When people ask me where I'm from -- a common question for anyone in Washington, D.C. -- my standard response is that I am a prodigal Texan. What, you might ask, do I mean by that?
I mean that I will always, to one degree or another, be a Texan. It's in there deep in the DNA and in the emotions. However, I have never understood the concept that Texas is the greatest place on earth and that it is paradise to live on a slab of concrete that has two seasons -- burnt and mud. Now, does this attitude of mine have something to do with me being from Port Arthur, which has to be one of the ugliest places on earth (please turn up Janis Joplin singing "Ego Rock" on her live album)? Sure thing. Are there nicer places in Texas? I will admit that, but I've never heard the siren call of Austin.
Which brings me to the point.
Right now, Rick Perry's desire to seize control of the White House seems to have lots of national journalists sorta nervous. I mean, they might have to go back DOWN THERE to YOU KNOW WHERE. Thus, a few journalists in the great state have started writing articles to help foreigners do a better job of getting Texas. Here is a key piece of the "Dear Yankee" piece in the progressive pages of Texas Monthly, a guide for journalists who are about to fly down to Austin (as opposed to the really unwashed parts of the state, like College Station):
I am writing you this note in the hope that it will help you avoid the political and sociological clichés that Texas is subjected to every time one of our politicians seeks the national stage.
It’s an experience we’re all too familiar with. A Texan has occupied the White House in 17 of the past 48 years—just over a third of the time. Texas has become an incubator for presidents, as Virginia and Ohio were in America’s distant past. I’ll grant you that the presidents we have sent to Washington, from LBJ to George W. Bush, have not always served as the best advertisements for Texas. Nevertheless, we have endured a disproportionate amount of bad writing about our state from journalists who don’t know very much about the place, and I for one can’t bear to suffer through another campaign of it.
At that point, the article suddenly morphs into a reporter's guide to Perry, as opposed to some guidelines to help reporters wrestle with TEXAS itself. So we get, "Perry is not George Bush," "It's not a big deal that Perry was once a Democrat," "Perry is cannier than you think," etc., etc. There's notes about the governor being an Aggie, about his hair, about small town life and other things, but something important is missing.
In fact, a subject is missing that is at the heart of quite a bit of the messed up Texas coverage I have seen down through the decades since I crossed the border headed north.
What's missing? Try to guess, or just read through the Texas Monthly list for yourself.
Once you're done with that, you can read through the similar list in the "Advice to Yankee media coming to Texas" article in the Houston Chronicle. It starts like this:
Welcome back to Texas! We almost missed you the past couple of years. But you seem to have suffered amnesia. In eight years in Crawford, did you learn nothing, or did you just forget? Yesterday, I heard a national TV guy say “Plano” as if it rhymed with “guano.” Another national guy called our governor “too big for his britches” and expressed irritation with men who wear boots and formal wear. ... So let me help you out.
1. Lose the folksy talk. You don’t do it well.
2. Yes, they really do wear the hats and boots. Not all the time and not ironically. Deal with it. ...
Once again, a big subject is missing from the list -- the same big subject, in fact.
The closest that Kyrie O'Connor, the paper's deputy managing editor for features, gets to religion or morality is in this rather snarky lol item in the middle of the list:
If you spend any time on our highways, you will see a vehicle with a bumper sticker that says “Secede.” Shocking, I know. But some Texans think of secession the way you think of a three-way: Interesting idea, but it probably won’t happen in this lifetime.
My fellow journalists from outside the Texas borders, let be shoot straight with you. If you're headed to Texas to cover politics or anything else you had better get up to speed on religion. Religion is a big deal in Texas, a really big deal. It's been known to influence how millions and millions of Texans think and how they act -- even if they are backsliders whose main goal in life is to avoid acting like holy rollers or church ladies. Ask the editors of the Dallas Morning News if religion matters in Dallas and in the city's suburbs.
So, Texans who read GetReligion! Help me out. What should the urbanites at Texas Monthly and the Houston Chronicle have included in their lists to warn Yankee reporters about religion, Texas style?
Keep those comments focused and clean, folks.
VIDEO: A previous blue-zip-code attempt to explain Texas. No, the joke at the beginning about the true story of how God created Texas does not appear to be on YouTube, alas.