Democratic Underground  

Texas Tea Party
May 24, 2003
By William Harris

Texas columnist Jackson Thoreau recently compared the legislative boycott of the 58 Texas Democrats known as the "Killer D's" to the Boston Tea Party. Whether the Dems took their tea hot with cucumber sandwiches at 5 O'Clock in the afternoon remains to be seen--but if Thoreau was referring to the famous act of civil disobedience by the Sons of Liberty, I think he's on to something.

Now, I have never associated Texas with tea. As a native New Englander who lived for years in Texas, I never could get used to the horrible things Texans do to tea like serving it sweet over ice. In fact, I once ordered hot tea at a cafeteria in Houston. The waitress dumped the ice out and served the beverage lukewarm in a glass tumbler while eyeing me with great suspicion. Honestly, if I think of Texas and tea in the same thought at all, I think of what all self-respecting Southern gay men do on Sunday after brunch: they go to a "tea dance," which means nothing more than having strong cocktails in a gay bar beginning precisely at one minute past noon. What they may do in a "tea room" after the cocktails is strictly a matter of individual conscience.

Texas, however, has a long history of civil disobedience in the face of tyranny. For anyone who has had the privilege of attending the seventh grade in one of Texas' outstanding public schools which "leave no child behind" (I, alas, did not), the gripping story of how rich Anglo plantation owners drove the Mexican occupiers back across the Rio Grande and won the right to own slaves is an unforgettable and stirring drama. If they could beat Santa Anna (which they eventually did, I am told, though not at the Alamo), what's a few pesky neo-conservative Republicans controlled directly by Karl Rove's office via Tom DeLay? Texans, after all, believe in States' Rights. Just ask your local Conservative Citizens' Council. You remember them--they used to be called "White Citizens' Councils."

In all seriousness, what those 58 Democrats did in response to a blatantly extralegal attempt by the White House to gerrymander political districts was in line with the brave spirit of the Boston Tea Party. While bearing the slings and arrows of particularly vicious anti-Democrat radio and television ads, the issuance of arrest warrants and the shameful attempt by the Texas Republican leadership to enlist the aid of Federal authorities in the drive to round up the Dems and return them to Texas, these brave Democratic legislators remained out of state and successfully killed a bad bill. Our Democratic friends in Washington should take not of this. After all, for all intents and purposes Texas politics is now national politics.

Perhaps the greatest success of these "Great 58" was in forcing Texas and the nation to focus on other Texas Republican initiatives while they were preventing a quorum in the legislature. Some of these progressive and compassionate Republican ideas included the redistribution of public aid moneys for the neediest of Texans to a bovine genome project at Texas A&M University; cutting funding for medication for paroled, mentally ill prisoners; a bill which would outlaw the display of pubic hair in Texas strip joints; and, the exemption of gays and lesbians from the Texas hate crimes bill. (As an aside, I agree that titty dancers really should shave their underarms and bikini lines, but probably not for the reason Texas Republicans think they should.) Thinking quickly, the Republicans saw to it that--like George W. Bush's military records--the records of their request for aid from the Department of Homeland Security disappeared. In my opinion, this was a terrible blunder as it detracted from the focus on their "family friendly" legislative agenda.

Just as the Boston Tea Party forced George III to show his real colors, the Texas Tea Party will force George II and his lackeys in Texas to show theirs. While the Sons of Liberty dumped tea disguised as Native Americans, the Texas Dems--disguised simply as human beings--dumped the lies and deceptions which ultimately reek forth from the Washington skull with a tongue in it. A politician's pate, indeed!

Next time we go to Texas tea, let's raise a glass to the Texas Tea Party and the beginning of the end of this shameful neo-conservative poppycock--both in Texas and in Washington.

William Harris is a composer, musician and writer living in Boston, Massachusetts.

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