It’s not easy to burn a straw man in the midst of a biblical flood, but some on the Left are frantically trying to light the flame. The target, of course, is Texas conservatism, and the argument is old and tired. Whenever disaster strikes red America, there’s always someone standing there ready to say, “What do you think of big government now?”
Here’s the stupid, vindictive version of this reflexive take, from a Politico cartoonist. A tea-party, secessionist Texas rube praises God for the government’s good work:
Texans might pride themselves on their rugged individualism, but this time, they’ll have no choice but to accept years of state and federal help for the recovery. By the time Harvey leaves the city on Wednesday, Greater Houston will have been drenched with 1 trillion gallons of water and an estimated 30,000 people will be living in temporary housing. The Federal Emergency Management Agency expects to receive at least 450,000 claims for damage caused by the storm. And early estimates point to least $150 billion in total economic losses.
Where to begin? First, it’s extremely odd to argue that Texas may lose its sense of self-reliance when the crisis’s most enduring images are of the extraordinary response of private individuals: people manning their own boats, rescuing their friends and neighbors without waiting for government help. No one should minimize the indispensable role of government first responders, but the Harvey rescues represented a maximum public and private effort.
Parker makes the tired and discredited argument that Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz voted against Hurricane Sandy relief, when they loudly and clearly argued at the time that they were in favor of Sandy relief but opposed to larding up the bill with unrelated or non-emergency expenses. The issue was pork and waste, not the government’s role in a time of crisis.
Part of Parker’s argument simply makes no sense at all. For example, read this statement:
When Gov. Greg Abbott won election in 2014, he said of his agenda: “We will celebrate the frontier spirit of rugged individualism.” Since then, he and the legislature have sought to limit government power — except their own. They have enabled individuals to more freely carry guns and knives and diverted taxpayer money from public to private schools. Most recently, Abbott led the failed effort to nullify local tree ordinances — regulations limiting tree removal — because these posed, Abbott argued, a threat to individual freedom.
But Harvey has changed all that.
What does Harvey have to do with concealed carry or education reform? Does the fact that first responders did heroic work saving Texan lives now mean that there’s less need for increased access to quality private schools? And it’s certainly unclear how the excellence of FEMA’s response to Harvey affects the Second Amendment. It’s like arguing that an increased level of military spending (a popular and long-time conservative cause) also means that conservatives must support increased levels of government spending on welfare programs or health care.
But it’s straw men all the way down. A spirit of self-reliance doesn’t require Texans to believe they never need help under any circumstances. It simply means that a person, as much as possible, takes responsibility for himself and his family, which is exactly what countless Texans did. Texans who believe in limited government and individual liberty are not somehow inconsistent when they support and praise government agencies that are filling a classic, core governmental function — a function that both conservatives and liberals have supported and funded for generations.
Texas conservatives won’t renew their love for failing public schools because the Coast Guard performed heroically in Houston.
The enduring legacy of Harvey is going to be one of pain and loss — pain and loss that is hopefully tempered first by the love and support of family, friends, and neighbors and second by governments’ and other institutions’ stepping up and providing the aid they’re designed to provide. It won’t be an ideological sea change, where Texas conservatives somehow renew their love for failing public schools because the Coast Guard performed heroically in Houston.
In fact, the Texas ethos (properly understood) won’t just endure, it will flourish. The state faced a terrible crisis, and person after person acted on his own initiative to help neighbors in need. They didn’t wait for help. They became the help, and in so doing they inspired a nation. That’s exactly the kind of self-reliance American needs.
— David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and an attorney.
Editor’s Note: This piece has been amended since its posting.