I’ve lost count of the people who have asked me why I haven’t written about the Democratic primary race for Governor. It’s understandable that they’d ask – it seems like there’s been at least one potential Farouk Shami punch line per day lately. After all, we mostly do punch lines here at Letters From Texas Worldwide Headquarters.
One week he played the race card four times, by my count. Last week during a TV interview, the fact that he expressed doubt about the Warren Commission’s investigation of the assassination of JFK barely ranked the third most wacky thing he said during that one interview alone.
I’ve been quoted in the mainstream media about the race repeatedly, but the reason I haven’t written about it here is because, frankly, it doesn’t matter, and will all just be a semi-interesting footnote soon. I’ve never called a reporter about this race – they’ve only called me. I guess they have to fill up the space in between the ads with something, and you can’t have a horse race unless you have more than one horse.
Farouk Shami, by all accounts a very intelligent, successful, and earnest person, is a man who started out with no electoral viability, and who will possibly end up with little political credibility. To the former, the preconceived notions and electoral preferences of Texas voters are to blame. To the latter, the guy to see about that problem is the candidate himself. Neither is a very good outcome for a guy who seems to want to help and cares about the world beyond his factory gates. We should get such a good deal from all business people.
I got a call from a reporter the other day, basically asking me why nobody cares. The short answer is that nobody cares because it just doesn’t matter – Bill White will be the nominee, and Bill White will go forward and present the first Democratic serious threat to Republicans in a Texas Governor’s race in 20 years. And that is what people are, correctly, focused on. The rest of this is background noise.
Still, the race does bring up some interesting questions, which if voters, and the reporters covering politics, had time and opportunity to be a bit introspective, would be well-served asking themselves.
When asked, I’ve said from the start that Farouk Shami started out a non-viable statewide candidate. I’ve always added that it’s too bad we don’t live in a place, and a time, where somebody of his background could be viable. I think most would agree with me, although one hapless Democratic County Chair in East Texas got called “racist” for saying it out loud. It’s not racist if you merely point out what you think voters perceive, especially when most would agree with the perception. But it is frankly a shame that Shami started out as a non-viable candidate by virtue of Texans’ issues with race, ethnicity, and culture. It would be one good outcome if as a result of this, Texans at least spent a few moments wondering how many talented people they may be slamming doors on - in business, in personal lives, and in public lives, based on those issues.
But now, Shami is additionally non-viable based on things he has said since becoming a candidate, as opposed to his original challenges not of his making. But reporters are still covering him – they always cover the guys with the big money. But it’s interesting how they’ve covering him now. Now they’re asking him questions just to see if they can get him to say something else wacky, in addition to the other questions they’d ask any candidate they’re writing a story about. If it’s because news organizations have discovered that the side-show creates more interest than the main act, fair enough. After all, the National Enquirer has been making a healthy living for a long time.
Texas voters can’t really be blamed for their preconceived notions – this is a democracy, and as such, the voters are the bosses, and voters generally end up with the government, good or bad, they deserve and asked for. And those voters are also the news consumers reading the stories that reporters are writing, so the reporters can’t really be blamed for giving the customers what they want.
I can wish Texas voters weren’t so conservative, and Shami can wish voters were more open to diversity, but the fact remains that voters can cast judgment based on any criteria they choose, and as believers in democracy, it’s our responsibility, admittedly at times challenging, to be at peace with that. Our failure to do so would make us no better than those who want to secede, just because the National election didn’t go their way.
But still, as much as Shami has obscured the situation with many recent odd public utterances, at the heart of this are a few troubling truths, which we would all be well-served thinking about.
– why is a foreign-born guy with an accent automatically non-viable to Texas voters? Is that really fair, before that candidate has ever had a conversation with those voters about what he wants to do for them? Isn’t this consideration going to seem utterly absurd to our great-grandchildren 100 years from now as they make their own electoral choices based on entirely different criteria?
– why, once it’s obvious that a candidate isn’t viable, do reporters continue to cover such a candidate, just because he’s spending a lot of money in the race?
–there are several other candidates also running for Governor. They’re probably somewhere right now, saying fewer wacky things than the guy with the money is saying. We don’t know that though, because they’re not being covered. Why are they less newsworthy than the guy who is equally non-viable, but who has lots of money?
and finally, one more question worth asking:
–are newspaper editorial writers going to remember this situation, with even a slight twinge of doubt, the next time they write the big editorial about how there’s too much money in politics, when they themselves played into the system which makes that money so decidedly crucial?
Things to ponder indeed. And now that I’ve written about the Democratic race for Governor, thanks in advance for getting off my back.