Thursday, November 01, 2007

Close Encounters of the Karen Hughes Kind

I actually met Karen Hughes, charter member of George W. Bush's inner circle, when I was 19. Then she was Karen Parfitt, a reporter for the NBC affiliate in Dallas-Fort Worth. In protest against the resumption of draft registration during the Iran Hostage Crisis, I organized a rally marking the 10th anniversary of the killing of four students at Kent State University. I posted fliers all over the metroplex advertising the event and got it announced on KZEW-FM, a local rock station. My efforts proved spectacularly unsuccessful. I showed up and so did my sister and that was it. Two people holding signs make for a rather pitiful demonstration

I had contacted the local media about the event, and Parfitt and a reporter from WFAA-TV, the ABC affiliate, showed up with camera crews. Karen Parfitt Hughes turned out to be a snotty, sour prig. She spoke to me rudely and displayed a complete lack of imagination. Had I been a TV reporter covering my rally, I would have seen the humor in the situation of a protest where the reporters outnumber the picketers. I would have done a "what if they held a protest and no one came" story. Not Ms. Parfitt Hughes, who grumbled about how I had wasted her time and stalked off.

Hughes, of course, would become (beside Karl Rove), one of Bush's "brains." She served as Bush's director of communication when he was governor of Texas, then moved with W. to Washington to serve as Bush's counselor for the first two years of his presidency. After returning to Austin, she inflicted "Ten Minutes from Normal," a cloying hagiography-cum-memoir dripping with Bush worship, on an innocent reading public. Then, for reasons known only to Bush, in 2005 the president appointed her undersecretary of state for public diplomacy -- a post she left just this week.

Hughes' job was to improve the image of the United States in the Arab world. Hughes, of course, knew next-to-nothing about Middle Eastern history or politics, or about Islam, nor did she speak Arabic or have any extensive network of personal friends in the region. In other words, she was as qualified for the post as Michael Brown was up to running FEMA.

In a typical Rove-Hughes-Bush take on the world, the White House thought that relations with Arab nations could be tranformed through the magic power of spin. Unfortunately, the American misadventure in Iraq and the continued conflict between Arabs and the U.S.-supported Israelis, intervened and during Hughes tenure the image of America deteriorated in the Arab world.

The bad news about Hughes' second departure from the Bush White House is that she will be returning to Texas. Here, I could make a joke about her exodus raising the IQs of both Washington and the Lone Star state. But unlike Ms. Parfitt Hughes, I am polite, so I'll just say good riddance and good luck.

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.


John said...

I remember that event. I showed thinking that maybe I'd write a story about for the Eastfield Era and took along what was then a brand-new Pentax K-1000 that I bought for Chuck Choate's photo class.
I turned in for the class a photo of a dead pigeon that lay belly-up on the grass at the Kennedy memorial. That pigeon showed as much interest in the protest as Karen Parfitt did, but was more polite about it.
I got an A for the photo, but there was no article because the kinda-sorta-weekly Era quit publishing by early May that year.

Michael said...

I remember the dead pigeon photo. It seemed an apt metaphore for the entire "rally." I'm glad you got something positive out of the experience.

Anonymous said...

Yes, but it started my career as a raging bolshevik. M