TCS Daily


Crawford, Authenticity-Envy, and the Newest Politics of Class

By Hugh Hewitt - August 22, 2001 12:00 AM

My guest was Bill Sammon, White House reporter for the Washington Times and author of the best-selling book on last year's Florida fiasco, "At Any Cost: How Al Gore Tried to Steal the Election." Most Friday mornings my guests are Fox News Network's The Beltway Boys, Fred Barnes and Morton Kondracke, but Morton was on a plane and Fred was on vacation. Bill was filling in at Fox for Fred so he pinch hit for my radio show as well. I asked Bill how the White House press corps was doing down Crawford way, and the reply was straightforward and not very surprising: They hate it. "People ask each other 'How long are you in for?'" answered Sammon. "They treat it like jail."

Of course, a month in the Waco Hilton wouldn't go over well with anyone, especially not compared with Martha's Vineyard or other famous Clinton vacation haunts. Still, most of the accounts are trying to be fair to the environs. James Gerstenzang filed a local color piece for the Los Angeles Times on Monday that actually made Waco and nearby Crawford sound interesting, and he paid homage to the lightning storms and local hospitality. There was, however, one troubling line in the article, though it is innocent enough on its face: "Crawford is the town closest to the 1,600-acre ranch Bush bought near the end of his term as Texas' governor."

A little detail you may not have known, that. Bush bought the ranch near the end of his term, which means near the start of his presidency. Where's that line of inquiry going? Ryan Lizza, White House Watch columnist for the New Republic spelled it out for us in this week's magazine:

"By showcasing the Crawford ranch, the Bush spinmeisters hope to show that Bush had a life, an identity, and a home before he entered the White House. But the third point, at least, is certainly untrue. The Crawford ranch does not precede Bush's life on the national stage; it is a product of it. When Bush was just governor of Texas, he didn't have the ranch -- it was bought two years ago, with his presidential campaign at full steam. Before then, he lived in the governor's mansion and spent vacations at a home he owned at a members-only lakeside retreat in East Texas called the Rainbo Club, which caters to the Dallas elite. His other holiday destinations were the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, which did so much to identify his father as an aloof preppy, and the Gasparilla Inn, a luxurious Florida hideaway owned by an heir to the DuPonts where the Bush family went after the Florida recount. As one Texas newspaper noted back when Bush purchased his ranch, Mr. Bush has no roots in the area. But after seven trips there as president, Bush has most of the national press convinced that he was practically born and bred in Crawford. It's a great feat."

There, straight from the headquarters of the Gore speech shop in exile, we have our answer: A full-blown case of authenticity-envy has infected the Gore-leaning commentariat. What Sammon described was a contempt of place. What Gerstenzang noted and what Lizza gave full throat to is much more purposeful than the "Damn, it's hot here" griping of a press corps that is, after all, quite used to Washington, D.C., humidity. The anti-Bush folks in the White House Press Room have spotted a disturbing trend -- the Ranch is "working" with the American people -- and a counterattack has begun. What Lizza spells out is a new theory of Crawford: The semiotics of the place are all a big fraud -- check the date of the deed.

A reader should be on notice of Lizza's intentions with the cold drip of venom in the studied use of the "at least" in the paragraph quoted above. Mr. Lizza is no neutral, not when he casually proposes the reasonability of the proposition that Bush did not have a life or an identity prior to the White House. With that antagonism in mind, the careful reader has to wonder, why does Lizza care to launch the assault on Bush's Crawford credentials? Its a silly argument, of course, that a President's home isn't his home unless he's lived there long enough to satisfy the editors of the New Republic. The clues to motive are in the substitute Bush "homes" that Lizza offers up: Kennebunkport, Rainbo, and the Gasparilla Inn. Just in case you missed it, Lizza brings the sledgehammer down with the use of "luxurious," "aloof preppy," and best of all, "DuPonts." Now it becomes clear. Lizza and his colleagues (and Gore and the Dems) have figured out that this Ranch thing is pretty powerful stuff in the nation's living rooms. And they are right. Here's why.

Anyone who has driven across this country, and especially anyone who spends a lot of time on the road in the West, knows that Crawford looks a whole lot like Riverside, and Gallup, and Spokane and long stretches of other interstates that crisscross the states west of the Mississippi. And those folks in Crawford -- that waitress, the truckers, the farmers, and the general store lady -- they look a lot like the folks up there in Upland, Bakersfield, and even like those quarter slots players in Vegas. Crawford is sure as hell not Malibu, Seattle, or Jackson Hole. And there you have it. Bush has played the class card against the Dems and their friends in the elite media. They are stunned. They are angry. And they are asking the judges to check the papers.

For as long as anyone still voting can remember, the Dems have owned the class card in this country. Sometimes they forget to play it, as when war overwhelmed McGovern and race and war hobbled Humphrey. Sometimes it doesn't work well, as when Dukakis blew his bid against George the First, or at all, as with Reagan. But whether played well or poorly, its always been their card. It has simply never, never been played against them. But that's what is happening as the days of summer roll on in Crawford. President Bush doesn't much go for those fancy folks in Hollywood, or those sleek yacht owners at the Vineyard, or even those high-tech geeks of Silicon Valley. He and the First Lady like it in Crawford, which means they would like it in the Antelope Valley, in Imperial County, or on the west slope of the Rockies or the east slope of the Sierras.

Its refreshing to be admired and valued by your elected leader. Sure, he's said it over and over for a long time. But you take one look at Crawford, and now you know he means it. Democrats are waking up to the fact that folks have concluded that the President does indeed mean it. And that spells trouble. Time to send in the first wave. The mission: Put Bush back on the shelf with the really, really wealthy people that go places truckers aren't allowed to go. To get him back to Kennebunkport, though, is going to take a little work. First things first: They must destroy the myth of Crawford. To destroy the myth, they have to create the myth. So lets check those deeds, shall we?



Hugh Hewitt's nationally syndicated radio show airs live throughout the West during the morning commute. He can be reached via his website at HughHewitt.com
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