Perspective Why Dallas Matters

For eight months, the editors of The American Enterprise magazine studied Dallas. Here’s an exclusive look at what they’re about to tell the nation.

IEDIT A MAGAZINE CALLED THE AMERICAN Enterprise, a Washington- and New York-based publication that covers national trends in politics, business, and culture. Every year or so, we assemble a team of writers and descend upon an important American city. We scour schools, nightspots, business suites, halls of government, arts districts, churches, and playing fields. We interview residents from every walk of society. Even before we arrive, we subscribe to local newspapers and magazines. We study local histories and rake through financial and demographic statistics.

This year our team went to Dallas. Right now, a large percentage of D Magazine’s accomplished readers are cocking their heads, furrowing their brows, and wiggling in their armchairs. I know. Because you’ve been doing that to us for months now. “Why Dallas’?” you ask incredulously. “What about Dallas would interest a bunch of writers from New York, Washington, and Los Angeles?” The short answer: A lot.

We all lend to overlook things that are close and familiar. “What does the fish know-about (he water in which it swims?” is how Albert Einstein put it So perhaps I can provide a few snapshots of your pond taken from the viewpoint of some visiting drag-onflies. Collectively, these pictures show that, contrary to its image among certain coastal snobs (and some locals as well). Dallas is a powerfully fertile part of the American ecosystem. In more than 35 pages of our magazine’s October/November issue, we’re going to show the nation the improbable vigor of your region. Here’s a sneak preview.

ONE OF THE FIRST THINGS WE D1SCOV-ered about Dallas is that most of the stereotypes held by out-of-town liberals about the place are untrue. Dallas has no culture. Dallas is a social and intellectual wasteland. There’s no real city in Dallas. Dallas is white-bread boring.

Not so. Dallas, though not exactly a hotbed for introspection, has some soulful comers. At a weeknight jam session at the Sons of Hermann Hall, we listened as 10 guitarists, a mandolinist, and a harmonica player sat in a circle and picked and sang their latest compositions. My favorite ballad was introduced Institute, all comers are accepted with respect and mutual interest, and the discussion (much ol’ it turning on how to encourage creativity and accomplishment in Dallas) was productive, democratic, and high-toned.

We saw Plains common sense and egali-tarianism in action in a great many places in Dallas. In one of the feature essays in our special issue. British-poet-turned-Dallasite Frederick Turner describes his adopted hometown as “a good example of a generous, conservative regime of intellectual freedom.” And he adds. “That is why so many energetic, optimistic, and original people choose to come here.”

Turner’s reference to “original people” is especially apt, Dallas, I’ve discovered, is well stocked with improbable, mold-breaking, convention-stretching renegades and innovators. There’s a Texas term thai condenses that long string of adjectives into a single word-maverick. Used by pioneer Texans to describe the free-roaming cattle who, carrying no brand, had no masters, the word now characterizes people or institutions who follow their own independent ways of doing things. We met a great many mavericks in Dallas, both individuals and institutions, and would like to mention some of our favorites.



ROBERT McTEER IS A GATOR-SKIN wearing, beachball of a banker float-ing in a gray, pinstriped sea. McTeer is president of the Dallas branch of The Federal Reserve Bank. Under McTeer’s leadership, the Dallas Fed branch has become one of the more robust corners of Alan Greenspan’s empire.

From its gleaming tower on North Pearl Street, the Dallas Fed does all the things the other 11 Fed branches do while also growing into a major center for currency distribution. T-bill handling, and electronic funds transfer. Most visibly, the bank’s research and public affairs sections have become cheerleaders for America’s transition to a “new economy.” A series of popular annual reports penned by Chief Economist Michael Cox have beaten the drum in support of free trade, high technology, and deregulation ol’ business. In national Federal Reserve meetings, McTeer has been a feisty, often lonely voice against interest rate hikes. He argues passionately that “the Internet changes everything” and “economic progress is speeding up; the speed limit is rising.” Unquestionably, the Dallas Fed is the only Institute, all comers are accepted with respect and mutual interest, and the discussion (much ol’ it turning on how to encourage creativity and accomplishment in Dallas) was productive, democratic, and high-toned.

We saw Plains common sense and egali-tarianism in action in a great many places in Dallas. In one of the feature essays in our special issue. British-poet-turned-Dallasite Frederick Turner describes his adopted hometown as “a good example of a generous, conservative regime of intellectual freedom.” And he adds. “That is why so many energetic, optimistic, and original people choose to come here.”

Turner’s reference to “original people” is especially apt, Dallas, I’ve discovered, is well stocked with improbable, mold-breaking, convention-stretching renegades and innovators. There’s a Texas term thai condenses that long string of adjectives into a single word-maverick. Used by pioneer Texans to describe the free-roaming cattle who, carrying no brand, had no masters, the word now characterizes people or institutions who follow their own independent ways of doing things. We met a great many mavericks in Dallas, both individuals and institutions, and would like to mention some of our favorites.



ROBERT McTEER IS A GATOR-SKIN wearing, beachball of a banker float-ing in a gray, pinstriped sea. McTeer is president of the Dallas branch of The Federal Reserve Bank. Under McTeer’s leadership, the Dallas Fed branch has become one of the more robust corners of Alan Greenspan’s empire.

From its gleaming tower on North Pearl Street, the Dallas Fed does all the things the other 11 Fed branches do while also growing into a major center for currency distribution. T-bill handling, and electronic funds transfer. Most visibly, the bank’s research and public affairs sections have become cheerleaders for America’s transition to a “new economy.” A series of popular annual reports penned by Chief Economist Michael Cox have beaten the drum in support of free trade, high technology, and deregulation ol’ business. In national Federal Reserve meetings, McTeer has been a feisty, often lonely voice against interest rate hikes. He argues passionately that “the Internet changes everything” and “economic progress is speeding up; the speed limit is rising.” Unquestionably, the Dallas Fed is the only branch that plays country music for callers on hold. The D.C. bureaucracy has pressed them to switch to Muzak to no avail. In McTeer’s latest annual report, he describes “Bubba Hyde” as one of his favorite songs and offers snapshots, under the heading “Highlights of 1999,” of him visiting graves-Adam Smith’s in Scotland and Buddy Holly’s in Lubbock.



DON COBURN WON THE PULITZER Prize for the first play he wrote. The Gin Game. But with his most recent script he is risking out-and-out martyrdom, Unlike 95 percent of his contemporaries in today’s American theater, Coburn is not a squishy liberal. In his current project he is speaking bluntly about the dangers of racial grievance politics and victimhood.

Coburn’s latest play, about a racial demagogue who holds an entire city hostage, is a work of real power. If he can find a production company uncowed by the censoring powers of political correctness, it will become a theatrical event. That, alas, is a big “if,” even for a playwright of Coburn’s stature. But it is characteristic of Dallas iconoclasm-incubator in recent years of everything from Ross Perot’s offbeat politics to the once-eccentric singing flight attendants of Southwest Airlines-that this brave work was watered along the banks of the Trinity River.



WHEN I MADE AN APPOINTMENT TO interview Dr. Craig Hobar, I simply wanted to ask one of Dallas’ leading plastic surgeons what it is about the place that has turned it into a world capital lor cosmetic surgery. Little did I know that breast enlargements, tummy tucks, and face lifts rank about fifth on his list of priorities, though No. 1 on his income statement.

Hobar is also a national judo champion, a learn doctor for the Dallas Stars, and a dedicated family man. Least expected of all. he is a pious Christian. Only in America. Perhaps only in Dallas. “I’m extremely grateful for my faith and what God has done in my life.” Hobar explains. So grateful is he that he founded a group called LEAP(Life Enhancement Association for People) to give something back in Christian charity.

For more than 10 years now, he’s been leading LEAP teams of 20-25 individuals into places such as the Dominican Republic, Belize, and Laos, where, operating sun-up to sun-down, they offer “life-changing medical services in the name of Christ.” Hobar and the other volunteers he’s mobilized-around 400 professionals so far-have provided thousands of indigent patients with free cleft palate reconstructions, artificial limbs and eyes, and repairs of facial deformities. This is no hobby. Hobar takes four mission trips per year, each lasting about a week.



AS YOU DRIVE INTO UTD FOR THE first lime, it’s easy to believe all the stereotypes about sterile North Texas sprawl. The long entry road slices through an empty held that appears to have been farmland not long ago. Cold, concrete Modernist buildings loom over Wal-Mart-sized parking lots. The streets are named “Drive A,” “Drive B,” “Drive C.” Inside the mazelike buildings, utilitarian classrooms and offices have names like. “JO interior room 1.42 north.”The whole place looks and feels like an engineer’s pipe dream, and for most of the day it’s as empty and lonely as an abandoned shopping center.

But as evening approaches. UTD transforms from ghost town into beehive. There are many Asians and older students- mature, employed, productive-seeking additional knowledge and skills, especially in technical fields. UTD is surely the quirkiest public university in the country. It was originally founded by Texas Instruments as the company’s private research and training institute. Later. TI decided they wanted to be able to award Ph.D.s to their scientists, so they donated the physical plant, some resources, and a number of professors to the UT system. Since then, the school’s administrators have worked backwards down the academic food chain-adding master’s programs and then, finally, an undergraduate curriculum. UTD now produces more computer science graduates than any other college in the state, has a flourishing school of management, the first telecom engineering program in the country, and higher average SAT scores than UT Austin, traditionally thought Texas” finest university.

Four faculty members with whom I became acquainted during my Dallas visits illustrate the range of intellectual innovation. Stan Liebowitz has done well-known research debunking the notion of “technological lock-in,” which many trendy scholars were claiming foisted inferior technology on an unwary public. Fred Turner, who grew up in Africa and was educated in England before settling in Dallas, is a polymath who has distinguished himself equally as a poet, philosopher of science, essayist, art critic, and social theorist, Istvan Ozsvath, who hosted me at his house for a delightful Hungarian meal, is one of the most eminent mathematicians in the world today, specializing in describing the shape of the universe in mathematical language. His wife Zsuzsanna Ozsvath is a prize-winning translator and writer and director of Holocaust Studies at LTD. Having been saved from the Nazis by her Christian babysitter in Budapest. Zsuzsi knows first-hand about ethnic victimization, yet speaks boldly against political correctness and pandering multicultural politics.

ACROSS THE WAY, IN 1991, THE FORT Worth Zoo-then a middling, city-run facility-was almost forced to close for lack of funds. Along came Ramona Bass, an animal lover since her upbringing on a South Texas ranch and a member of the wealthy Bass family. Bass suggested that the zoo could thrive if it was privatized, Soon, the facility was shifted to private management and funding and now is recognized as one of the top five zoos in the United States.

But what’s even more striking than this financial and professional turnaround is the message being projected by the zoo. In most places in the country, zoogoers “are receiving an inordinate amount of negative information,” explains one Fort Worth Zoo document. “We really want people to question the things they’ve been told.” Specifically. these iconoclastic Texas naturalists are preaching that “man is an integral pari of the natural world, not a separate entity,” and that the main biological story today is “not a tale of imminent doomsday, but of dynamic environmental successes.” This vision of active human stewardship over nature is captured even in the zoo logo, which depicts a human handprint overlapped with a coyote track. In addition to the predictable biologists and so forth, the zoo’s advisory board includes economists, paper company wildlife experts, and professors of agriculture.

Remarkably, a soon-to-open section of the zoo will portray the ecosystem of East Texas, housing the zoo’s black bears in a facsimile of an abandoned Piney Woods lumber camp. Rather than portraying the sawmill as a “scar,” it will be seen as a stage of human development to which many animals have now adapted.

With extensive support from private individuals and businesses, extremely imaginative programs, a strong pro-animal, pro-human, pro-market vision of environmental conservation, and a multimillion-dollar expansion now underway, the Fort Worth Zoo is a thriving, unorthodox institution with no peer anywhere in the country.



OUR OUTSIDERS ’ EYES WERE DRAWN TO many other singular aspects of the Dallas region. Like the fact that amid the concrete and glass towers of Dallas’ financial district, the city has devoted 3 1/4 acres (“about 50 percent larger than the court at Rockefeller Center,” one sign notes) to Thanks-Giving Square, a park specifically dedicated to spiritual reflection. It’s filled with prayers inscribed on tablets and is anchored by a striking interfaith chapel.

One local employer suggests that Dallas is growing in religiosity. Twenty years ago, when he founded his company, there were only one or two religious people among his two dozen professionals. Today, he guesses that only one staffer is not a serious Christian. We noted that the region’s 1,300 houses of worship included the country’s largest Episcopalian, Presbyterian, South-em Baptist, and Pentecostal congregations, which often require off-duty police officers to handle traffic. We visited the Cathedra! of Hope, the largest gay church in existence. with four Sunday services. We spent a good deal of time in and around The Potter’s House, a mostly black church on Dallas’ southern edge that creates Sunday morning traffic jams on S.H. 303.



MANY AREA COMPANIES AND PATRONS have been uncommonly generous and civic-minded in their support of the arts. When Dallas built its new symphony center in the 1980s, il installed one of the world’s most magnificent pipe organs. As a result, Dallas now annually hosts the top organ competition in the United States. The current composer-in-residence of the Dallas Symphony, 39-year-old Lowell Liebermann. is an unapologetic traditionalist, an admirer of 19th-century classical forms, and someone who writes to please audience ears more than academic theorists. Answering salvos from music’s left-wing critical establishment, Liebermann argues that “this obsession with innovation is a very recent phenomenon and rather simplistic. Doing something different for its own sake can be quite meaningless.” Reminded by interviewer Barrymore Scherer that his use of traditional forms, his desire to be accessible rather than obscure, and his emphasis on beauty inspire scorn among “progressive” critics, Dallas’ musical creator fires back that “to criticize a composer for writing ’conservatively’ is equivalent to criticizing an author for writing in standard grammatical English.”



DESPITE BEING THE No. 9 METRO AREA in the country by size, Dallas-Fort Worth now has more information-sector jobs than all but two other cities. Suburban Richardson is home to more than 600 high-tech companies that represent the heaviest concentration of telecommunications firms in the world. Last year, California’s Milken Institute ranked the Dallas metroplex the No. 2 technology center in the country, second only to Silicon Valley. And Dallas is growing faster.

Overall, the Dallas region area is expected to lead the nation in total employment growth during the current decade, creating more than half a million new jobs. Not surprisingly, it is consistently rated one of the very top places to found a company or do business. In a July interview with us. then local executive, and now GOP vice presidential nominee. Dick Cheney described Dallas as “very resilient, with a very diver-si lied economy, altogether one of the more dynamic cities in America.”

Dallas is an extremely entrepreneurial and capitalist city. Its picture isn’t always pretty, but the end result has been a rolling prosperity leading to many fine and humane improvements. “Never mind the Trinity,” says local activist Gail Thomas. “Money is our river. Today’s fresh financial Mows support wonderful new philanthropy, art, and improved quality of lite. The dollars lubricate and power. They create vibrancy.” Dallas is unusually hospitable to new money and new success. As one writer put it, “There is no prejudice against new riches.” At the same time, there is no deference to wealth- that’s not the frontier way.

At the root of many of these traits is the fact thai, as a local publisher put it, “Dallas is an exceptionally meritocratic and competitive place.” This shows up in everything from the business climate to the fierce, hard-nosed nature of local high school sports. I was impressed when I discovered that the high school football team fielded by Highland Park-the tony residential area where many Dallas civic leaders live-has been a consistent champion for many years. Football ain’t golf or swim team. It requires an essential ferocity that rich kids in (he fanciest schools of most cities just don’t have today. Typically, it’s the hungrier blue-collar districts, farm belts, or inner-city schools that produce top football teams.

“Yeah, you ’re right,” responded one local editor when I asked about this. “In Dallas, the elites are still meat eaters. They’re not sophisticates who’ve gone soft as in some places. The rough-and-tumble virtues are still prized here.”

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