Is Matthew McConaughey the Answer to the Texas Question?

Is Matthew McConaughey the Answer to the Texas Question?

By Eugene S. Robinson


Because wherever you go, you're everywhere you go.

By Eugene S. Robinson

There’s a strong possibility that America’s had it with celebrity politicos. From Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger to Donald Trump, it might be that if you have a Screen Actors Guild card, you’ve already been amply rewarded. Then Texas — suffering under Governor Greg Abbott’s bungling of the Texas power grid failure — started casting around for a pre-election solution and Matthew McConaughey’s name kept coming up. Which is precisely why he’s on this episode of The Carlos Watson Show. You can find excerpts below or listen to the full interview on the show’s podcast feed.

The Birth of a Political Animal

Carlos Watson: Is that what politics is for you right now? Could it be that buzz? Challenging?

Matthew McConaughey: I don’t know. I mean, challenging, it would definitely be, but I don’t know if that’s the buzz. If that’s the embassy for my buzz, if that’s the category for my buzz because I have to, I do, at the same time, I like knowing that I had a hand in the victory or the failure. What I don’t like is the not knowing: “How did I pull that off? I don’t know.” As much as I say I like to be in the know, I also like to be in the know about what I don’t know.

So I’m not saying I want to be in the know of it all. I like leaning into my blind spots, but I’m carrying a lot more baggage with me now. To lean into blind spots that I don’t know, it’s like jumping in the pool before checking if there’s water in it. I like to go have a look and understand the category and I’m trying to understand different leadership categories…. I’m still trying to understand how could I be effective.

You’re going in to people backstabbing. You’re going in and you fix some things, you put some band-aids on and soon as you’re out of office they rip the band-aids off and it’s right back. I’m not interested in going and putting a bunch of band-aids on that are going to be ripped off as soon as I’m out. I’m interested in building something that can last and I’m measuring what category that is. I don’t know if that’s politics. That whole embassy of politics has some redefining of its purpose. As an embassy itself, it really needs to redefine its purpose.

Watson: That’s interesting what you’re saying about, could you have a different kind or set of politicians who committed openly to saying, “I’m going to try and do things that still will be valuable and true in 30 years or 50 years or more, even if there’ll be unpopular at the moment, even if they will mean that I’ll only be a one-term person, even if they’ll be that.” Do you know whether or not you have the constitution to have those fights?

McConaughey: Do I have the constitution to be an administer of things? I trust my core beliefs. I trust my core beliefs enough and my values enough to feel comfortable listening to an opposing one. I think the point that you bring up that is a larger question is the things that’ll be around 20, 30, 40, infinite years. We don’t like to think… We try to teach our kids delayed gratification. We don’t like to think about further than tomorrow. We need immediate results because this is what’s going to be on my playbook.

Your numbers are going to be what’s on your playbook for these four years. What did you get now? Well, how many things do leaders and politicians get done there in their four that now become realized later on after they’re in office. They never get the credit for those. You only get credit wins, W’s and L’s, for what you did in those years.

But there are things that have been done that are good for the society and the world that have been legacy choices that didn’t come to fruition, were very unpopular, or deemed as losses at the time that showed up to be victories. We got to shake hands and embrace delayed gratification. We got to make some sacrifices for larger rewards tomorrow.

I mean, I think the best example for my mind this last year is the damn dispute over the masks that got politicized. I’m like, “Come on, man. I’m not believing you’re really scared of this little cotton thing. I’m not believing you really feel that takes away your identity and your freedom. This is a short-term inconvenience for long term freedom. Come on now.”

Throw the damn thing on, man. We’ve never been in this position before. There’s no data that says it’s not a good thing, no data that says it’s harmful. Let’s all take one for the team here. We like to say we want to take one for the team. We like to say, “Oh, the value of human life is the epitome that we all” … No it’s not. We won’t admit it.

We like to say it intellectually. Yes, one for the with team. We go back to our own and we’re like, “I’m looking out for me.” Now, I get it. It’s got to be personal, but there’s a place where what’s personal is also best for the team, and those are the longer term decisions and outcomes that we are afraid to bet on.

Of Fathers + Sons

Watson: What do you think would have happened to your dad if you had been your dad’s father and you raised him instead of the other way around?

McConaughey: If I would have raised my dad? We’re going back in time. He’s born in Patterson, Mississippi. Moves to Morgan, state of Louisiana. Middle-class income…there wasn’t no royalty in my background. We were riverboat gamblers, man. There’s some corny stories. I’m going, oh wow. Okay. Oh, I did break a bit of a chain here somewhere, somehow.

I mean, my dad was a traveling salesman. He was taught something that I still believe in. If you’re going to do something, don’t half-ass it. Get out there and add hustle. He got things done because he hustled. He was a bad ass, but he was also, art was not a thing that was in our vernacular, the creative side of us.

I found out later, after he moved on, that he actually was a painter, that he actually had these sculptures I found that he had done out of clay. “When was he doing that mom?” She was, “Oh, he’d do that after you’d go to bed.” We never knew. I mean, I come from a long line of salesman. Him and my mom moved 47 different places before we ended up in Longview, Texas. He was popping place to place trying to go from…I’m a truck driver. Now I’m managing the Texaco station. It’s got one pump outside. Well now I’m a pipe salesman on the phone for Gensco down in the Uvalde. Oh, I just got a bump. I got moved up to senior salesman and then Longview, Texas takes off. Oil boom. Hey, let’s head there. Let’s take the family and go.

We’re going to get a double wide on the outskirts down and try and make it. The next thing you knew he had 26 people working for him at Bauer steel, at a big pipe yard. He was a gambler. He loved chasing a Ponzi scheme. He went to Ecuador because he invested in these diamond mines. He got his picture coming out of the bush, the jungle, in Ecuador with the machete. There weren’t no damn diamonds over there, man.

But even that was fine because he got to go to the jungle with the machete. Oh man, he loved that. He would rather probably make half as much money if he could work with people that were in adventure and fun rather than make twice as much and work with a bunch of squares. He loved that underbelly. He loved it.

I don’t know what I would have…I’ve actually thought more of like, who are my grandkids going to be raised by my sons and daughter? What kind of parents are they going to be?

I don’t know if I’d want to change any of it though. The only thing I maybe would have changed is that, “Hey son,” talking to him. He died at 62 of a heart attack, and he’s one of the longest living male McConaugheys in the family. They were hard, my mom’s 89 and still rocking, but dad was a hard living guy. He was smoking his two packs of Camels a day not letting stress show to his family.

We never went without, but then he passed away, and I found out, man, he was scratching by, scratching by, trying not to go chapter 11, too much pride to go bankrupt. Boy, when we looked at his numbers, we’re like, “Oh damn. No wonder he was stressed.” He never let us know. Never let mom go without. He got mom her Cadillac. He got that Cadillac. We couldn’t afford that damn Cadillac. We had no business getting that Cadillac, but Mama wanted it. I went to school. He paid for my college. I look back, I’m like, “Damn, you didn’t really have, you weren’t flush enough to pay for me to go to college.”

I mean, yeah, he was stressed. His deal was, he’d always say this, Carlos, “If I could just hit a lick. One day boys, I’m going to hit a lick.” He never hit that lick. He also was in denial. He just absolutely said I’m not going to admit it. He was having heart trouble. He went to Baylor Med and got wind of these experiments. He’d come back from Baylor Med after they ran the dye through him, and we didn’t know then that he was blocked. He’d come back and light one up.

“Pop, are you sure you’re supposed to be smoking?” He goes, “Oh hell yeah, boys. Doctor says I got the heart of a 22-year-old high hurdler.” He was so full of shit. He died of a heart attack. We go bum rush the doctor. “Hey, what the hell?”

And he goes, “What do you mean?” He goes, “No! I told him he’s so blocked. He needs to quit smoking completely and watch what he eats.” And we’re like, “He was lying to us.” So, I don’t know if I’d have changed a thing. I just maybe would’ve said, “Hey.” Because he didn’t want to. He chose quality and fun of life over quantity. He wasn’t chasing a higher number. I don’t know if he would have wanted to quit living how he was living, doing what he was doing to live to be 70 instead of 62.

Worming the Books

Watson: I know you love to write. What’s your favorite favorite book?

McConaughey: Emerson’s Essays. It was the first time I’d read philosophy that I went, “Oh!” Two lines. I’m opening it up. Two lines. Emerson’s essay on self-reliance. I read two lines and I go, “Whoa. Wow. Now, what if I take that out into the world and try and see through that lens and act through that lens? And let me hear what the music that comes back to me is, and see if I can get a reciprocity going.” And then my rhythm of engagement and interaction with the world and people based on those two lines, whatever they were.

And it’d take two weeks before I’d come back and read line three and four. So I just found it like, wow, this is the coolest game in town, so to speak.

That’s why I love reading philosophy, or some motivation sometimes, or sometimes self-help, if it’s got enough teeth to it. Because, it’s the reason I like going to church on Sunday. I’m geared up with stuff I want to put in practice and test it, see if it pays me back. You know what I mean?

Like giving out. See if I can get a mirror image coming back at me from the world, or from somebody else’s soul, or mind, or mouth. And if I can get that reciprocity going, and then go back and go, hey, how’d that work? Oh, that one really worked out. Or sometimes it’s like, I hadn’t got it to work yet. Maybe I don’t get it yet. I got to keep at it. I got to keep trying, before I’ll move on to the next two lines. So I’m a very slow reader, as you can imagine. Because I like stopping and taking things out and trying to see if I can apply them.