Monday, March 26, 2007

Mistakes were made

I have dibs on that as a title if I ever write a book on the George W. Bush Administration.

The quote, in a telling passive construction which reminds me of murder defendants lamely explaining that the “gun went off,” comes of course from Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez. Gonzalez made this culpa without the mea regarding his dismissal of highly qualified prosecutors.

Gonzalez fired these attorneys not because of incompetence but because, in some cases, they weren’t cooking up prosecutions against Democratic officials, or because they successfully prosecuted corrupt Republicans like felonious former Congressman “Duke" Cunningham, or because presidential adviser Karl Rove had a friend who needed a job already filled by a career Justice Department lawyer.

This may be one of the most serious scandals to engulf Bush’s second term, and I think Gonzalez will eventually be shown the door, but the real culprit here is Karl Rove, who seems to view every function of government through a partisan lens. A bigger villain is the president, who continues to listen to this Rasputin even as the criminal acts, failures and tragically missed opportunities of this administration pile higher than a stack of Congressional subpoenas.

I would have said this about a week and a half ago, but I have been tied up working on my mom’s estate.

My mother died on December 20 and this past week we held the estate sale. It is amazing how much stuff a person of average means can accumulate in the course of 40 years. Somehow, emptying her house –- the one across the street from the elementary school we moved into while my dad was in Vietnam and I was about to enter first grade –- hit me harder than the funeral.

I cried this weekend, as did my son, for whom my mother's house was a mercifully uncomplicated place full of toys bought by an over-indulgent member of the family. He didn’t cry at my mother’s funeral, but as the house began to empty and the playthings once held there disappeared, he let out big, three-year-old tears. He told us he still sees his grandma sometimes.
His frame of reference covers so little time, but he knew he was witnessing the deconstruction of a life.

The little universe my mom built in that little home scattered forever, never to be reassembled. The echoing after the final piece of furniture had been carted away had a weird tone of finality.

My dad came home from Vietnam in that house. I watched the Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations, the end of the Vietnam War, Watergate and every moon landing on TV in that living room. I wrote my first book in that house, a really terrible, overwrought post-apocalyptic sci-fi-cum-political thriller monstrosity I made my sister read. (She was mercifully, the book’s only audience.)

My sister prepared for her first wedding at my mother’s home and she stayed there briefly when that marriage crumbled. My sister's two children played as babies on those floors and I got down and crawled there with them. That was the house where I used to hang out with my high school friends. There, two of my friends borrowed my car for their first dates. I unintentionally got my mom stoned in that kitchen when she happened upon me making marijuana-filled brownies for a college party.

There, I introduced the women who would be my wife to my parents. I brought my son, a surprise gift after 14 years of marriage, to visit his grandmother at that house. My father and mother, almost exactly 10 years apart, battled terminal cancer there at 3122 March Lane in Garland, Texas.

Mistakes were made, regrets accumulated and egos bruised. Now all the tiny dramas, melodramas and low comedies that unfolded in those rooms are over, that painfully typical suburban residence ready for a new cast and new production.


Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

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