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Scott Bennett's Perspective


Scott Bennett, former Public Affairs Editor for Texas Business magazine, former editorial writer and nationally distributed columnist for The Dallas Morning News, made these observations about Tieman H. Dippel, Jr. :

In 1953, philosopher and intellectual historian Isaiah Berlin wrote in his essay, "The Hedgehog and the Fox," "the Fox knows many things while the Hedgehog knows but one big thing."

Journalists like to identify political leaders as being one or the other. Ronald Reagan was a Hedgehog whose organizing principal was the "big thing" called anti-communism. Bill Clinton was frequently depicted as a man who knew so much that he pursued too much.

The author of this book, my friend of decades, Skipper Dippel (Tieman to those who donít know him) is that most rare of creatures: one who combines the best of the Hedgehog and the Fox. Skipper knows one big thing: conscience must be paramount for a civil society. But he also knows many other things and pursues many ends, often unrelated, but somehow never contradictory.

Skipper is a scholar, a businessman, a lawyer, an activist for many worthy causes, a philanthropist, a politician, a family man, and above all and in the highest sense of the word a "citizen."

One big thing Skipper knows is that everyone has a philosophy whether they know it or not. They may be a Christian or a Moslem, a Republican or a Democrat, a Crip or a Blood, but they have and act on a philosophy. The fundamental question is whether their philosophy is grounded in conscience or "convenience." Does a man or woman seek to discern right and stand by it or do they do what is most convenient no matter the cost to others and their own diminished conscience.

Brenham, Texas, Skipperís lifelong residence, is a small idyllic town on the lush coastal plains of Texas midway between Austin and Houston. When Texans lived mostly in small towns, places like Brenham and Decatur (my home) could produce political powerhouses. Now that most Texans live in four metropolitan areas, with their vaults of political money and media reach, movers and shakers are rarely found in the small towns of Texas. Skipper is an exception.

It is true he has the resources to write big checks and occasionally does. He can also raise a few bucks. But Skipper Dippel has not been a mover in Texas political and civic affairs for a quarter century because of fund raising prowess. He attained and maintained that status because it is widely known and accepted that Skipper acts only on conscience.

He is a true moral force, and I have always been amazed at the power of moral force in a state where might is mightily respected. The late Texas Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, a man who understood political might better than most, once told me that he found himself perplexed over a piece of legislation that was of no real interest to him, but was critical to many of his friends who were evenly divided for and against. When he heard Skipper opposed the bill he decided to oppose it too (although the two never discussed it personally). Why? Because he assumed it was the "right" thing to do.

To the astonishment of those who knew him in college, Skipper has never run for public office. Nor has he ever really proclaimed a party allegiance. Instead he has worked through a plethora of networks, some formal some not. These have included religious, political, academic, civic, professional, arts, and business organizations. Some he founded, some he lead, some he helped lead, some he simply helped shape as a member or even as just an outside friend.

Why? Why not run for office? Why not leave Brenham, strikeout for Austin or Houston? Why run a small bank when none doubt he could have run a major bank? Why spend a lifetime enmeshed in organizations and networks that must literally number over 100? First, because he believes this is how and where a free people can be truly effective. He believes it is where the conscience can at least have its day in court.

Second, he believes in the power of history and culture. His history and his culture are the history and culture of Texas. The Texas into which he and I were born is largely vanished. Oil and cattle donít matter much more than Brenham or Decatur. And if nations are fading in importance states like Texas surely are too. But there is still a culture and a history that lives on, there is still a Texas way, and Skipper, the quintessential Texan is determined to see that the best of what that was survives him.

This book, The Language of Conscience, is intended a sort of handbook for those who would lead on the "big thing" of conscience, and on the "many things" that include history, culture, responsibility, accountability, and activism within all the venues a free society provides. And it is about seeing the beast of Texas survives.

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