Former Rep. Charlie Wilson, D-Texas, who died last month, was rightly remembered for the central role he had in changing the history of Afghanistan after the Soviet Union invaded and occupied that sad land. Former Texas state Sen. Joe Christie, Wilson’s close friend from their days and nights together in Austin, eulogized him well: “He took his work seriously, but he never took himself seriously. He changed the course of history, but he was not self-important. That’s why he was so damn much fun to be with.”
My favorite Wilson memory goes back nearly a quarter-century when the Texan was being investigated for — ultimately baseless — allegations that he had used cocaine. This was at a time when every male politician who was caught molesting a young woman or a young man or found with thousands of unexplained dollars in his coat offered by way of defense either, a) his previously undiagnosed alcoholism, or b) tearful testimony of his overnight religious conversion.
Here is how grown-up Wilson responded to the charges against him and won the admiration and gratitude of many of us who cover this stuff: “Regardless of whatever happens, I can promise you that to save myself I will never blame it on booze or publicly turn to Jesus Christ.”
What brought this to mind was the news that Texas Gov. Rick Perry had won a landslide victory in the Republican primary over Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who had been handsomely winning statewide elections herself since 1990.
This is the same Perry who, last year, after a Tea Party rally in Austin where many shouts of “Secede” could be heard, addressed that implausible subject when asked by reporters.
“There’s a lot of different scenarios,” Perry began. “We’ve got a great union. There’s absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that? But Texas is a very unique place, and we’re a pretty independent lot to boot.” He added that when Texas entered the union in 1845, the understanding was that Texas could, if it decided to, pull out of the deal.
Wrong. There was never any such deal or escape clause. In 1861, Texas, of course, did try to secede from the United States and joined an armed rebellion against the first and greatest Republican president, Abraham Lincoln. The secessionists, including Texans, lost that war in which an estimated 623,056 Americans died.
The idea of Perry, whom the late and irreplaceable Texas columnist Molly Ivins referred to as Gov. Goodhair, following Texas political leaders as memorable as Sam Rayburn, Lyndon Johnson, Ann Richards, George H.W. Bush and Wilson proves Charles Darwin was wrong.
As of this date, I have never heard anybody from the bluest precincts of Blue America — from Cambridge or Berkeley, Madison or Manhattan — even under the influence of nonprescription pharmaceuticals, so much as whisper the word “secede.”
No, any talk of secession is heard in the flag-waving, “America — Love It or Leave It” neighborhoods whose residents have helped make Perry, who succeeded George W. Bush, the longest-serving governor in Texas history.
Bush once humorously confided to an off-the-record dinner of reporters that he treasured the political advice he had been given by legendary Washington lawyer and native Texas Democrat Bob Strauss: “Mr. President, you can fool some of the people all of the time — and those are the ones you have to concentrate on.”
Apparently, Gov. Perry has found ‘em.
— Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him.