Bissinger sits with Brian Chavez’s father, Tony, during the Panthers’ next game, against Midland High (not to be confused with Midland Lee, the team to whom the Panthers will lose later in the season, as covered in the Prologue). Tony “beams with pride” as he watches his son play magnificently, hitting the Midland offensive players soundly, making tackles. Tony, as Bissinger explains, has done well for himself in Odessa, having started out from humble circumstances, then serving in the army in Germany, then returning to Texas, working in the police department, and earning a law degree. Tony is now an affluent resident of the east side of town, a real success. Yet he feels subtle prejudice against himself and his family, because he is Latino. Tony’s politics—generally liberal, aligned with the Democratic party—differ significantly from the pro-Reagan stance of many in Odessa.
Tony’s hard work, and his willingness to break through difficult barriers of race, as imposed by the largely white communities in which he has lived and worked, seems, to Bissinger, almost superhuman—Bissinger’s reverence for Tony and his son Brian is obvious in these passages. Bissinger also seems interested especially in characters who, despite their political leanings, so different from the largely Republican values of the Odessa area, nevertheless root for the Permian squad. In this way, Bissinger argues that, at least on occasion, allegiance to football can unite, can cut across racial and political lines, at least fleetingly.
After the Midland game, which the Panthers win in a blowout shutout, George Bush visits the Odessa-Midland region, as a candidate running for President in the 1988 election—which is only several weeks away. Bush discusses how he and his wife Barbara lived in Odessa, then in Midland, early in their careers, when they were starting out in the oil business. Although Bush’s family is wealthy and from Connecticut, Bush paints himself, to the cheering and excited Midland crowd, as a man of Texas, someone who believes in the oil industry, and who will increase the prosperity of places like West Texas when he becomes President.
Bissinger tries to maintain an objective stance in his discussion of Bush and his connections to West Texas, but Bissinger nevertheless makes clear that Bush, like Reagan, is as much an actor as a politician—a man who can project the “values of the people,” but who is from a background of extreme wealth and privilege. Bissinger makes plain that authenticity in West Texas, and in America generally, is not a fixed construct, but is based instead on whether or not people think you’re authentic—a representative of their own interests.
Bissinger reports on Bush’s stump speech in Midland, where he decries the policies of Michael Dukakis, a “liberal from Massachusetts.” Bush makes it seem that Dukakis is “soft on crime,” that he doesn’t care about the “common people” of places in the middle of the country, and that he does not have the courage or leadership skills to be President of the United States. Although Bissinger seems to imply that Bush’s statements are unfair distortions of Dukakis actual policies and opinions, he also asserts that Bush understands places like Odessa and Midland, having lived there and gone to football games there, as Bush himself describes. Bissinger wonders aloud if Dukakis has ever been to something like a Permian football game, and what Dukakis might learn about the country by sitting in those stands.
Bissinger makes an interesting move in this section. Despite the fact that it is fairly certain Bissinger agrees more with Dukakis’, rather than Bush’s, economic and social policies, Bissinger nevertheless argues that Bush, rather than Dukakis, is willing to go the extra mile, to “sit in the stands” with the people of places like Odessa, in order to understand their lives. Bissinger, himself a man from the coasts who has come to Odessa to understand and write about its people, makes a case that liberal and coastal politicians should make similar efforts at connection and understanding, and that there is much in Odessa from which these politicians could learn.