Beltane Mountain Moon
It was a beautiful day in the neighborhood yesterday. When Colorado throws out low humidity days, bright blue skies and warmth, not heat, the desire to play hooky from whatever it is your doing, even if it’s retirement, is strong. On these days Black Mountain is a tall, lodgepole covered green mass outlined against the blue, a few wispy cirrus clouds far above even it’s 10,000 feet peak.
I’ve been reading a book by Lawrence Wright, God Save Texas. Wright is a writer for the New Yorker, a Pulitzer prize winner for his book, The Looming Tower, and a resident of Austin since 1980. His reporting, at least about Texas, has a wry sense of humor, expressing his obvious affection for the state without losing sight of its many quirks. I especially appreciated two points he made, the first about Texas culture and the second about Lyndon Johnson.
In talking about the distinctive Tex-mex culture that underlies current Texas life, country-western music, big belt buckles, Mexican influenced food, German architecture and antebellum south architectural influences, and the six-flags over Texas history of the Lone Star state, he posits 3 levels of culture. Tex-mex is level 1, the ur-Texas. Level 2 was the invasion of corporate capitalism, homogenized skyscrapers, symphonies, art museums, theaters, shopping malls. Level 2 was an attempt to become more mature, more European, more east coast driven by immigrants chasing oil money. Level 3, happening now, is a return to level 1 while retaining the positive aspects of level 2.
It reminded me, the reason I liked it, of Paul Ricoeur’s notion of second naiveté in which a scholar of religion first distances him or her self from his faith as a result of academic work, then returns to the texts after that distancing with a second naiveté, an embrace of the former belief now informed by reasoned analysis. The result, in both cases, is something new, neither level 1 nor level 2, but an amalgam.
The second point was one about Lyndon Johnson. Wright, who was born in August of 1947, and I share some history as opponents of the Vietnam War and excoriator’s of LBJ. In fact, I remembered while reading this part of God Save Texas that the Hey, hey NRA, how many kids have you killed today chant has its roots in one we used against LBJ Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids have you today? Wright says he wishes we’d been gentler on LBJ. Me, too.
Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR and LBJ would be my top five Presidents, no particular order. Yes, Teddy Roosevelt and maybe Eisenhower are in a close second tier. I disagree with historians who rank Truman and Reagan above LBJ. And JFK is overblown. LBJ gave a damn about those in the U.S. who had less. In a commencement speech at the University of Michigan on May 22nd, 1964, he “… called on the nation to move not only toward “the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society,” which he defined as one that would “end poverty and racial injustice.” Miller Center, UVA
He made real progress toward those goals.* In his legislative accomplishments LBJ recognized that we are not a nation of individuals only, but a community, one in which the privileged, whether by birth, race or wealth, share with those lives were not privileged: people of color, seniors, the disabled among them. Since Reagan the attacks on this vision of the U.S. have come hard and fast, until now that sense of common ground has all but eroded into a grim, mean, racist society. We are poorer, literally and spiritually, for it.
*“There were environmental protection laws, landmark land conservation measures, the profoundly influential Immigration Act, bills establishing a National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, a Highway Safety Act, the Public Broadcasting Act, and a bill to provide consumers with some protection against shoddy goods and dangerous products.
To address issues of inequality in education, vast amounts of money were poured into colleges to fund certain students and projects and into federal aid for elementary and secondary education, especially to provide remedial services for poorer districts, a program that no President had been able to pass because of the disputes over aid to parochial schools.” Miller Center, op cit