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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Little Brother

Four years ago I wrote this story for a contest that challenged writers to come up with a tale about the newly elected president.  The winning story was terrific, an interior monologue the President had while smoking a cigarette bummed from a Secret Service Agent. I dug up this story after watching a night full of great speeches given by women at the DNC. Such amazing diversity--and I don't mean  ethnicity and race and creed. Sister Simone Campbell and Cecile Richards. (I remember Governor Ann Richards and think she would be very proud of her daughter.) And I thought of the women who broke the ground for the women who were at the podium tonight. The narrator in this story is one of those women who came before--a woman who once gave a keynote speech at the DNC herself.
This is the only piece of political fiction I've ever written. 

Little Brother

President Barack Obama came to Austin today.  Austin loves him.  When he and Joe Biden came through on the Obama-Rama campaign stop last year, the whole town went crazy.  This year the welcome is a bit more subdued, but still enthusiastic. 

He is here to make a speech and as he passed through the main terminal of the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, there were some who expected he would stop for a photo opportunity and maybe mention me.  Instead he joked with reporters about football and kept moving.  Well he was preaching to the choir there.  The reporters were all local boys and Texas is football country after all.  We’re known for it.  That and birthing beauty queens. 

I don’t begrudge the slight. He’s a man in a hurry, that Obama and if talking foolishness with a couple of good ol’ boys is what it takes to play the game, then so be it.  The game was different in my time but I still played to win, even when I knew the odds were stacked against me.  When I was mentioned as a possible running mate for Jimmy Carter in 1976, I knew that was never going to happen and just accepted it.  Although it would have been nice to be asked.

I didn’t go to Harvard Law school like the President, although Harvard started accepting my kind back in 1950.  Instead I got my degree from Boston University Law School and then went home to Texas before getting involved in politics.  John Connally was governor then.  He was a man I could work with.  Not like Dolph Briscoe who was a Democrat too but acted more like a Republican sometimes. 

We butted heads over the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  You remember, that was the one that extended the rights of language minorities.  Dolph didn’t really see the point.  Well, he wouldn’t, would he?  I didn’t find much to admire about the second president from Texas but I’ll say this.  He spoke Spanish like a native and could communicate with all his constituents back when he was governor.

I think Dolph got the surprise of his life when he had to fight so hard to get the Democratic gubernatorial nomination away from Sissy Farenthold and then nearly got beaten by Henry Grover.  He served two terms and helped eradicate the screw worm along both banks of the Rio Grande.  That screw worm was a nasty pest. 

He’s 86 now, retired to his ranch in Uvalde but he still keeps his hand in.  Last year he donated $5 million to the University of Texas Health Science Center.  They do some good work there. 

I expect Barack Obama to do good work too.  In fact, I insist upon it.   I like that young man.  I like that wife of his too even though she doesn’t dress much like a First Lady.  The magazines say she has fashion sense but I don’t know.  What was that mess she was wearing at the Inaugural Ball?  It looked for all the world like it was made out of a batch of shaggy yellow bathmats. 

But didn’t they make a handsome couple dancing together?  Their relationship seems to be genuine, filled with affection and respect.  Their daughters are lovely young ladies.  I never married, but the woman I loved was beside me for nearly 30 years.  I hope the Obamas have twice as long together. 

Maybe in 2016, we’ll see her campaign to take over her husband’s job.  Wouldn’t that be something?  Hillary almost pulled it off but 2008 was not her year.   She always sounded so angry in her speeches.  She always sounded like she was scolding the country like we were all naughty puppies.  She has a good brain, no doubt about it, but she doesn’t have half of Bill’s charm.  He’s a rascal, that one.

 I like Bill but when he said "I've been waiting all my life to vote for an African-American president. I've been waiting all my life to vote for a woman for president. ... I feel like God is playing games with our heads and our heart,"   I couldn’t help but think, “Why not both at once?” 

Back in 1972, when Obama was just 11 years old, my esteemed colleague Shirley Chisholm made a bid for the Democratic Presidential nomination.  Bless her heart.  Her campaign slogan was Fighting Shirley Chisholm—Unbought and Unbossed.  Not a lot of ambiguity there. Not the kind of thing a politician ought to say. 

She never expected to win, of course, but she had her reasons for throwing her hat into the ring.  "I ran for the Presidency, despite hopeless odds, to demonstrate the sheer will and refusal to accept the status quo. The next time a woman runs, or a black, a Jew or anyone from a group that the country is 'not ready' to elect to its highest office, I believe that he or she will be taken seriously from the start." 

It took 36 years, but that prediction finally came true in 2008.

Shirley might have lost the presidency but she was far from finished in politics and she wasn’t interested in playing it safe.  There were some people who called her “uppity.”   There were some people who called her “pig-headed.”   Even when it would have been to her advantage to play politics, she just couldn’t do it.

She was a caution.  And didn’t she cause a scandal when she went to see George Wallace after Arthur Bremer tried to kill him?  Wallace, racist that he was, remembered that visit when Shirley came looking for help to push a bill giving minimum wage to domestic workers.  Wallace made some calls and Shirley got the legislation through the House.  That was Shirley.

It’s hard to believe she’s been gone almost five years.  Gone, but not forgotten. She outlived me by almost a decade and she was older than I was to begin with. If things had been different, I might still be around.  Look at John McCain.  He was born six months after me.  It’s hard to believe he’s 73.  

Last April, the University of Texas at Austin put up a statue of me.  I think it makes me look like Tyler Perry’s Madea, but I appreciate the sentiment.  I’m buried in Texas State Cemetery, not far from the school.  I was the first African-American woman to be interred there.  A last first in a long line of them and not one I would have pursued.  I’m proud of what I accomplished.  But I never ran for President.  Don’t think I never thought about it, though. 

President Barbara Jordan.  It had a nice ring.

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