He did it his way
British documentarian Marcel Theroux's investigation into this state's criminal-justice system is called The Texas Solution, but the first half of it could just as easily be dubbed The Texas Myth.
With a tourist's wide-eyed naïvete, Theroux sees every Lone Star fringe movement as a modern-day reflection of the old-West mentality. He compares the vigilante group Bikers Against Child Abuse to frontier cowboys meting out justice and riding off into the sunset. While attending a self-defense class heavy on the use of firearms, Theroux - who'd probably spent an entire week in this state at that point - assures his UK audience that this renegade group represents the true spirit of Texas.
He also offers amusingly sweeping generalizations: "In Texas, forgiveness does not mean mercy." When talking about death-penalty sentences in Houston, he earnestly says, "More than half of the judges in this district are women, but there's nothing particularly feminine about the county's zeal to use the death penalty."
During a visit to the Carol S. Vance Unit, Bush's much-hyped attempt at rehabilitation through born-again Christianity, Theroux admits to being moved by the sight of formerly violent criminals exultantly singing church hymns, but also finds "something profoundly weird" about Bush's own faith being imposed on a state-run criminal-detention program.
By the end of the documentary, he wonders if the state's short-term crime reduction has come at the expense of its long-term health. At that point, Theroux sounds like he really understands Texas.
One of the first rules of media-wrangling for politicians is to always respond to the question you wish you'd been asked, not the one you actually were asked. In Business, Texas Style, a German-made documentary about Bush's corporate entanglements, we see Bush apply this lesson at a presidential press conference.
When he's questioned about lingering suspicions that he engaged in insider trading in the early '90s while on the board of Harken Energy Corporation, he immediately sidesteps the question by blasting his opponents for making political hay of the issue. But in a skillfully edited montage, the White House press corps refuses to let up, and Bush squirms with obvious discomfort.
In its own way, this scene tells us more than the ardent critiques of people such as former Texas Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower and Alexandra Robbins, author of Secrets of the Tomb, an exposé of Bush's participation in Yale University's secretive Skull and Bones organization. It pokes massive holes in the carefully cultivated image of Bush as a straight shooter, an uncomplicated man incapable of conscious deception.
The big issue behind Business, Texas Style is that Bush owes his very career to crony capitalism, and it raises worthy questions about the power of lobbyists in Texas state politics, and the revolving-door maneuvers of Dick Cheney, which allowed him to move back and forth between the public and private sectors, using old government connections to win lucrative contracts for Halliburton, and then granting a no-bid contract to the company when he returned to government.
Most persuasively, Kevin Phillips, a disaffected Republican author, compares Bush's corporate dealings to the actions of the early 20th-century robber barons, finally arguing that the Enron scandal - and Bush's indebtedness to the oil conglomerate - signifies an unprecedented threat to American politics. l
The Texas Solution and Business, Texas Style, air this month on Trio, Digital Cable Channel 233, as part of its "Texas - America Supersized" month of progrramming. For information on airdates and times, contact your local cable provider, or visit www.triotv.com.