Rick Casey laments Kay Bailey Hutchison’s decision to sit out the Governor’s race next year.
Kay Bailey Hutchison had an opportunity to destroy a myth that is crippling Texas.
It is the myth that the only way to win the Republican primary — and therefore to win any statewide office and many regional ones — is to appeal to social conservatives and starve-the-government ideologues.
Hutchison had a chance to show something only a candidate with her profile and credibility, and not least of all her budget, could show: that given a credible choice, a Republican could win a Texas primary by appealing to moderates.
Let’s talk about myths for a minute, shall we? There’s a much bigger myth here, and it’s staring Rick Casey right in the face, but he doesn’t see it. The myth I’m referring to is the myth of Kay Bailey Hutchison’s moderation.
There are a number of definitions of “moderate” these days that the media likes to use. Bipartisanship, dealmaking (witness the slobbering lovefest that was visited on the Senators who brokered the anti-nuclear option deal), publicly rebuking one’s own party on this issue or that, voting against one’s party on this or that controversial and high-profile bill – doing any or all of those things will usually get you the sometimes-coveted label of “moderate”. Can anyone think of a single example, especially in the last four years, of KBH doing any of these things? She’s never said a cross word about Gitmo or Abu Ghraib, she was perfectly willing to go nuclear on filibustering, I can’t think of any nontrivial legislation she’s cosponsored with a Democrat, and as far as I know she’s never once voted against George W. Bush’s wishes. Correct me if I’m wrong here – maybe she’s just so demure and well-mannered that I’ve never noticed when she’s misbehaved. All I’m saying is that all the evidence I can see indicates she’s a good, disciplined, down-the-line Republican, and by any reasonable measure these days that makes her what we now call a “conservative”.
I say there’s two reasons why KBH has been given the “moderate” label: She’s not a rhetorical bomb-thrower, and she didn’t have to campaign for her re-election in 2000. On the first point, her generally quiet style stands in contrast to the gloryhound Phil Gramm, the obnoxious John Cornyn, and the ever-pandering to the base Rick Perry. If that’s all it takes to be a “moderate” these days, then the term truly has no meaning. And even when KBH shows her true colors, such as when her office said she agrees with Karl Rove’s recent statement about liberals and 9/11, nobody in the Texas media picks up on it. (Hey, Rick! There’s a column for you!) And since she had no real opposition in 2000, she never had to run any attack ads. What little presence she had on TV back then was mostly gauzy soft-focus stuff with messages like “Kay Bailey’s your buddy. You like her, don’t you? Sure you do.”
My point is that nobody’s really seen her act like a partisan politician. That doesn’t mean that she isn’t one. It’s instructive to compare how the media treats her with how they treat Comptroller Strayhorn, who’s as big a gloryhound as Phil Gramm ever was but who has been advocating some actual moderate ideas. The difference is mostly Strayhorn’s fault, what with all that “tough grandma” nonsense, but it shows again that it’s all about style and perception. What you actually do, and what you say you stand for, doesn’t much matter.
Now I admit I’m being a little unfair to Casey. He doesn’t say that KBH is a moderate, he simply says that she has appeal to moderates. Which is certainly true, and it’s true for the reasons I’ve given. You have to give KBH credit for being able to say one thing and do another without getting called on it – that’s certainly been the secret of George W. Bush’s success. I have many hopes for 2006, and among them is the wish that Barbara Radnofsky‘s campaign will at least help alter the public’s perception of KBH. It’s well past time that reality caught up with her.