Skip to main content

You Can Lead a Politician to Water, But You Can't Make Him Think: Ten Commandments for Texas Politics

Review

You Can Lead a Politician to Water, But You Can't Make Him Think: Ten Commandments for Texas Politics

It
is the American myth that any boy, now girl, can grow up to become
President of the United States. It would stand to reason that the
same rule applies to Texas. So why couldn’t a politically
incorrect Jewish country music singer and fiction author toss what
he calls his “ten gallon yarmulke” into the ring and
become governor of Texas?

“Why the hell not?” became the slogan of Kinky Friedman
as he waged his way, way uphill, independent run for the Texas
governorship in 2006. YOU CAN LEAD A POLITICIAN TO WATER, BUT YOU
CAN'T MAKE HIM THINK is Kinky’s chronicle of that campaign.
And in the true Kinky way, it is laugh-out-loud funny.

Politics makes strange bedfellows and all that, but 2006 was a
strange year even by American standards. Nationwide, the Democratic
Party swept into control of Congress on a pledge to end the war. We
see how well that worked out. And Kinky sensed the winds of change
blowing in the Texas Hill country. Perhaps he could unseat Rick
Perry, George W. Bush’s successor, in the governor’s
mansion.

His model was Minnesota, which several years back elected as
governor a former wrestler, and California, which elected a former
body builder turned actor governor in 2003. Both well-built men
waged insurgent campaigns against entrenched professional
politicians. Although, as Kinky points out, Jesse Ventura
“didn’t realize that wrestling is real and politics is
fixed.”

An independent candidate had not even gotten on the ballot in Texas
in 154 years. But this did not deter the Kinkster.

After all, Friedman writes, Texas “has a tradition of singing
governors. I thought back to Pappy O’Daniel’s
successful race for that esteemed office in the 1940’s. He
had a band called the Light Crust Doughboys. I had a band called
the Texas Jewboys. His slogan was ‘Pass the biscuits,
Pappy.’ One of my most popular songs is ‘Get Your
Biscuits in the Oven (And Your Buns in the Bed).’ The
parallels are uncanny.”

Indeed. But, still, the odds against Kinky were steep. Then
something interesting happened. Friedman went around the state
declaring that he was a “dealer of hope” and fighter
for the “Alamo of the Mind.”

He launched a populist campaign and railed against the corruption
of the two-party system. And people started paying attention. The
62-year-old king of the one-liners --- “too young for
Medicare and too old for women to care” --- was delivering a
dead serious message about America in 2006.

“Because now, as politics as usual rolls across America like
a noxious vapor,” Kinky writes, “I’m no longer
sure it matters whether the Democrats or Republicans run the
country. It’s just a different swarm of locust moving into
Washington. In the words of the Reverend Goat Carson, ‘The
Republicans and the Democrats have become the same guy admiring
himself in the mirror.’”

He decried a system where Texas was 46th in the nation in kids
going to college, second in people going to bed hungry, first in
executions and now imported energy. Yet the section of the state
legislature reserved for lobbyists is called by some “the
owner’s box.”

His message resonated with the larger truth. As Bill Moyers pointed
out a few years ago, there are now 34,785 registered lobbyists in
Washington, D.C. spending $200 million a month to influence
legislation. In the U.S. Congress there are 65 lobbyists for every
member of Congress. Talk about the owner’s box!

Kinky was able to put together a campaign where everybody on his
staff “seemed to be either a hairdresser or bass
player.” They were able to raise $5 million, enough to get
him on the ballot --- a feat that took the notarized signatures of
170,258 people --- but not enough to buy crucial TV ads for the
general campaign.

And although he received half a million votes, that was not enough
to win the election. Indeed, only 28% of the populace voted, down
1% from the previous statewide election. For insurgents to have any
chance of winning, turnout has to be huge. Ventura’s race had
a turnout of 62%.

YOU CAN LEAD A POLITICIAN TO WATER, BUT YOU CAN'T MAKE HIM THINK
reminded me of the work of the late, great gonzo journalist, Hunter
S. Thompson. Like Thompson, Kinky uses sometimes outrageous humor
to convey the scary, deeper truth. For example, the politically
incorrect Kinkster was bound to have trouble with the media for
many things, such as his habit of consuming 8-10 Cuban cigars a
day. So he took to not lighting them.

Kinky recalls, “This of course caused people to constantly
come up to me and ask, ‘Do you ever smoke that thing?’
or ‘Is that thing lit?’ To the latter question I would
often respond, ‘Which thing are you referring to?’
which was, of course, a veiled reference to my penis. This
response, I suspect, may have cost me some votes in the
suburbs.”

His deeper message comes through a few pages later when he writes,
“The media are essentially lazy and it is much easier to
resort to ‘Got ya!’ journalism than it is to speak up
for the truth.”

Amen!

Another author with a wonderful wit also waged a failed independent
campaign for governor in 2006. Malachy McCourt ran for governor of
New York on the Green Party ticket. Their accents might be
different, but the message was basically the same: something has
gone terribly wrong with the American Dream when politics is so far
removed from the people that the people can vote for one thing and
the politicians give them something else.

Kinky Friedman is sending America a warning in this book. Message
delivered, he can now fire up that cigar.

Reviewed by Tom Callahan on January 24, 2011

You Can Lead a Politician to Water, But You Can't Make Him Think: Ten Commandments for Texas Politics
by Kinky Friedman

  • Publication Date: October 2, 2007
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 1416547606
  • ISBN-13: 9781416547600