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Texas Book Festival 2018

We went to the Texas Book Festival in Austin over the weekend. This included Francis Fukuyama talking about Identity (see Oct. 15 blog) and several more where politics was a major topic. Fukuyama was articulate and added a bit to his book. In addition to his political order triad of bureaucracy, rule of law and accountability, he focused on the need for a national identity and the necessity of legitimacy of institutions. He thought that Republicans potentially were a lost cause and Democrats needed to be the standard bearers in 2020 to get back on track to a workable democracy (and achieving political order). My daughter Renee asked about the importance of fear and Fukuyama suggested that social justice must be addressed by policy (at least there's hope).

Lawrence Wright (writer of The Looming Tower) wrote God Save Texas, which included multiple essays about all things Texas (many quite personal). Several chapters were on Texas politics and much of the discussion was on this topic. A major focus in the book was on how corrupt Texas politics is (and always has been). The politicians have favored the energy industry to the detriment of people. Fracking is big in Texas (aggie George Mitchell was a major innovator) and, despite dirty water, additional pollution, and earthquakes is almost unregulated. The Wall is big, although a sea wall to protect Houston and other sites from future hurricanes seems much more relevant. House Speaker Joe Straus (a business conservative) at least limited the damage (not allowing the bathroom bill and providing more money for basic government functions like education). But he resigned. Many politicians seems abominable, beginning with Dan Patrick who pushes a radical Tea Party agenda that limits education (except he wants to add vouchers), healthcare, eliminate abortions and birth control, stop gay marriage and all conceivable anti-immigration measures. Wright advocated for Beto O'Rourke, but had relatively little to say about Ted Cruz.

One session was straight 2016 politics: Chasing Hillary by Amy Chozick, a New York Times reporter on the Hillary beat throughout 2016 and before. In part, this described the deficiencies of Hillary as a candidate, apparently the only democratic candidate incapable of defeating Trump. Beautiful Country Burn Again by Ben Fountain probably is a good read, but I did not get a good handle about what it was about. I'm reading Chozick's book now.

An interesting session I only heard part of was Carol Anderson One Person, No Vote, an emphatic presentation on voter suppression. For blacks especially this goes back to the 19th century, with poll taxes and reading requirement (and other things) specifically to limit voting to white males. Universal suffrage is a 20th century thing and even minority voting was allowed (although this has not been a very active group). But Republicans over the years became masters as voter suppression, with measures such as ID laws (with types of IDs restricted--students IDs typically are not permitted, for example), people eliminated from the roles for all kinds of reasons, etc. The Georgia governor's race is a prominent current example. Wright (above) pointed out that whites are no longer the majority in Texas, but whites still dominate voting (and electing Republicans). The other major factor is gerrymandering, at the moment a Republican specialty.

Note: there was also lots of non-political stuff just as interesting, but this is my beat and future blogs with include some of the above books and related insights.

Amy Chozick: Chasing Hillary: Ten Years, Two Presidential Campaigns, and One Intact Glass Ceiling (2018). I finished the memoir and it interrelates her life and the Hillary campaign from the perspective of a New York Times reporter. It went into great detail about various facets of press conferences, rallies and so on, plus some description of the various types of reports she made for the NYT (over 1,200); some were basic news, some snarky, some detailing various issues and policy positions. Apparently, the more embarrassing and snarky the more likely it would make the front page. The stuff I would like, especially an analysis of policy positions might make the middle of the paper, more likely posted on the internet and never make it into the paper. Hillary and staff seemed to view just about everything Chozick wrote as an insult (I suppose, not that much different than Trump's "fake news"). Chozick admired Hillary and appreciated her determination (going into some detail over her life struggles), but also frustrated by the Hillary machine and many of the moves she considered inept. Presumably, the reporters following Hillary admired her and expected her to win, although this did not seem obvious from the actual reporting.

One of the important takeaways for me was the different perspectives of the various players (and compared to what I would have liked to see from both Hillary and the media); the result could be chaos among the intelligent, hard working people. There seems to be no reason why Hillary, Trump, Obama or any other politician would like media attention (although Trump seemed to benefit the most). The media are looking for stories that sell papers, not fairness, objectivity or complete analysis.

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