Mess With Texas

 American history  Comments Off on Mess With Texas
Nov 192012
Hands down, the best political ad of the 2012 election season was Oklahoma 2nd Congressional District candidate Rob Wallace’s, featuring a very thinly veiled threat of armed combat with the State of Texas over water rights.  As Wallace says, some things in life just aren’t negotiable – and enabling thirsty Texans, turning their Lone Star wastelands into tourist-attracting fountains and making that craptastic beer possible is where you have to draw the line.  In case you didn’t get the point, at the end Wallace pulls out his trusty rifle and takes aim at a water jug with a picture of the Buffer State on it.  Take that, Oops Perry!

Those filibusteros are always trying to steal shit.  They stole their damn state from the Spanish, and again from the Mexicans.  Then, there was that time they tried to take over our bridge.  Maybe they just always assume they’ll get their way, but, in the latter case, Governor Alfalfa Bill Murray gave them a lesson in state sovereignty, Oklahoma-style.

Back in the days when our government really was small and didn’t even provide basic infrastructure, geography impeded easy commerce between Texas and Oklahoma.  The Red River divided us, and our conjugation depended on flow and ferries.  Demand dictated the more convenient bridge, and over time an ad hoc supply developed at the hands of a few enterprising local entrepreneurs.  They built bridges in several places across the river and then charged tolls of users to cross them.  Grateful states granted them permits to operate in the public interest.

When the Great Depression hit some years later, putting angry young men with too much time on their hands to work in remote locations seemed wise.  They called it a stimulus and sent them off to build dams and parks and roads very far away from banks and Chambers of Commerce offices.  Luckily, this surplus of labor coincided with the spread of a new belief that the government ought to do something for you – or rather for businesses.  It became the state’s job to foster business development by providing roads and bridges, and suddenly they had just the unemployed workers to do it.

The State of Oklahoma partnered with that self-important republic to the south to build a bridge across the Red River between Denison and Durant (on highway 75), and it would operate without a toll when it opened in July, 1931.  The free ride was a result of the growing public conviction that transportation should be a not-for-profit benefit from the state and a requirement for taking federal money for the project.  The point was to facilitate commerce, not fund Austin and Oklahoma City.

When the completion date neared, the Red River Bridge Company of Texas, which owned the existing toll bridge nearby, ran to the federal district court in Houston and got an injunction to prevent the free-way from opening.  It seems that in order to deter political opposition there the Texas Highway Commission had promised to buy out the bridge company – since the new free span would drive it out of business – but it hadn’t actually done so.  The federal court ordered Texas not to open the bridge until the matter could be heard, and state employees put up barricades to comply in the meantime.

Only, they didn’t know who they were messing with.  Reformed Texan, outspoken white-supremacist, and country lawyer, Alfalfa Bill Murray wasn’t going to take that nonsense.  He was a militant with a penchant for declaring martial law to keep order and to monitor sales of OU football game tickets.  Of course he wasn’t going to take some court order lying down.

Based on his legal expertise, Murray concluded that treaties pertaining to the Louisiana Purchase actually granted the State of Oklahoma the territory up to the south bank of the Red River, so the bridge was technically in our state and under Alfalfa Bill’s control.  Further, he determined that though the bridge was a joint project, the shares ran north and south.  Texas might not be able to operate its side because of the federal injunction, but Oklahoma wasn’t bound by that (even when the federal court in Muskogee issued an injunction against us too).  Highway crews from our state marched right across the bridge and tore down the barricades.  Governor Sterling of Texas had them rebuilt and sent some Rangers to stand guard.

In response, Ol’ Alfalfa Bill went inexplicably Amazonian on him:  bizarrely suggesting that an “army” of women from Oklahoma and Texas rise up and occupy the bridge – for a quilting bee, of course – and he assured that his men would be glad to open the way for them, out of chivalry.  Sterling issued a statement huffing and puffing about law and order and Texas’ profound respect for womanhood and its support for opening the bridge, if only the court would allow it.  Murray cut to the chase.  He declared martial law, and the papers called it a “bridge war.”  The governor personally led the troops, stationed on the northern side of the “war zone,” in his signature white suit, with his outdated revolver in hand.  Of course, those chicken-shit Rangers backed down when facing the mustachioed old man and his antique firearm.  Oklahoma guardsmen crossed the bridge and Texans fretted about the “invasion.”  The Texas legislature, meanwhile, called a special session to approve a bill to let the Red River Bridge Company sue the state for its promised funds.  The toll bridge operators would get their money, and in August, Murray recalled the troops – he needed them to enforce the martial law he had then declared in the Oklahoma oil fields – but not before the story made TIME and Life magazines.

Funny thing is, the old man was right about the border.  He may have been a crazy fascist, but he was a good lawyer.  He was an expert on the territorial dispute – and outrageous enough in his actions to attract press from across the country to it.  Later, Alfalfa Bill tried to ride that national notoriety into the White House, but he couldn’t woo delegates from other states.  Maybe that’s because one of his plans to cut spending was to offer pardons to prisoners who would move out of state.  You know some of them went to Texas.

 Posted by at 9:58 pm

Founding Pessimism — Part II

 American history  Comments Off on Founding Pessimism — Part II
Nov 042012

We Hate The Governed


Halloween has past, and that means the Christmas shopping season has begun here in the States.  As is usual, Thanksgiving is mostly overlooked in anticipation of the most significant commercial activity of our year.  Christmas music pipes through the malls now, holiday decor already sits out, and the war on Christmas 2012 has surely begun.  This means the traditional kvetching of evangelical pastors is near at hand as well.  Cue their endless efforts to reframe Christmas as a Christian holiday.  God love them, they fight the good fight — but in the US, Christianity is a false cover for the worship of Mammon.

Mammonism is the basis of our civics and culture.  As outlined in our Constitution, the main purpose of our federal government is to promote and protect our economy.  The heart of our political system is commerce;  the economics and the politics are inseparable.  This is the source of our dollar diplomacy and the justification to stand our ground.  It’s no wonder the Supreme Court has determined that corporations are people in our country, because personhood here means “property owner.”  Our Founders were influenced by John Locke’s political theory, in which property was fundamental and ownership a natural right.  Commercial activity rather than the Soul defines the political being then.  True citizenship comes with the standing to make a binding contract.  When you can sign for a loan, they let you vote.  We aren’t the citizenry; we’re the “private sector.”

When Alexander Hamilton was drafting his plan to create a financial program for this country (one that privileged the elite investor class), this view of citizen-contractors infused it.  Hamilton recognized that the key to creating wealth was spurring labor.  It was essential to get Staters to produce for the market in order to develop manufacturing and commerce (and to provide investment opportunities for those “best men” and financiers).  Self-sufficiency led only to sufficiency.  Excess — profit — required more.  Hamilton’s concern, then, was to encourage citizens to engage in market activity, and against that action stood anti-materialism, laziness, and the ideal of the proud independent yeoman.  The anti-Federalists had insisted on checking the government’s power over the people, so how could Hamilton and his cronies compel them to pursue commerce?  Perhaps Congress’ most fundamental and unquestioned power was to tax, and therein lay the answer.

Taxes would drive production by necessity.  Citizens would have to obtain some means to pay their taxes — bartering, which worked within their local communities, would not suffice to meet this burden.  (Gone were the feudal and post-feudal European practices of paying one’s lord in kind; accordingly, the merchant became the essential third party who offered credit and converted goods to coin for the Treasury.)  Staters would have to engage in some commerce to pay their obligations, and the greater the liability, the more they would need to produce to earn the means to pay.  Further, Hamilton counted on natural greed to compel market activity.  When one was inclined to a certain standard of living and the government reduced one’s take through taxation, only additional production would return one to the level desired.  Rather than punishing one for hard work, taxation here drives it.  Hence, Hamilton advocated funding the national debt — or working out a perpetual payment system on federal obligations so that interest payments were met but the principle was never paid in full.  Thus, there would always be an obligation requiring taxation and a burden that forced market activity on the citizenry.  Continued debt and productivity would create wealth for the state and for the investor class obtaining the profits.

Clearly, this view of the people was neither noble nor generous.  It relied on the worst of human beings — greed — to overcome the other vices of laziness and pride.  The system was built to pit immorality against iniquity.  In no sense did the ideology rely on the goodness of humankind or attempt to leverage good against evil or encourage  righteousness.  In this way, the anti-Federalists’ hatred of government was matched by the Federalists/pre-capitalists’ disdain for the people — only the small government forces meant to apply the rein, while the statists wanted the whip.  Between the two parties, there was loathing for both the members of our confederacy and the mechanism of that body politic.  It would seem, then, that the pessimism of our Founders drove them to create this great commercial system, this imperial market, this model of plenty.  Had they any goodwill toward humankind, it might all be different, and we might have escaped the service of Mammon.

“They spend their days in prosperity, then go down to hell in peace.” — Job 21:13


 Posted by at 12:40 pm