Ubiquitous on CNN during election seasons, Paul Begala has a way of sharpening his commentary to a witty yet surgical point. With an impish smile and machine-gun delivery, he eviscerates his Republican counterparts on the air, in print and on the web.
Begala is a University of Texas and UT Law School graduate who worked on Lloyd Doggett’s Texas Senate re-election campaign when he was a student and later on Doggett’s bid for the U.S. Senate. In what became a legendary partnership, Begala then formed a political consulting firm with James Carville that helped mastermind Bill Clinton’s election.
After that landmark 1992 effort, Begala joined the Clinton White House as counselor, advisor, policy strategist and public spokesman. Since leaving the White House, he has authored several best-selling books (including a couple with Carville) and has become a sought-after political analyst.
Who better to talk to about the extreme right-wing direction of some of Texas’ more infamous elected officials? In the scorching dog days of summer, we could all use a little entertainment with our politics, right? Because Begala is often flying around the country, we chatted mostly by email in various days, times and places. Here is our virtual exchange.
QUESTION: In retrospect, how do you assess Rick Perry’s short-lived run for President? You seemed to relish commenting on his campaign. Did he really think he was qualified? Were you embarrassed for us?
BEGALA: As a Texan, I was embarrassed by Governor Perry. Heck, as a homo sapien I was embarrassed by Rick Perry. Bad political consultants always tell their clients, “Just be yourself.” Perry actually had pretty good consultants, but they could not stop him from being himself. And when Perry is himself, he is really dumb.
QUESTION: We’ve been saddled with Perry for a dozen years now, and under his leadership Texas has suffered strains on education, health care and women’s rights. Even voting rights are in jeopardy, and Attorney General Abbott has filed multiple law suits against the Federal government. What’s your take on this?
BEGALA: Perry started this nonsense when he spoke favorably of secession. I know he’s a few fries short of a Happy Meal, but he ought to know that secession did not work out for us the last time we tried it. On a more serious level, it seems to me that Mr. Abbott’s suits are designed to make Texas poorer, sicker, dumber and dirtier. That’s the last thing Texas needs.
QUESTION: In his dozen years as Governor, Perry has appointed judges, agency chiefs and helped usher in a Republican super-majority to the Texas Legislature that has done serious damage to Texans. Why do you think Texans keep electing him?
BEGALA: Clearly, Texans have a high tolerance for pain. And Perry has been a useful tool of the plutocrats who want to continue to control the state. They do that by using Perry to divide Texans — black against white against Latino, old against young, straight against gay, on and on. Perry likes to blather about how he does not want Texas to be like Europe. Well, I don’t want Texas to be like some banana republic, where a small group of oligarchs controls everything, and the vast majority of working people get nothing.
QUESTION: Jim Hightower often says Texas is not really a red state, it’s a non-voting state. We do have pitiful turnouts, and big turnouts would favor Democrats. So what do you think it will take to get Latinos, young people and rural Democrats to the polls — and loosen the Republican grip on Texas?
BEGALA: Organize, organize, organize, and vote, vote, vote. One of the more pernicious things the GOP is doing in Texas is trying to take away the right to vote from so many Texans. Santa Ana would be proud, but Sam Houston would be pissed.
If Texans want their state back they’re going to have to take it back. That means registering voters, making their case for change, engaging at the neighborhood level, the community level, the county level and the state level. I don’t agree with the Tea Party on much, but I admire their commitment to grassroots organizing. The cure for all the ills of democracy, it’s been said, is more democracy. Texas needs more democracy.