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Not surprisingly, William Archer III, MD, the Texas Commissioner of Health and son of the chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Bill Archer (R-Texas), says there are both pluses and minuses that go with having a well-connected father.
"There are folks who say you’re here because of your dad, that you don’t know anything about public health. You have to overcome those perceptions," he says. There are privileges, too, but they come with a price, he adds. "I want to be known for my own skills, not because I’m the son of somebody."
Growing up, Archer says he developed what he now sees was a typically American outlook on life. "We Americans base things on knowledge. It’s not that we don’t value relationships," he says. "It’s just that we tend to value knowledge more. It’s what we lead with."
A few years spent volunteering his services as a physician in developing countries was a powerful object lesson in humility, he says. "Here I was, trying to have an impact on communities; but I was finding that knowledge alone didn’t make an impact," he says. "It was relationships that made an impact. Then, the knowledge could begin to flow."
Eventually, Archer came to understand other facets of the Latin culture as well. "In South America, I didn’t have any of the labor-saving machines all of us here take for granted," he says. "Instead, I walked to the market, bought food, cooked, washed the dishes in a little sink that stood in one corner of my room. But it was the weirdest thing: I felt like I had all the time in the world."
Archer has been strongly influenced by the philosophy of financier/philanthropist George Soros, who has written that as a young man he was struck by how some kinds of "knowledge" — people’s best-considered decisions about what stock to buy, for example — not only reflected their version of objective reality, but shaped and altered reality as well.
The same rule applies in social and political settings, the Soros philosophy goes. Too often, Archer says, Americans ignore that verity.
When it comes to the border, Archer evinces a special affection for it, where the two cultures and peoples — the north, with its respect for knowledge, and the south, which cherishes relationships —meet and meld. "The border is really its own place," he says. In south Texas, settlers of European origin have rubbed shoulders with Mexicans as far back as the 1500s, he points out.
"Families have always lived, worked, shopped, and obtained their health services on both sides of the border," he adds. "It’s really only national laws that prevent it from being a lot more unified than it already is."
Sometimes, Archer says people ask him whether the border is more Mexican or more American in character. "I don’t know," he tells them. "It’s neither — a hybrid," a word some people might use to describe Archer himself.