Saturday, October 21, 2006

Driving Paul Begala

(Ann's alternative title: "I Spent the Night With Paul Begala")

Boy have I got a story to tell tonight.

Last night was the Begala Gala (aka An Evening With Paul Begala) at the Quail Valley Country Club. Lots of stuff happened leading up to it, at it, and after it. So I’ll just start in chronological order.

Out of the blue, I got an email from Bryan. He simply asked “Let me know if you will be able to borrow a projector. If not, we may see if we can rent one” Projector? So I replied to his email: “For what? When?” He returned, “For the Begala Gala” (it caught on). Now how did he know that I had access to digital projectors? I do, and I brought one to the Begala Gala so we could show the paying guests what sort of activities went on in the summer and fall of 2006 at the Fort Bend Democrats. A slide show of Bryan’s candid and posed photography. And to show the powerful ads being aired over the television airwaves.

After setting up the projector, I went and got a Shiner. 4 bucks for a bottle of beer. Well, what did I say about this place? Upscale. I was standing there watching the slides of myself and my friends, and turned around to see Shane Sklar. He said “Hi how ya doin?” We talked a little about the campaign and then he let out a bombshell that the DCCC had redesignated his race in CD-14 as an emerging race. This is good news. An emerging race is one that the DCCC feels are run by candidates who have taken traditionally non-competitive districts and, through the strength of their campaigns, put themselves in a position to win in November. This will give the Sklar campaign a real financial boost.

Then Susan called me over and told me that while Richard Morrison was meeting Paul Begala at the airport, he had no ride back so she wanted Ann and I to take him back to the airport.

I said “Oh, OK.”

“OK? That’s all you have to say is OK?” And she whacked me a good one in the ribs. Then I realized that she had given me, one of the Fort Bend Democrats bloggers, an opportunity for an unique story. Too bad muse wasn’t there. I could have gloated about my scoop all night.

Dinner started and I was drinking iced tea now. It was going to be a one-Shiner evening if I was going to be driving a national treasure to Bush Intercontinental Airport. Ann and I sat way off in the corner with Lorrie and Lloyd. Then we were joined by Albert Hollan who came stag. We were sitting in a far corner but the table had a unique view of the podium that was rare for the unsponsored tickets.

Then Paul Begala finally arrived and he got an ovation. Soon afterward, the speeches started. All the local candidates just stood up and waved, including Nick. But Shane Sklar had a short blurb, mentioning his new status at the D-triple-C. Finally, Don introduced Mayor Leonard Scarcella who knew Paul Begala back when he was a clerk at Court Hardware Store in Stafford. Years before Scarcella himself worked at that store, and when Paul was introduced to the Mayor, they said, “You were OK, Leonard, but this kid is smart. He’s going places.” Then he introduced Paul Begala, and up everyone got again.

Then he told us to sit down. So we did.

Let me tell you something about Paul Begala. The man can just get up and talk and talk and talk. No notecards, just whatever comes off the top of his head.

Paul started out talking about his roots in Stafford. He said he grew up in a house not three blocks from where he was standing. He spoke of his time working in Court Hardware, that it was still in business because they cared about their customers and knew the value of serving the community and not just doing anything “to sell someone a bag of hammers”.

He was all over the map with anecdotes. He peppered the anecdotes with observations on why the Democratic Party is the party that cares, and why we will do so well in November.

Did you know that there is a national poll that Republicans in Congress have a 16% approval rating? I believe it. Paul Begala said it was so. Then he went off and named a bunch of things that they had done, page scandals, money scandals, macaca scandals. Sixteen percent of Americans approve of all of those things.

He talked about his 62 acre ranch in the Shenandoah Valley in northern Virginia. He, like Shane Sklar, runs cattle on his ranch. (Paul Begala likes Shane Sklar. Look for some support out of him). He compared his ranch to the President’s 1500 acre spread in Crawford. Not one cow, not one bull on this ranch. But he runs around on it clearing brush. Begala observed that compared to himself, compared to Shane Sklar, George Bush really is “all hat and no cattle”.

Paul Begala runs cattle on his ranch, but none of them bear names. To him and to each of his children, the name of each head of cattle is “meat”. He runs a few goats, also. They were also nameless. One of these goats, however, had a traditional American habit. Begala’s ranch is rich and green, but this goat would always put its head through the “American Wire” fence (Shane knows what this is) and eat the neighbor’s grass instead of the grass on his ranch. I don’t know, maybe something about it being greener. Trouble is, the goat has horns, and while he can push his head through the wire gap, it was impossible for the goat to pull its head back through the fence because of the horns. It was a daily occurrence. “Dad, that goat’s caught in the fence again . . .”. The goat was finally given a name. He was named in honor of the man who could get his country into a war, but could not get it out of a war. Begala’s goat is named “Rumsfeld”.

On the war, Begala said something that is distinctly unfunny. “We have now been fighting the war in Iraq longer than we fought the Germans in World War II".

I could go on and on but he just talked on and on and we’d all be here all night. After his third standing ovation, the crowd closed in for photo opportunities and autographs on books (some of you took me seriously?).

I collected my projector and got it safely in the car. People were starting to leave so I asked Ann for the keys so I could bring her car up to the entrance. Yes, we drove Ann’s Jag. My Honda is a good sensible economic car, but it lacks legroom and leather seats. But Ann couldn’t find her keys. She looked everywhere, and then asked Susan where her keys were. Panic sets in. I went back and found the keys, asked where she put her car and walked right to it. Wrappers and other sundry things went in back along with an oversized Jim Sharp lawn sign. We were ready.

We went back in and everyone was looking for Ann, me and car keys.

Soon everyone settled down and Ann and I were introduced to Paul Begala as teachers. My bloggery was also mentioned. I think Susan wanted me to get noticed. But I don’t know, some people in the media listen to what bloggers have to say, but I think some of them see us as rank amateur wannabes. I think Paul might be of the latter sort.

He protested, saying that he could just get a taxi but everyone said that wouldn’t do. So Paul got in back and we drove off.

He wondered what we taught and where. When he was in high school, there was only one in the entire district. Dulles High School. We told him where and what we taught. My brother studied Physics at UT, he said.

I asked “What did he do with it?”

“Nothing. He just works at odd jobs, technical jobs. Not married, no kids, he’s happy”

We talked about Fort Bend and Stafford and how things had changed and grown, that we had just built our tenth high school. That got his attention. As a student at Dulles, Paul Begala, was on a student committee whose task was to come up with a name for Fort Bend ISD’s second high school that was being completed in 1979. He says that his committee met, did diligent research and finally submitted their recommendation to the school board.

One trustee was very negative and didn’t like their suggestion: Theodore Roosevelt High School. What was his reason? The trustee said: "It sounds too n _ _ _ _ ry”. (for those of you still scratching your heads, it rhymes with “piggery”). He said that the trustee said “Those people would attend the school and think it belonged to them because the name sounded too n _ _ _ _ ry." The first high school in Fort Bend County, you see, was named after John Foster Dulles, the Secretary of State in the Eisenhower administration. Well, the trustee said, they weren’t going to name schools after people anymore. So the name that was ultimately settled on was Willowridge HS [click on the link, scroll down to Trivia]. Yes, not named after anyone. The tradition not to name schools after people anymore seemed not to have lasted too long, however, as the next named high school campus was W.P. Clements HS, after the sitting governor of Texas. As it turns out, every single high school campus in Fort Bend ISD has been named after someone: Kempner (Isaac Herbert Kempner), Elkins (Lawrence E. Elkins), Austin (Stephen F. Austin), Bush (George Herbert Walker Bush), Travis (William B. Travis), Hightower (Lockhart Valentine Hightower) Marshall (Thurgood Marshall). So Fort Bend ISD has no Theodore Roosevelt High School, and to this day, Willowridge’s name remains the exception.

“But” Begala explained, “these were the people running the school distict when he attended. I had never heard that word used before". He was amazed as Ann regaled him on the changing demographics of the area, and tales of houses being bought by foreign business people that were essentially turned into boarding houses so that their children and the children of their friends could attend school in America.

Later, as we traversed the Sam Houston Tollway, the conversation turned to “Republicans”. He talked of how Republicans present a united front. But Democrats are “thinkers who have independent thoughts”.

I said “and that is our downfall”. Paul agreed and cited Bill Clinton’s observation that “Democrats want to fall in love. Republicans want to fall in line.” Republicans just want to be told what to believe, tell them and they will be OK with that. He recalled his Republican brother, who joined a Lutheran church where he was told that the Earth was 5000 years old. He was OK with that, and argued about it to Begala’s wife. Paul would just tell her to “let it go”. Then, he said, his brother joined another church, and was told there by his pastor told that the earth was 5 billion years old. And he was OK with that. Republicans, Begala said, just need rules to follow, and if there are no rules to cover a situation, then don’t bother with the situation – it’s not important.

We talked about the race for governor and Paul wanted to know about the latest polls. I told him what I knew, that Bell and Strayhorn were about dead even at 18-19% each, with Perry at 35-36%, and Kinky now below 10% after the debate. He hadn’t heard about it and asked what happened. So we told him about how he dissembled. Begala said that he knows Kinky Friedman, and that he knows why he is doing this, and that he is a brilliant guy. Ann said, “yes, brilliant, but not shrewd”. Begala allowed that that might just be the case.

On what makes Dubya tick, Paul Begala says that he lacks empathy. He simply cannot relate to a person in pain. His theory is that this may be due to the loss of his sister Robin at 6. When she died of leukemia, it is said that the entire family locked the whole thing out. Robin simply did not come home. The day she was buried, George Sr. played golf. He cannot feel anyone’s pain because he knows how to lock it out. He would not be able to empathize with the plight of a wounded veteran.

It’s either that or he lacks empathy in reaction to his being sent off to boarding school at a young age.

I remarked that I could never understand his opposition to stem cell research when his sister died of a disease that it may one day cure. Begala responded that George Bush does not believe all the stuff he says he believes. He just says he does to keep his right wing base in line.


Ann (and everyone else before we left) tried to get him interested in our local blogosphere, but I could see that he was only mildly interested.

Indeed, we are all just pikers next to professionals in the media. And Paul Begala is a professional and very good at what he does.

So as we entered the airport, I asked “what airline?” “Oh, I’m staying at the Marriott, my plane is first thing in the morning”. So I followed the signs to “Hotel” and drove up to the entrance.

Ann gave him another gift and he seemed overwhelmed. He truly seemed impressed by the hospitality that was bestowed on him.

He thanked us one more time.

His last words to us?

“Good luck with your races”.


Anonymous said...

Outstanding. What an opportunity the two of you had, and thanks for sharing it in your own intimate manner.

muse said...

If you were trying to make me really, really jealous, it worked.

Anonymous said...

I will now accept a round of applause for having the insight to select Hal as the driver, and the wisdom to send Ann along to keep both Hal and Paul in line.

(If you had been here, Muse, I would have sent you, too.)

Fenway Fran said...

Thanks, Hal, Now we know what happened after we left the table...also with a big SHARP sign for our growing lawn garden...Glad you found the keys...were they near the 'coffee' cup? Thanks for welcoming us to the 'cheap seats' with a great view. Reminded me of my last trip to a certain ball park. It was an inspiring evening!