Kinky Friedman …. why?

by Chris Bertram on November 9, 2006

Ok, so I’m genuinely mystified. The (largely British based) “decent left” seems to have been supporting Kinky Friedman for Governor of Texas. As far as I can see, the main reason these advocates of being “morally serious” in politics backed him was that he is a Jewish country singer. His platform seems mainly to have consisted of getting tough on illegal immigration – taking steps to “stem the tide of illegal immigrants penetrating our border” – and moaning about political correctness “gone mad”. Pat Buchanan-lite, if anything. Commenters who can see the positives are invited to enlighten me.

{ 34 comments }

1

Aidan Kehoe 11.09.06 at 5:24 am

He got a whole lot of attention in the German media too, for someone who had no real chance of winning. Puzzling.

2

David 11.09.06 at 6:15 am

The only feature on him I saw was in the Sunday Herald (Scottish broadsheet) – http://www.sundayherald.com/58765

The Scots like an underdog, especially a colourful one who snorts cocaine and signs men’s scrotums.

David

3

dearieme 11.09.06 at 7:05 am

Whatever his shortcomings, a man who could write “They don’t make Jews like Jesus any more” sounds to be a more serious intellectual figure than, say, W or John Kerry. Perhaps the DL failed to notice that he wasn’t running against either of those intellectually frivolous chumps.

“morally serious” – perhaps that means they despise the Clintons too?

4

Barry 11.09.06 at 7:37 am

Uh, Texas deserves him?

(I know, only about 60% deserve him, but God *does* love collateral damage)

5

Anthony 11.09.06 at 7:49 am

Are you not taking this a little bit too seriously?

6

Dylan S. 11.09.06 at 7:52 am

As someone who lives in Austin, I have to admit that baffles me. I wonder if it’s because his name was “Kinky,” and “Governor Kinky” sounds funny in a British accent (or in German)?

Honestly, the man’s a racist bastard whose intelligence really isn’t that much more impressive than W.’s or Kerry’s (Texas only votes for idiots — Rick Perry replaced W. as governor because he’s the only high-ranking Republican dumber than Bush that they could find). As one Texas commentator put it after the election, in Kinky, Perry was running against “a cowboy hat.”

7

Chris Bertram 11.09.06 at 8:12 am

A correspondent writes ….

bq. On Kinky Friedman: the Decents like him because he supported the war, at
least in the early days. This exchange is nice, though: it’s Kinky Friedman
talking about (anti-war) Willie Nelson:

bq. *** “So we’re arguing on the bus, and he’s smoking a joint the size of a
large kosher salami. Finally I got really frustrated with him, and I said,
‘Look, Willie, this guy is a tyrannical bully and we’ve got to take him
out.’ And Willie says, ‘No, he’s our president, and we’ve got to stand by
him.” ***

8

abb1 11.09.06 at 8:38 am

I don’t understand why wouldn’t everyone prefer clown to a politician. Californians certainly do, why not the Texans?

9

Andrew Reynolds 11.09.06 at 8:43 am

He got a very good run in The Economist (31 August – else behind the paywall. This may have helped:

His heroes are “teachers, firefighters, cops and cowboys”. His education policy is “No teacher left behind”—higher pay, fewer standardised tests and a big infusion of cash for schools, which he will raise by legalising casino gambling (“Slots for tots”). He will also slap an extra tax on oil firms (boo, hiss) to raise salaries for firefighters, cops and teachers. Perhaps because his parents were teachers, he is especially sensitive to their plight.

And this:

Mr Friedman is also a big fan of alternative energy. He wants Texas to get 20% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. He favours tax breaks for biodiesel, which would “stop the Saudis from playing the jukebox and the rest of us dancing to the tune”. He has even suggested appointing as energy czar his friend Willie Nelson, a green country singer who fuels his tour bus with biodiesel and sells the stuff at petrol stations in Texas.

Not quite Buchanan lite – but not far off.

10

matt 11.09.06 at 9:20 am

Maybe they mistook him for another incarnation of Sasha Byron Cohen?

More seriously, or at least less sarcastically, the British have a long history of glorifying not just the underdog in politics, but the gloriously, astonishingly, and deliberately unelectable underdogs, c.f., the Monster Raving Loony Party, among others. I expect that at least part of the BNP’s popularity is because people mistake them for satire.

11

beloml 11.09.06 at 9:59 am

Kinky was disappointing in the debate that was televised a month or so ago. He talks the talk about bioenergy and renewable resources, but came up empty against Rick Perry’s actual actions and future plans in that area. Kinky came across as awkward and ill-prepared, when I was expecting a couple of good one-liners, at least. Regardless, he was preferable to Carol Keeton Strayhorn, who simply screeched on relentlessly about “the cheeel-dren.”

12

belle waring 11.09.06 at 10:06 am

I think there’s a poorly grounded but widely-held feeling that if someone completely insane, and named “Kinky Friedman”, were to win elective office it would be objectively pro-awesome. I can’t help but feel there’s something to that.

13

Matt Weiner 11.09.06 at 10:13 am

Dunno, Belle, he’s no Jesse “The Body” Ventura.

Kinky seemed to me pretty Perot-esque, from the worries about Mexico to the dumb racial gaffes to the irritating insistence that being an amateur politician was an end in itself. Sorry, Kinky.

14

The Guilty Reader 11.09.06 at 12:02 pm

Thank you for asking this question…and thanks to some of the posters here who’ve been answering in earnest. I just moved away from Austin, but before I left, I was really perplexed by the support for Kinky among progressives. In Austin, at least, I think a number of his backers were working in the usually respectable tradition of celebrating difference–what the South Congress contingent celebrate under the mantra of “Keep Austin Weird.” Keeping Austin weird usually means keeping out big corporate chains, supporting local artists and businesses, and preserving the environment. Kinky presented himself as having an independent streak in keepinng with this mantra, but it doesn’t take much to see that he’s basically a libertarian rather than a liberal. I haven’t looked to see how Travis county ultimately voted, but Chris Bell outperformed Friedman in debates, and I think some Austinites must have come to their senses.

As for the rest of Texas…well, sigh.

The Texas Governorship really isn’t an important position anyway–it’s the Lt. Governor that holds the cards. And the State Leg meets only once every 2 years.

That’s right–one time every 2 years! This means regardless of who won the governor ship, the job ain’t that hard. I don’t think many people knew either of these things when W. ran for president; his claims about working with both sides of the aisle were stupid, because he had only had to do so, um, twice.

But I digress.

15

roger 11.09.06 at 12:05 pm

I can’t defend Kinky’s gubernatorial run, a joke gone bad. But you can find a lot of wisdom in his early songs. For instance, in his song about Charles Joseph Whitman, the sniper at UT who killed 30 some people, he figured out that it all came down to Whitman being an eagle scout:

“The doctors tore his poor brain down,
But not a snitch of illness could be found.
Most folks couldnt figure just-a why he did it
And them that could would not admit it,
Theres still a lot of eagle scouts around.”

And here’s an item about our new Secretary of War in the NYT profile:

“Robert Michael Gates, whose father sold wholesale auto parts, became an Eagle Scout (he is currently president of the National Eagle Scout Association) and studied European history at the College of William and Mary.”

Coincidence? You decide.

16

Randy 11.09.06 at 1:08 pm

Most unfortunately, Friedman ended up playing a Nader-like spoiler role in the election, taking 12% of the vote. Bell, the Democrat, got 29% and Perry got 39%. If Friedman had gotten out of the race, Bell might have won (though I understand it’s hard to say where those votes really would have gone).

17

Randy Paul 11.09.06 at 1:58 pm

Just for the record, the Texas Governorship is notoriously weak, arguably one of the weakest in the country. Much of the real power lies with the Lieutenant Governor.

Wonder how many times Norm has told Mrs. Geras to “Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed”. . .

18

Alex R 11.09.06 at 2:37 pm

After the Nader-2000 debacle, I’m as concerned about spoilers as anyone. But if you poke your way around to the exit polling info for this race (scroll down to the bottom), you’ll find a little table “GOVERNOR VOTE IF NO INDEPENDENTS RUNNING”.

This table suggests Perry would beat Bell 47% — 42%, with 10% of those would-be Bell voters (about 5% of all voters) going to Friedman, and 8% of the would-be Perry voters (4% of all voters) doing the same. So at most Friedman made for a 1% swing in the results — not nearly enough to affect the outcome. (A similar calculation shows that Strayhorn made more than twice the difference in the outcome.)

19

JP 11.09.06 at 3:12 pm

his claims about working with both sides of the aisle were stupid, because he had only had to do so, um, twice

Bush was governor for six years, so it would have been three times, no?

Of course, this crucial fact is sure to change everybody’s views about GWB.

20

DC 11.09.06 at 5:51 pm

Ditto comment 5 – Norm was obviously amused by this guy, who was, after all, a joke candidate, no?

21

Daniel 11.09.06 at 6:27 pm

funny though; they never seem to get the joke aspect of Gilad Atzmon

22

Ian 11.09.06 at 7:32 pm

Will the Kinky Friedman = Gilad Atzmon debate be on the grounds of moral or musical equivalence? If it’s musical, I’m not buying it: I gave up trying to like modern jazz a decade ago.

23

Xanthippas 11.09.06 at 7:35 pm

I thought Europeans were fascinated with kooky Texans? Am I wrong?

I ask because I’m counting on that for my future Euro-pop career.

24

Chris Williams 11.09.06 at 7:54 pm

Atzmon’s views may be repellent*, but his jazz ain’t modern. Actually it’s rather political in itself, and in a good way.

*OK, ‘are repellent’.

25

Ian 11.09.06 at 8:17 pm

Chris W – by “modern” I meant anything more recent than, say, Bechet. I know that was sweepingly philistine, but life is short, etc etc. I’m intrigued: why is Atzmon’s jazz political? And what [resigned sigh] should I listen to?

26

vivian 11.09.06 at 9:59 pm

The man wrote some really entertaining mystery novels too. Vivid prose, good pacing, etc. Apparently Clinton is (was?) a big fan of them too (the Bushes are fans of his music instead). He lost me with his immigration and Katrina comments, but I’m really quite disappointed because I was primed to like him, and before them, he seemed like a reasonable and moderately intelligent guy with a mostly-good platform and no chance of winning.

Besides, Belle’s right that Governor Kinky sounds way awesome, much better than Jesse “the governor” sounded.

27

Anthony 11.09.06 at 10:17 pm

From the looks of it, Kinky Friedman is a right-wing populist, as opposed to a right-wing corporatist. Texans are, in general, pretty right-wing, but they’re not necessarily fans of corporations, unless they happen to own one.

That doesn’t answer why Europeans would support him (excepting right-wing populist Europeans, but that doesn’t sound like Chris Bertram’s friends). I suspect it’s because people like Kinky Friedman (and Jesse Ventura) are colorfully eccentric, and mostly harmless.

A right-wing populist who proposed essentially the same things Kinky did who had actively toiled in the trenches and worked his way up to Governor would be able to get some significant part of his program enacted. But Kinky, who has nobody in Texas who owes him political favors, wouldn’t get much of anything done, even those things which appeal to a majority of the legislature.

28

jordan delange 11.10.06 at 5:21 am

His website did promise drastically higher spending on people like firefighters and teachers, and he advocated increasing taxes on oil companies (in texas!) and finding green alternative energy sources. You can’t be a perfect campus liberal and win in texas. Plus here in houston I saw like five willie nelson commercials for him during the last few days. Still voted for the democrat, but he isn’t as bad as ya’all make him out to be.

29

garymar 11.10.06 at 8:37 am

Fascination with Friedman reminds me of the fascination with Cicciolina, the Italian porn star elected to the legislature. But at least she actually won office!

30

The Guilty Reader 11.10.06 at 11:41 am

You can’t be a perfect campus liberal and win in texas.

Indeed, unless you’re running for Congress in Lloyd Doggett’s district (which is now long, thin, and weirdly running all the way to Laredo or something now that the districts have been all carved up).


Bush was governor for six years, so it would have been three times, no?

JP: heh. Good call on the maths! My bad. And yeah, we should be sure to give him credit for that one more time; it makes all the difference! ;)

31

Nell 11.10.06 at 12:43 pm

So who is the current Lieutenant Governor of Texas?

32

Randy Paul 11.11.06 at 3:16 pm

Nell,

It’s David Dewhurst. I saw him about two years ago at the Texas Association of Broadcasters where he was invited instead of Governor Perry.

33

Alex Higgins 11.11.06 at 4:40 pm

I was under the impression that Kinky Friedman was an advocate of gun control and not much in favour of the death penalty – which is a hard ticket to sell In Texas.

34

Old Whip 11.14.06 at 12:28 pm

I voted for Kinky because I believe he was hands down the best man for the job.

Like was stated earlier, the power of the Texas Governor isn’t in making direct policy. It’s in using the bully pulpit to get the State Legislature to get something done and in appointing qualified people to various state commissions.

No matter what happened in the Guv’s race, the Legislature was still going to be dominated by the GOP so….

If Perry wins, it’s 4 more years of the same.

If Strayhorn wins, it’s 4 more years with a differant set of fat cats on the state’s teet.

If Bell wins, the republicans dig in their partisan heels and keep him from accomplishing anything. (Bell just doesn’t have the strength of personality to bring them along. The man couldn’t inspire kids to eat ice cream.)

If Kinky wins, you have someone who knows how to draw public attention to issues and someone who can bring both sides to the table to hash out real compromises.

IMO, Texans missed a real chance here.

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