Scene: Your book is called You Can Lead a Politician to Water, but You Can’t Make Him Think. What’s wrong with politics in America?
Friedman: Just about everything. Mostly it’s the people who are in it, who are drawn to the business. They’re not the best people. That’s why you don’t see a lot of teachers, musicians or poets involved.
Scene: How can we bring good people back into politics?
Friedman: One way is to take the value of money out of it, if we can. Right now we have a government of the money, by the money and for the money. And the people of America want to elect someone they would like to go to a barbeque with. Long as they feel that way about things, they’re going to get [this] kind of politician. Now, they’re not all crooked, but just take the Kinky test: go to your local congressman’s office and forget your checkbook, and see if you can get in to see the guy. You won’t.
Scene: What’s your opinion of the current pack of presidential contenders?
Friedman: The Crips and the Bloods have offered up a pretty weak selection this time. What’s absolutely lacking, of course, is leadership. You see a guy like John McCain, he has elements of greatness, but obviously he’s not getting any traction. I’d be happy with Hillary or Rudy, because they both have elements of leadership.
Scene: Has either of them approached you for support?
Friedman: I know Hillary. She has not yet, at this point, but then she’s got things pretty well wrapped up until the general election. With Rudy, I could give you a tale of two cities. If Ray Nagin had been mayor of New York during 9/11 and Rudy had been mayor of New Orleans, New York would still be getting looted and destroyed, and New Orleans would be well on the road to recovery. That’s what leadership can do.
Scene: If I’m counting right, this is your 25th book since Greenwich Killing Time was published in 1986. With the time you spend as a performer and politician, not to mention your role as the social conscience of Texas, how you find time to write so much?
Friedman: (laughing) I think it’s the index of an empty life. I don’t have kids in college or any family to worry about. I’m able to write. And yes, I think this is the 25th book I’ve churned out—I mean carefully crafted.
Scene: One of the things you spent a fair amount of campaign time discussing was education.
Friedman: I’ve said many times it takes a real dumbass not to realize the importance of an education. If you’ve got tests that make all the great teachers bail out of the profession because nobody wants to teach to a test that narrowly confines everything to the Peloponnesian War, then you graduate a kid who’s never heard of, say, Mark Twain. This happens a lot in Texas right now. I’m sure it happens in Tennessee. Education is one of those things you don’t want to let slip through your fingers. But all these guys want to do is look good, and that is the nature of politics: poly, meaning more than one, and ticks, meaning blood-sucking parasites. That’s what they’ve all become after they’ve been around a while, so I just say never reelect anybody.
Scene: Your 2006 gubernatorial campaign received a lot of national attention, especially for a musician-turned-novelist. Would you consider running for a national orifice?
Friedman: Too hard. I would say that our governor, along with our president, and many others in politics, have managed to be important without being significant. Our campaign was significant. It reached a lot of people around the world. I said it in Texas, and it’s true for the rest of the country, musicians can get a lot done in government. We won’t be there early in the morning, but we’ll work hard, stay late and be honest. Every time I’ve been in a roomful of musicians they’re decent people, and I can’t say the same for a roomful of politicians.
Scene: In August, the Austin American-Statesman reported you were considering a repeat run for governor in 2010.
Friedman: God Himself wouldn’t have run as an independent in Texas. He wouldn’t have made it. I’ve learned that we’re not in Minnesota, Toto. If I were to run again, it would have to be as a Crip or a Blood, and since I believe that the Democrats are the party that, historically, have listened to the people the closest, and since I have been a Democrat almost all my life, I would run as a Democrat in 2010, if I run. There could be things that God may have in store for me that are better than being governor of Texas.
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