Connie Schultz | This Is Not Karl Rove’s Texas

It’s easy to spot progressive activists these days. Just look at their hands. Redder than radishes from all that hand-wringing over whether Democrats will bother to vote in next month’s midterm elections.

Most progressives in America are finger-drumming idealists, impatient with process and myopic to the long haul. We want change, and we want it now. Makes for many a grumpy potluck gathering when the rocket of change you believed in has slowed to the fitful crawl of a tractor-trailer with a nervous granny behind the wheel.

I hear the same grievances day in and day out:

We’re tired of being patient.

We’re sick of compromise.

Why, we’re so angry that Republicans have voted to block bill after bill that we just might stay home and let them run things.

Yep, that’ll show ’em.

I understand the frustration, but I can’t fall prey to despair. Last week, I spent two hours with 700 progressive women in Dallas and then two hours the next day with Karl Rove in Oberlin, Ohio.

Go ahead. Read that last sentence again. I’ll wait.

Life is just one rollicking roll, isn’t it?

First, Dallas: For years, I heard the word Texas and immediately thought of great music, good manners and way too many politicians whose brightest contributions to the world are their belt buckles.

I was in Dallas to talk to feminists who support progressive female candidates.

We’re not talking pretty little notecards that end with, “You go, girl!” These women raise serious money to change the face of power in a state that produced George W. Bush and Tom DeLay but has a proud legacy of Ann Richards and Molly Ivins, too.

Annie’s List was founded in 2003 after Republican conniving cut five Democratic women in the state House. The group recruits and trains female candidates and campaign staff and raises early money to help them get footholds in races. Annie’s List has backed 14 women elected to the state House and one to the state Senate.

The group also raised crucial dollars for Annise Parker, the new mayor of Houston and the first openly gay person elected to lead a major U.S. city.

A feminist from Ohio has more in common with her sisters in Texas than she does with those in Washington, D.C., or New York. We can’t walk into rooms full of strangers and assume everyone shares our high regard for the countless gifts of women. Instead, we’re recruiters to the cause, from the minute we slide into our slippers until our busy minds finally surrender to dreams that likely will startle us awake by 4 a.m.

By the time I left those remarkable women in Dallas, I had laughed so hard and dreamed so big that I swear I could have skipped my commercial flight and just flapped my own wings home.

And to home I had to go because I was headed for Oberlin College, where a handful of Republican students had invited Karl Rove to speak in Finney Chapel.

Oberlin is so liberal that its students and residents sometimes criticize even me for moving too far to the center. I was not surprised, but big-P proud, to see copies of this little note distributed in the chapel’s pews:

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death the right to say it.” — Evelyn Beatrice Hall
We ask that you please respect your fellow students’ right to listen. Sincerely, The Oberlin Democrats.

Now, that is liberal.

I attended an off-the-record dinner with Rove before his speech. In both venues, he took prickly pleasure in not only disagreeing with liberals but also ridiculing them. Lots of references to our so-called political correctness, meant to deride the generous hearts and open minds that outnumbered him in both rooms.

That’s bad manners where I come from — and where he comes from, too. During my time in Texas, I was struck by how even the most ardent feminists refused to engage in name-calling. Instead, the conversations were willful celebrations of just how lucky they were to know one another and to support female candidates who were pro-choice, pro-family and pro-America.

“I’m from Texas,” Karl Rove told the Oberlin crowd. “We’re simple-minded down there.”

Sounds as if somebody needs to start listening to the women of Texas.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and an essayist for Parade magazine. To find out more about Connie Schultz (cschultz@plaind.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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