It even has a few of its own.
There is the problem of violence. As John Bainbridge proved in The Super Americans, Texans’ chronic propensity for settling disputes with a six-gun can make bizarrely comic reading. But in the newspaper accounts, sudden death in a highway tavern sounds tragically unreal. “As Lewis reached for his gun, Brantley reached for his.” The dead Lewis, Brantley later told police, “had been messing with my wife.” Both men had just bought their weapons for less than $10 apiece.
Yet Texans by and large remain indifferent to statistics that show, for instance, that Houston’s homicide rate may this year outstrip the United Kingdom’s — not surprising, perhaps, in a state whose “unwritten law” is actually codified. It takes terrible slaughter to jar this general tolerance of violence, and even the ghastliest lessons do not stick for long. Lee Harvey Oswald, after all, was an out-of-state Marxist, and Charles Joseph Whitman, the Austin Tower killer, came from Florida. In Austin, as in Dallas, one hears the complacent refrain, “It could have happened anywhere.”
There is the problem of the Mexican-American. His forebears died beside Kentucky riflemen and Georgia farmers fighting for Texas independence, but today in the lush Rio Grande Valley he labors
— when there is work — picking melons for 75 cents an hour. In Starr County this summer the melon pickers struck; in its second day the strike died when an Anglo judge told the campesinos to stop picketing or go to jail.
Borrowing tactics from the Negro revolution, a band of strikers thereupon set out on a 400-mile march to the capital city of Austin, to rally there on Labor Day and appeal for Governor John B. Connally’s aid in passage of a bill for a $1.25-anhour minimum wage on the farm. The Texas movement has remarkable parallels — and in strike leader Eugene Nelson, a common organizer
— with the successful Delano grape strike in California, yet it has lacked the heavy outside support from students, professors, and liberal state politicians that made the California strike click. Surprisingly, perhaps, to those who do not know the Roman Catholic Church in Texas, the strike’s most powerful supporters have been bishops of the Church, who have joined hands with the lowliest of their faith.
Ihe plight of the farm workers in the valley is only one part of a larger pattern of MexicanAmerican misery in Texas. In San Antonio live 350,000 Americans with Spanish surnames, fully one third existing in the meanest form of poverty, jammed together in 46,000 slum-housing units, of which 11,000 have no plumbing. Some 107,000 functional illiterates live in San Antonio. Mostare Mexican-Amcricans.
By most material standards, Texans of Mexican descent in the state at large are at least as poorly off as the state’s Negroes. According to one study, in 1960 the average Mexican-American had completed less than 5 years of school; for Negroes the figure was slightly over 8, and for Anglos, 11.5. The two million Tejanos — or “Meskins ” as some Anglos slightingly call them — have in the past twenty years progressed just far enough so that their chief problem today is passivity and resignation born of despair.
There is also the problem of the Negro. In Houston’s black fifth ward, in the small-town slums of east Texas, Negroes are awakening to their potential power to break through the racial barriers remaining in this, the most southern of Western states. But there have been major frustrations. Better educated than the Tejanos, unambiguously American bred, the state’s Negroes must contend with the fact that their society is run by whites who allow the brown-skinned Mexicans privileges still denied to blacks. De jure segregation has all but vanished from Texas; the de facto brand remains.
There have, however, also been major Negro advances in Texas in the past year. Abolition of the poll tax this year added one half million new voters to the rolls, and a sizable percentage were Negro. In Houston, two Negroes won Democratic nomination to the state legislature and are certain to become the first of their race to serve there since Reconstruction. The poverty program, after long delays, is finally under way with a rush. Compared with Alabama, Texas is an open society, and compared with Harlem, a bountiful one.
Much of the bounty is in Texas’ bold new cities, but the cities are discovering bold new problems of their own. The cities are growing fast; it is already part of corporate myth in Houston that a Lloyd’s of London survey proves that by 2000 A.D. the city will be the largest in the world. Although Lloyd’s has formally renounced any responsibility for that claim, such technicalities do not faze the Space City’s ardent boosters. After all, they point out, Houston (sixth), Dallas (ninth), and San Antonio (fifteenth) are all among the country’s fifteen largest cities. What other state can say as much?
Yet like other states, Texas has not learned how to contend with all the challenges of urbanization, and suddenly the state is discovering that industrial and urban growth is not an unmixed blessing. When the wind blows wrong in Houston, even sedately wooded River Oaks is not immune to the stench and smog from the petrochemical plants fifteen miles away; two blocks from the refineries, the paint peels from the workers’ houses. The streams and bayous near urban Texas are becoming raw industrial sewers, and in the heart of Dallas and Houston the wreckers and builders have already destroyed most of the evidence of everything but the recent past. Homeward-bound from downtown Houston’s soaring business district, the commuter whizzes by the last symbols of the city’s origins— a cluster of sturdy nineteenth-century houses precariouslypreserved in the shadow of intersecting expressways. With a thousand impatient drivers on his tail, he can’t slow down long enough to look.
Urbanization has had inevitable political significance. Last year Texas underwent a long overdue reapportionment of its state legislature, and the cities are beginning to make their presence felt. In the state Senate — small, unlike most things Texan, and thus a convenient measure — the four major cities, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and Fort Worth, have won one third of the thirty-one seats. By 1970 almost half of the 150 legislators should come from the four main urban areas.
As part of this phenomenon and as part of everything else, there is this overriding fact: Texas is building a two-party system. The process is slow, and culmination of it is not assured. Faction-ridden, divided between liberal dissidents and Establishment conservatives, the Texas Democratic Party is running more or less true to form. President Kennedydied in Dallas on a peacemaking mission to his warring party. In the emotional aftermath of the assassination, the Democrats’ feuding range hands unstrapped their guns to follow Lyndon Johnson. Now, with one election past and another about to take place, Texas seems back to normal, and liberal and conservative Democrats are wrangling for control of the range while Republicans lie in ambush in the gulch.
That much of the script is at least familiar, but suddenly the outcome is in doubt. Today in his home state and in an election year, President Johnson leads a party far more sharply divided than it was when John Kennedy made his fateful trip to Dallas. Despite some protest demonstrations, the war in Vietnam is still not a matter of significant political debate in Texas; the issues are much closer to home. With Senator Ralph Yarborough and his coalition of Tejanos, Negroes, labor, old-style populists, and modernstyle liberals on the one hand, and Governor Connally and the Establishment on the other, intraparty hostilities have escalated in recent months from the usual bushwhacking to open warfare.
Only the Republicans stand to win, for the most probable immediate victim of the conflict is State Attorney General Waggoner Carr, who with Connally’s backing and Johnson’s blessing hopes to oust conservative Republican John G. Tower from the President’s old Senate seat this fall.
Even with Connally and the President on his side, Carr is uneasy. “The race in the fall,” he warned some months ago, “is going to be a party race the likes of which you have never seen. If Tower can be re-elected, this will be construed, of course, as a personal defeat for the President of the United States.” But nobody really seems to care. Senator Yarborough, for one, has not been overly responsive to Carr’s entreaties for party loyalty. Connally, Carr, and Tower, he trumpets, are “identical political triplets,” all opposed to Great Society legislation.
In Texas, the President does not often make such distinctions, and it is not surprising that he is trying to persuade Yarborough not to make them so often either. Labor is another problem. Mad at Carr for not supporting repeal of 14(b) and at the President for not achieving it, the state AFL-CIO has declared itself politically independent of both the national and the state Democratic parties, and has even endorsed a Republican national committeeman in his race for a minor state post. If voter turnout is light, intransigent liberals could once again tip the Senate race to Tower.
LBJ and the governor
The Democrats’ intraparty strife pleases no one less than the President, who during his long career as a Texas congressman and senator learned to shun ideology, deliver the goods, and keep every possible interest group just happy enough to answer the phone when he called. He used all factions and they used him, and if his electorate didn’t adore him, at least they kept electing him. All but estranged from the liberals, whose only real hope he was, mistrusted by the Establishment, whose money backed him, he nonetheless somehow preserved a knack for keeping his party from falling to pieces; as long as he was running Texas, the Republicans didn’t have a chance. No one has that knack in the Texas party today, not even Governor Connally.
The precise nature of the JohnsonConnally relationship is a common topic of Texas gossip, and there are two contending conspiracy theories that neatly complement each other. Many liberals, on the one hand, fervently believe that Connally and Johnson are simply allies and co-conspirators in a devious plot to preserve conservative hegemony in the Texas Democratic Party and thus in the state itself. Underlying this theory is the assumption that Johnson has never really changed, that the man who opposed civil rights and labor rights in 1948 is the same man in 1966 — and that he constantly shows his true colors through what he allows Connally and the oil and gas lobby (or the banking lobby or the insurance lobby) to get away with.
The theory requires a selective memory for facts, chief among them the whole domestic record of the Johnson presidency. Even on the state level, other facts must be ignored; there is the fact, for instance, that Johnson kept a Connally man, Joe Kilgore, from challenging the liberals’ champion, Senator Yarborough, in 1964.
According to the other principal theory, Johnson and Connally are simply old and close friends who now represent vastly different constituencies and who therefore for political reasons from time to time must seem to conflict. Thus when the word filters out from an off-therecord press conference in Austin that the two are having a falling out, the explanation is conveniently at hand: it’s all a smoke screen. Connally, so goes the explanation, is running for re-election and can’t seem too closely tied to the man whom so many Texans can’t abide. But at least one knowledgeable politician turns this thesis upside down. “Johnson and Connally,” he observes, “are too much like brothers to be good friends. They gave up on each other long ago, but they keep smiling and talking for appearances’ sake.”
Not quite. The two men are indeed startlingly alike and at the same time startlingly different, each wrapped in an ego as gaudy as a prairie rainbow, and each convinced that the other is only a lesser version of himself. Yet they need each other and feed on each other, and somehow each is nourished. Johnson created Connally, but the governor, who managed campaigns and raised money from the men who had it when Johnson needed it most, can make pretty much the same claim. Today their relationship is wearing thin under political and personal friction, but they continue to need and use each other.
The plain fact, however, is that Connally today is more popular with the Establishment than Johnson ever was. There are those who support Connally despite their dislike for Johnson, but there are not many who support Connally because they like the President. In Texas, there are few funny jokes told about Lyndon B. Johnson, but there are many savage stories told by Establishmentarians who thought he was all theirs in the past and by liberals who feel betrayed. He is lucky, after all, that his country is still bigger than Texas.