“It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into”

Jonathan Swift
"The Democrats have moved to the right, and the right has moved into a mental hospital." - Bill Maher
"The city is crowded my friends are away and I'm on my own
It's too hot to handle so I gotta get up and go

It's a cruel ... cruel summer"

Friday, May 13, 2005

blogging on the telephone

I began my participation in the big Chris Bell conference call (organized by Charles Kuffner) by demonstrating my Dancing Monkeyhood in front of all of the Best & Brightest of Blogtexia. Nate from Common Sense was there, as was Greg from Gregsopinion (whom Chris Bell had "heard of"!) and Sean-Paul Kelley from The Agonist. I dialed in. I could hear assorted blogger voices. I waited for a lull and announced, “Hello, this is Panhandle Truth Squad out of Amarillo.”

“Oh,” a deep voice said, “My old stomping grounds.”

“Really,” I said. “And who are you?”

There was a pause. “I’m Chris Bell,” said the voice.

I winced, hoping Bell wasn’t the vindictive sort, and praying that he wouldn’t remember me when he occupied the office of Jim Hogg, Bill Hobby, and Ma&Pa Ferguson. Would he seek out revenge on an obscure blogger from Amarillo? I doubted it. As slogans of vengeance go, “Remember the Blogger Telephone Snub” isn’t quite in the same league as “Remember the Alamo” and “Come and Take It.”

For his part Bell seemed to rise above my unspeakable rudeness quickly enough, reminiscing about his days at KVII-TV, where he said he worked from 1983-1988. He also talked about his recent visit to Amarillo to speak to the Potter-Randall Democratic Club. That, he said, was the very first stop of his exploratory candidacy.

At 7:00, Mr. Bell began with some general comments. He worked the blogging is the new grassroots meme a bit, giving some credit to bloggers, Young Democrats, and Democracy for America for a “regenerated and rejuvenated” spirit that has given a new energy to Texas progressives. Then he dropped some very encouraging figures. We never see nearly enough young faces at Democratic events up here in the Panhandle. But Bell said that the Dallas Young Democrats is now the third largest such organization in the nation. And some “John David” character from College Station had, I don’t know, “Aggie spirit yelled” (or whatever it is they do) that the Aggie Dems had suddenly grown from eight kids in a dorm room to more than 1,000. That's about right for a school/lifestyle that demonizes "two-percenters" who fail to do something darkly referred to as "demonstrating true Aggie Spirit." Having lots of Aggies on your side in a political battle is like forming an alliance with Klingons. They're loyal; they'll fight to the death; they might freak you out a little along the way.

Bell's big theme is the “new mainstream”. He says that Republicans have somehow convinced voters that to be considered mainstream, you must conform by joining the Republican party. (It's politics as Middle School.) But he believes that we can show that there is a more “optimistic” way than the Republican way, that we can “lift each other up.” At this point, the “new mainstream” appears to be an exploratory idea in line with Bell’s (currently, allegedly) exploratory campaign. He still working on the specifics, saying that the idea is a half-decorated “tree that we can continue to hang ornaments on as we go on.”

Bell will surely continue to develop as a (potential) candidate as we move toward July. July is the target that Bell has set—for a variety of personal and political reasons—as his “target for his decision to run.” He puts it just that way: the goal is for when he will decide to run, not decide whether to run. I fully expect that Chris Bell will become a candidate for Governor; I also harbor hopes that he’ll become the first Democratic candidate in a while to spend more than a token amount of time in the Panhandle.

Knowing that Bell had adopted some of the models of Democracy for America (and adopted one or two of Howard Dean’s personnel), I asked about an “254-county” strategy for Texas that mirrored Dean’s “50-state strategy.” Bell affirmed that any gubernatorial candidate would need to “compete in all counties.” He further asserted that rural Texas has been red for awhile—but is also very upset at Rick Perry for the Trans-Texas Corridor which threatens huge swaths of what’s left of rural Texas. We should “stop assuming people will be against us”; all bets are off as populations shift. Bell used some surprisingly large minority population numbers in ├╝ber-suburb Round Rock as an example of the ways that old stereotypes can mislead

Bell has obviously done a lot of thinking about strategy. He wouldn't bet on the Republican nominee being anyone other than Rick Perry. The Republican primary, Bell points out, is dominated by the far right—and the wingnuts loves them some Rick Perry. Which leaves Kay Bailey Hutchisen—or whoever—in the rather awkward position of running from the left in a Republican primary. Bell’s confidant he’ll run against Perry. I’m confidant he’ll declare his candidacy in July.

By this point in the conversation Demophoenix had dialed in. I have some thoughts about the rest of the call, but I'd also like to give my esteemed colleague the opportunity to share some of his.