I have tuned out of political debates lately, at least to the extent possible here in DC. Politics increasingly seems dominated by name-calling and “gotcha” moments; and ad hominem attacks just irritate me unless they’re really clever. That happens about once in a good year. The political reporting and commentary here in DC mainly involves the horse race — who’s ahead, whether a bill is going to pass, that sort of thing. It’s guesswork and the guesses usually are wrong. Reporters’ rare attempts to address the substance of an issue rarely involve more than reading back talking points drafted by one side or the other, or, among the more industrious, interviewing a couple of experts about something outside their areas of expertise. Statements by elected officials (and especially candidates) tend to involve either bluster, obfuscation, or deceit. Or all three.
A ray of sunshine has emerged, however, in Texas, of all places. Don’t get me wrong when I say, “of all places.” I like Texas a lot. I just can’t say I look to Texas in particular to generate a lot of political rays of sunshine. Texas is like the rest of the USA, only more-so. At any rate, the Texas race for Agriculture Commissioner has gone substantive.
It started much like any other contest for public office with a pretty vicious attack. Incumbent Ag Commissioner Sid Miller posted a photo of his opponent, Trey Blocker, dressed appropriately for campaigning — in jeans, a work shirt, and a gimme cap — in a restaurant featuring … Nutella banana crepes. What could be less authentic? Well, the New Orleans mayoral candidate whose literature featured her walking on a street in the faux French Quarter in Disney World (you could tell by the people wearing fanny packs.) was less authentic, but that’s about it.
Miller’s suggestion that Blocker was in “some Yuppie Austin coffee bar” was a telling blow, as was Miller’s pledge to stick to biscuits and gravy.
Blocker, to his credit, elevated the debate by attacking Miller for a regulation requiring the scales in barbecue places to be tested, registered and certified. (In Texas, you order the brisket by weight — a typical order might be, “I’ll have, oh, a quarter pound of moist brisket and one of your jalapeño and cheese sausages. Make that two.” They slice some brisket, weigh it, and charge you for however much they cut off. It will be pretty close to the weight you ordered. Of course, the scales are facing away from you and you’re taking the weight on trust, but an experienced brisket eater (i.e., an average Texan) can tell by looking at the meat whether the weight is off by much.) And, really, have you ever checked the weight of your 8 ounce hamburger?
So an important issue is joined: whether barbecue places should be hounded by nit-picking bureaucrats in order to impose a level or precision alien to the spirit of the transaction, requiring venerated pit owners to figure out how to recalibrate their scales, which have not been checked since the previous owner purchased them, if then, and probably letting the meat dry out while they are thus distracted? Or will heavy-thumbed rascals be allowed to continue systematically to over-charge customers or, worse, deprive the good citizens of Texas (and visiting non-Texans who, being non-Texans, have no idea what they’re doing), and thus deprive Americans of their right to a full and fair serving of brisket?
I’m making no predictions, and I’m taking no side.
You can read more about the issues here.