Kinky Friedman may be best known for his run as an independent candidate in the 2006 Texas gubernatorial race, with slogans such as “Why the Hell Not?” and “My Governor is a Jewish Cowboy.” Previously he was the leader of the 1970s country band Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys; among its hits were They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore. He is also a mystery author who has written more than 25 books.
I spoke with Kinky Friedman recently about the upcoming presidential elections, politics, and religion. And Texas, of course.
(For the accompanying audio, you can click on the quotes)
What are you thoughts on the current presidential candidates?
Pretty uninspired, with most of them. And that’s a point that I feel pretty strongly about. That it’s George Washington’s worst nightmare.
What kind of person would be inspiring to the American public?
A number of political people have inspired me in my lifetime. Ann Richards. Ronnie Regan, to a degree. JFK, especially. Bobbie Kennedy. Paul Wellstone. Then before that, of course, when you get to the great American leaders, many of them were inspiring people. And none of them really put the party first. None of the ones like your Davey Crocketts, Teddy Roosevelts, Sam Houstons, George Washingtons, and Abe Lincolns. Those kind of people. A different kind of person is being drawn to politics now — a worse kind of person.
And you would say that one of the biggest problems is putting the party first?
Over your conscience and your constituents. Yeah. Plus they’re in so damn long. You know what I mean? I believe: Never reelect anybody. These people are in so long that politics is the only field in which the more experience you have the worse you get.
What do you think it would take to change or shake up the American political system and get some people that could be good for the public?
Well it’s not just the politicians to blame. A lot of it is the people. It’s apathy. Particularly like in Texas in this past governor’s race which was endemic. We had 28% of the people voting. With that you know what you’re going to get. It’s going to be a Crip or a Blood, the two bullies of the playground.
In the book, You Can Lead a Politician to Water, But You Can’t Make Him Think, it’s mostly full of ideas that work or are currently working in other places. Australia’s mandatory voting is very successful in eliminating political corruption. You have elections on weekends. They do everything they can to maximize the vote.
In your gubernatorial candidacy you focused on some of the issues that have traditionally plagued Texas, the educational system, the environment, illegal immigration. What are the issues we should be focusing on as a country?
It’s pretty clear that the politicians are never going to do anything about anything. You saw what they did with immigration and now they’re doing the same thing with health care. So that’s what breeds apathy. We all say ‘What the hell, it’s never going to change.’ And there’s some truth to that. These people are not law makers anymore; theyâ€™re law breakers for the most part.
I think the two-party system is somewhat to blame. I think voter apathy doesn’t help. And I think the Karl Rove-type of person hurts politics. If we could get the politicians out of politics, we’d have it made. Imagine a country with a President Will Rogers or a President Mark Twain. Imagine something like that. Somebody who was above politics. Find that place that’s above politics where we can all work together. That would be remarkable. I mean everybody would go for that.
Do you think the American people would recognize someone that was above politics as being a potential candidate? It seems now that Americans support the traditional candidates.
Probably not. You know what Winston Churchill said. He said the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter. So I’m not sure that they would. They’ve a guy in John McCain who definitely has elements of greatness, but I don’t think he’s going anywhere.
You know the crowd rarely gets it right. The crowd picked Barabbas, let him go, let Jesus die. And the crowd, you know, they picked Rick Perry. They had a chance to have an independent government for the first time. It doesn’t work. It didn’t work for me as an Independent. I don’t think God would have won as an independent in Texas, actually. We’ve got to get the wooden horse inside the city, somehow. We’ve got to get an honest broker elected who doesn’t owe everything to his party.
For the candidates this year, as far as the Democratic side, you’ve got a black man and a woman who are running and seem to be the front runners. Do you think a Jew could be elected? Is that even a question for the American people at this point?
No, I don’t. I think a woman’s going to be elected. And I’ll be voting for her. You never know about that stuff. Like that could have been a factor in why I didn’t win. But I don’t think so. The fact today is we have a government of the money, by the money, and for the money.
And in order for Hillary to be where she is, you gotta go along to get along. And that’s what happens. And if you’re a public servant too long, it doesn’t take very long before you get completely corrupted. The only thing I agree with Ted Turner on is the men have completely screwed up the world, let the women screw it up a little bit.
I’ve read your books and listened to your music and supported your candidacy. It seems that in everything that you do there are Jewish overtones. Now some people don’t take them serious and some people do. What would you say your relationship with your religion is?
I think it’s best to always be on the outside looking in, and that’s the Jewish position in history, actually. So while the Jews are successful in a lot of areas, they’re never quite part of the mainstream, or they’re never quite part of the country club. I think that’s a good thing. Gives you a vantage point. As a writer it does. As a human being it does. And it helps you stay in tune with the underdogs, the strays, and the homeless. The people who need your help.
Would you say that religion is an important part of your life?
No, not religion per say. I’m a charismatic atheist, probably, though I’m not sure. We were discussing it down here and it always wins just to be a god-fearing Christian who goes to church on Sunday and goes over to Shreveport to gamble on Sunday night. Eats fried chicken and prays and stuff. That’s what being a Christian means to many people. And of course we have a horrible death penalty in Texas where we’re killing somebody every two weeks. You can’t be a Christian and preside over that. You can’t be a Christian and be like George Bush and say he’s positive we’ve never killed an innocent. These guys don’t know that, at all.
Of course any Christian or any Jews knows that this is not our job to kill people. It’s God’s job, it is not ours. Jesse Ventura when he came down here, of course said that religion has caused most of the wars down through history, in the world. Faith of course is a great thing. But I’d say use the faith wisely. Like that guy in Florida who raped that little girl and buried her alive. Now that’s a good argument for the death penalty. And you want to kill that guy with your own hands. But that’s where faith should step in. We’re not going to do to him what he did.
One last question, do you have any thoughts on 2010 yet? (The next governor’s race in Texas)
I’ve been talking to a bunch of people. They all say if I’d run as a Democrat last time, then we probably would have won. Watching what happened here, the main lesson I’ve learned is that we’re not in Minnesota, Toto. And that if I’d been in Minnesota or Vermont or Connecticut, I’d be the governor. Here people would rather change their religion than their political party.
I believe running as a Democrat in 2010 makes a lot of sense. And I’m in tune with the issues of the Democrats. Particularly, I think education and health care are both in the toilet here in Texas, and those would be two I’d tackle. And then I would definitely see that the death penalty was abolished here. I believe that if Massachusetts or California or someplace got rid of the death penalty, that’s not a very big deal, everybody knows those are progressive states. But if Texas were to abolish the death penalty I believe the world would stand up and cheer for Texas. And I believe we’d move to the head of the class of America where we belong. I believe it’s one main thing, really spiritually, holding us back. So for those reasons I’d consider running in 2010.