DALLAS -- It got down to this in Texas on primary day, March 2: Who's in charge here? Who's telling us what to do -- and are we going to take it?
March 2 -- the day Republican Gov. Rick Perry whammed, slammed, and crammed his gubernatorial rival, U. S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison by almost 20 percentage points -- happened to be Texas Independence Day: a great day for contemplating the bossiness of Washington, D.C. under Barack Obama.
With an enormous Lone Star flag to his back as he accepted the voters' acclaim, Perry said, in the muscular style he has all but patented during the past year: "Texas voters said no to Washington bureaucrats…and yes to leadership that controls spending [and] fights for individual freedom and the United States Constitution."
Yeah, man. That's just about what Republican primary voters did say as they signaled Perry to go get 'em -- meaning both the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, ex-Houston mayor Bill White, and any Washington, D.C., Democrat you might care to name.
This politics thing, with due apologies to Aristotle, is at least half theater and sometimes a good deal more than that. Like now, when the woes and griefs of an aggravated nation play themselves out in terms of votes and policy calls. The voters yearn for a champion: someone to speak in their behalf, someone to walk up to the likes of Nancy Pelosi and say, "Look here, lady, what's this about trying to take over health care?"
Nor was Perry the only gubernatorial candidate vying for that cherished privilege. Debra Medina, the pugnacious libertarian ex-nurse and small business owner who jumped in the race toward the last, racked up 18.6 percent of the vote. Eighteen-point six -- think of that. Every one of those votes under other circumstances would likely have gone to Perry, who reached out with great assiduity to Tea Partiers and similar salt-of-the-earth types who can't believe what their national government is up to these days.
For that matter, the candidate who wore the established mantel in this contest -- Kay Hutchison -- delivered her own quota of karate kicks to the bloated body of Big Government. Her problem, from an electoral standpoint, was that a U. S. senator is widely and often accurately seen as part of the problem with Washington. Perry somewhat unfairly called her Kay Bailout Hutchison -- on account of her vote for the 2008 bailout that most Republicans supported because they thought they had to, and which even the Wall Street Journal saw as probably inevitable.
At that, Kay had a bigger problem -- one she might have discerned were she, which I don't believe she is, a diligent reader of Russell Kirk. Say she was, anyway. She would not have failed, from exposure to the eminent Dr. Kirk, to have learned one of his favorite, much-repeated maxims, coined by the 17th century English royalist Lord Falkland, to wit: "When it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change."
Whatever Rick Perry's shortcomings as governor, and not even his wife probably would extol him as the new Solon, Kay couldn't come up with plausible reasons to replace him with herself: not with the Texas economy performing noticeably, albeit not grandly, better than economies elsewhere and the jobless rate at least a couple of points lower. Things aren't blissful here, but, oh, my, what if we had the bossy, high-taxing methods of states such as California, New Jersey (under Jon Corzine), Michigan, New York, and such like? This here race horse of a state duly trots and runs.
No one I ever talked to in Texas could explain exactly why Kay wanted so much to be governor that she was willing to spend millions denigrating the incumbent Republican governor while in the process removing herself from the scene of battle in Washington, D.C. What was the point? A very very ambitious lady indeed, Kay evidently wanted a change of political scenery. Why indulge her? was the obvious point. Was it necessary -- truly necessary -- to change chief executives? Not so's a majority of folks around here could see. Conservatism's sound preservationist streak asserted itself. We could do a whole lot worse than Perry, a majority of Republicans appeared to reason.
So what now? Kay hadn't as of Wednesday morning responded to media questions about her intentions regarding the Senate. Stay? Go? One can't see any compelling reason for her to quit now and let Perry pick her interim replacement -- who would have to go to school with Scott Brown to learn what a rookie senator has to learn. My own guess: She'll stay. Which would be good. She's not instinctively what the late great John Tower of Texas was -- an intellectual monstrance for the display of conservative thought -- but conservatives can nearly always count on her vote.
The Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Bill White, is pro-business in the way that Democrats, when trying to "reach out" center-ward, are called pro-business. He's far from the worst thing the party could be offering. Yet this isn't shaping up as a Democratic year in Texas or anywhere else. It's hard to see the bald, earnest White competing successfully with an exuberant big-government basher like Perry -- who, besides, has 10 times as much hair.
What's our takeaway from the Texas race? It's watch out, Nancy; watch out, Barack. The folks are showing once more how unhappy they are with the state of things, with health care likely at the top of the list. For high-minded, soporific politicking this isn't the year in Texas. And if I may be allowed a low-minded sentiment concerning that state of affairs: Yippeee!