Electile Dysfunction

Cross-posted on HuffPo.

Last Monday, I had the opportunity to go to the fifth annual fundraiser luncheon in Dallas for Annie's List, an organization that raises money and provides resources for progressive female candidates in the state of Texas. Donna Brazile, a woman whose cadence often makes me feel like I'm living in a moment in time much more important than the one I'm in, was to be the wild-eyed liberal keynote at the luncheon.

I was seated at a table whose seats were donated by one of the Ellis County women's groups, and when I sat down, introductions among the mixed array of women at my table were already underway. The two women next to me introduced themselves as Sandy* and June*, both of whom were longtime residents of the Dallas area region and and had the fashions to prove it. They glittered in gilded cocktail rings, perfectly coiffed hair and the lipstick-ringed smile rarely seen at events in Austin, where climbing out of one's jeans is socially equivalent to putting on makeup.

They asked me why I was there and I mentioned that I was a blogger, which immediately piqued their interest. Sandy asked whether I wrote about national or state politics. I told her the truth: a little of both, sometimes neither, and lately a lot about Rick Perry. "I'm kind of enraged at Rick Perry right now," I said, and as the words escaped me, I had a brief moment of fear. This was, after all, Dallas.

But to my relief, both Sandy and June were nodding furiously in agreement. "Oh honey," June cackled in a North Texas drawl, "who isn't. Now, what I wanna' know is -- if it comes to it, of course -- can I still vote for Kay in the Republican primary but vote for the Democrat in the general?"

I explained to them the pro's and con's of voting in the Republican primary, reminding them that their preference of down-ballot candidates -- if any -- would be left by the riverside. They listened carefully, but didn't seem concerned about the other Democratic races. "I'm for Anyone But Rick," Denise said. "Yes," June agreed, "I think that's what I'm going to do. Vote for Kay to get that awful man out of there."

It occurred to me that neither of these women had mentioned a single Democratic name. I sipped on my iced tea, hoping to look civilized, and said "So here's a question...what do you think about our Democratic field for Governor?"

June and Sandy looked perplexed. I felt their momentary pain, until June appeared to think of something. "Well, we have Kinky and now, who else?"

In the glare of a white linen table cloth and two women's eyes who were wanting to be informed, I felt ashamed. But politics doesn't leave much time for self-pity. "That's right," I said. "We have Kinky. Does the name Mark Thompson ring a bell to either of you?" They shook their heads. Sandy picked up a dinner roll and tore off a corner. I continued, "Hank Gilbert?" No. "What about Tom Schieffer?" Sandy chewed thoughtfully, and June started to shake her head before a light went off.

"Why, yes. Yes, I have heard of him, come to think of it. I've been invited to a couple of his luncheons but never went because I'm just so busy and you know..." She trailed off before leaning toward me and dropping her tone. "Besides, doesn't he have something to do with Bush?" She said the last word like she was spitting out an olive pit, the sound tumbling out of her mouth with a downturn of disapproval.

"He does," I said. Both of them recoiled at the thought. But I wasn't done with my poll.

"So you both say you'd vote for Kay over Rick. And if Rick Perry wins the primary, you'll vote for the Democrat I assume?" They both nodded vigorously. "So," I said, "What happens if Kay wins? Who do you vote for in the general? What if it was Kinky versus Kay?"

Both of them shook their heads. "I can't stand to say this," June said, "but I think I'd vote for Kay Bailey. How could I vote for that awful man?" The conversation turned to Kinky's penchant for cigars. They'd both recently seen him promoting his book on the local news, puffing away. Using a cigar as a prop in a post-Clinton world is, best I can tell, a Democratic deal breaker. How, I thought, is this guy staying ahead of other qualified candidates?

Without a doubt, organizations like Annie's List are helping to pave the way. Donna Brazile spoke about the importance of women being in the room when decisions are being made about their lives and their bodies, saying, "There's no reason [women] should lack on anything when we're the majority of everything,"a line that sent nearly every woman in the room (including myself) reaching for her checkbook. Brazile also continued the Obama chorus of this being "our moment," but wisely failed to mention what a squandered one it has become for Texas progressives. The Democratic women who could be running for Governor -- should be running -- are not. Other candidates hide in the pockets of their lobbyists. Someone whose underfunded message might deserve to make it to the masses is lost behind a celebrity press junket disguised as a campaign. Others are simply helped by their dowry to the Bush era, with a wink and a nod from the political machine saying, "He'll do." It's the political equivalent of taking the Devil's money to do God's work, while forgetting that at the end of the day, it is the Devil who gets all the power.

This is our moment, but it's one that has left Democratic candidates staring off the edge of a cliff saying, "You go first." Is it any wonder we end up with the few who are merely dumb enough to jump? At one point, a slide of Ann Richards flashed on the screens behind the stage and an audible murmur rippled through the crowd. I heard Sandy whisper to June, "She was a heroine." I pulled my eyes away from Ann Richards to look over at Sandy and June, in their early sixties, and wondered when I'm their age, who that heroine might be.

Well, we have Kinky and now, who else?

*Names have been changed to protect the progressive. I asked both Sandy and June if I could use their quotes if I changed their names, and they happily agreed. Thank you ladies for being such excellent lunch mates.

4 Response to "Electile Dysfunction"

  • Skylor Williams Says:

    There is a dangerous dare-I-say Van Os type mentality in the D field where they are afraid to raise money and keep using the excuse "I don't need big money! I work for the people!" Bzzzz! Wrong answer. If Mustache Man, Cowboy Hat Man, and Bush's Buddy are too ashamed or scared to ask for money, then why should the rest of us invest in their message?

  • just another duck on the pond Says:

    the blog title and the last line are just about as perfect as it gets...and just the right shade of mean, too.

  • Mack Says:

    I need to have you up to see MY Dallas County.

  • Stacy Suits Says:

    Excellent blog post, right on the money. Texas Democrats are running out of time to recruit and field quality candidates for statewide offices in 2010.