The federal government, the old song goes, is an intruder; anything she does can be done better, smaller, cheaper, and with less of an intrusion on personal liberties by the states. And nowhere is tune carried with more pride than in Texas; but at Governor Rick Perry’s inaugural address, immediately preceded by the remarkably, ah, secessionist speech of his lieutenant, the returning statesman played his common refrain to a odd, and notably dissonant melody. Texas is great, he says, and will survive despite the economy, because of her capacity to innovate. One excerpt that I honestly do love:
We tamed the frontier, formed our own Republic, discovered oil, pioneered space and transformed the marketplace. The first word spoken on the moon was “Houston,” [the name of] a city whose [founder] was not Texan by birth but Texan by choice, like millions more who would follow.
A great line — but inaccurate, insofar as it credits Texas alone with these victories. The moon landing, of course, was an American victory that happened to be run from Houston. Texas did her part and did it well, and has since leveraged the opportunity into “cornering the market” on America’s public space exploration effort, but it’s an opportunity that only fell to Texas by virtue of her membership in the Union. Texas didn’t go to the Moon; Texas helped her nation to the Moon. Just so, Texas is building herself into a scientific powerhouse. But that growth occurs, in substantial part, by virtue of federal dollars flowing into research universities.
I don’t mean to minimize the pride we all should feel for our states — or the accomplishments that make Texas’ future as bright as its past is inspiring. But Perry’s point, and Texas’ story, together illustrate the general rule, that the union is, ought to be, and must be strong, for only this union allows us to share in the collective greatness conferred by our individual uniqueness. It’s easy to paint the federal government as an enemy, but it is the tie that binds us, and one that operates more for the better than it does for the worse.