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LQD: A Short History of Texas and its oil influence

by NBBooks Sun Feb 22nd, 2009 at 10:02:10 AM EST

Not really important, this, but useful to have as a historical reference. Well written and amusing, also.

Death and Texas, by Bryan Burrough
The Washington Post, Sunday, February 22, 2009


Texas might have remained a marginalized curiosity, but oil changed everything -- everything. Until the Great Depression, control of Texas oil remained largely in the hands of Yankee corporations. There were some wealthy Texans, but no Big Rich. During the Depression, however, the cash-strapped major oil companies all but stopped looking for oil, preferring to simply buy what they needed elsewhere. Into this vacuum charged hundreds of individual Texas oilmen, known as wildcatters, who between 1930 and 1935 proceeded to discover the largest oilfields ever found in the Lower 48, including the biggest, East Texas, and the runner-up, at Conroe, north of Houston.

Once the dust settled, four men had found the most: H.L. Hunt, a onetime Arkansas gambler and practicing bigamist who cut a deal to buy the heart of the East Texas field; his Dallas neighbor Clint Murchison, who made his fortune running illegal "hot oil" during the Depression; Murchison's boyhood chum Sid Richardson, a Fort Worth wildcatter who hit it big in far West Texas; and a cantankerous Houston oilman named Hugh Roy Cullen, a fifth-grade dropout who doled out political advice to anyone who would listen -- and to quite a few who wouldn't. It was Cullen of whom Wendell Willkie was speaking when, during an exchange of pointed correspondence during his 1940 presidential run, he noted with a sigh: "You know the Good Lord put all this oil into the ground, then someone comes along who hasn't been a success at anything else, and takes it out of the ground. The minute he does that he considers himself an expert on everything from politics to pettycoats."

It was these four oilmen whose millions built the foundation of Texas political power. Murchison and Richardson used suitcases of illegal cash to help get LBJ elected to the Senate in 1948. Three years later Cullen bought a radio network with an eye toward making it a proto-Fox News. When it went belly up, he took to lobbing checks into political races around the country; Cullen was the largest single donor to American candidates in 1952 and again in 1954. Hunt went a step further, starting the first genuine conservative media network, Facts Forum, which launched scads of newsletters, radio and television programs. When he got religion in the late 1950s, Hunt started LIFELINE, one of the first media outfits to try mixing right-wing politics with sermonizing.

The Big Rich emerged at a key moment in the nation's political history, a period that saw the birth pangs of modern conservatism. In the years before William F. Buckley founded the National Review in 1955, theirs were some of the loudest -- and wealthiest -- conservative voices in the land. "Virtually every Radical Right movement of the postwar era," the Nation argued in 1962, "has been propped up by Texas oil millionaires."

Burrough goes on to describe how Lyndon Johnson broke with the Big Rich ("Before Murchison died in 1969, he wouldn't even take LBJ's calls.") and how the Bushes fit into the Texas scheme of things (daddy George H.W. Bush is a "Yankee Carpetbagger" but the son, Dubya, is "the real deal, an actual Texan wildcatter.")

But a failed wildcatter: what Wendell Willkie said of Cullen pretty much describes Dubya, also.

What's left out of all this is what's very difficult to find in any public source: how did the Eastern Establishment, and especially the nexus of Wall Street / CIA / the original Seven Sisters of oil move into and take control, or at least attempt to influence, Texas oil? Kevin Phillips provides an important but faint outline of what happened in his book, American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush. See the chapter "Texanomics and Compassionate Conservatism."

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I'm about half way through this book ("The Big Rich"), and it's pretty interesting. Not highly intellectual in approach, it's more of a popular "OMG, look at all the bad things these people have done" sort of thing.

What is particularly interesting is the description of the Republican party in the early 1950s, completely marginalized and useless. Then consciously taken over by the Texas oil crowd and used to propagate their uneducated (and they were uneducated, most of them) and bigoted views.

A good read, but I would get it from the library...

by asdf on Sun Feb 22nd, 2009 at 06:06:37 PM EST


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