While the Texas storm might strike some as unusual, a similar event occurred in 2011 and scientists knew that such a severe storm could occur. While the explanations of the failures that made the disaster will include the usual foible and faults of humans, there are also ideological factors that contributed. In fact, the Texas situation provides an excellent case study of the professed ideology of Republicans/conservatives. Fairness requires pointing out the obvious: The United States has only two major parties that divide into left and right. This means that a broad range of views is packed into each party. The Democrats, for example, include AOC, Antifa folk, and Joe Biden. The Republicans, to illustrate, include Mitt Romney, Trump, and some Proud Boys. There are also distinctions between the policies of a party and the various ideologies within that party.
While conservatives need not be anti-science and anti-fact, the Republican party has consciously chosen to be anti-science and anti-fact in some areas. The most relevant example is their general anti-science stance on climate change. Back in the 1980s the Democrats and Republicans generally accepted the reality of climate change and the threat it presented. This changed as the Republicans made climate change an ideological issue. This played a role in what happened in Texas: The Republicans have worked hard to deny climate change and to prevent actions to address it—thus the storm and the lack of proper preparation for it.
While Republicans profess a belief in personal responsibility and condemn those who would blame others, the Republican Texas leadership rushed to put the blame on others. The governor blamed the utility companies for not being prepared for the event. To be fair, this blame is consistent with Republican ideology. Republicans profess to favor laissez faire capitalism with businesses being allowed to operate mostly as they wish. Because of this, Texas did not require the utility companies to winterize. Not surprisingly, the companies elected to focus on their profits and did not winterize. Hence, the large-scale failures. This is what one would expect: people, in general, tend to discount the future and the Texas leaders should have known that this is what would happen. This leads to questions about the nature and extent of government control.
On the one hand, one could agree that the state fulfilled its moral obligation of recommending that the companies winterize, and the companies are at fault. On the other hand, one could use an analogy here: imagine a coach whose explanation of why their team lost so badly is that while they suggested that the athletes practice, they did not want to compel them to do so. The coach believed that the athletes would realize practicing would be best for them and would practice hard. The fact that they did not is on them. Or perhaps this analogy: imagine a police chief whose explanation of why crime is so severe in their district is that while they suggested that people not do crimes, they did not want to compel them to not do crimes. The chief believed that the people would realize that not doing crime would be best for them and would not do crimes. The fact that they did is on them. What was he supposed to do?
After blaming the utilities for not doing what the state did not compel them to do, the Governor then used what has become a go-to tactic of many Republicans: making untrue and misleading about alternative energy. This seems to stem from their anti-science view of climate change and a pro-petrochemical view. While it is true that wind turbines did fail in Texas, these account for about 13% of the shutdowns. The governor also neglected to mention that the facilities failed because they had not been properly winterized: wind turbines can function in such conditions if they have been properly set up to do so. For example, the United States uses them at its Antarctica research facility. Attacking alternative energy and the Green New Deal was a red herring and an attempt to score points against these things by falsely exploiting a self-inflicted disaster. Unfortunately, people profess to believe these claims, and many do not seem inclined to take even a few seconds to check them using Google. Or perhaps they do not bother to check because they already know they are not true. Now to talk about Ted Cruz.
As everyone knows, Ted Cruz used the influence of his office to get the Houston police to help him and his family get to the airport so they could fly to Cancun. While he cannot be faulted for wanting to get his family to someplace with electricity and food, using public resources to help flee to a luxury resort and then lying about why he went (also seeming to throw his kids under the bus) were morally wrong. While he was broadly condemned even by other Republicans, he did have his defenders.
One line of defense is that as a Senator, Cruz had no responsibility to remain in the state—he is not the governor or a state official. One could even claim that there is nothing Cruz could do as a senator. As such, while flying to a luxury resort would look bad, he did nothing wrong. This, of course, leaves out his use of police resources and his lies—but these are distinct from the issue of whether leaving the state was morally acceptable.
I do agree that his position as a senator puts him outside of the state leadership for such matters—unlike a governor or mayor he has no direct office-based responsibilities to address such matters. But he obviously could have used his influence for the good of his fellow Texans. As evidence, consider the actions of Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC).
AOC used her influence to raise almost $5 million dollars to aid the people of Texas. She then flew to Texas to assist other Democrats in distributing supplies. This was after Fox News and Republican politicians attacked her and blamed her for the crisis in Texas. Critics of AOC might claim that this is a political stunt, and she will use this as a rung on her political ladder.
While I do not know what is in her secret heart, even if AOC is engaged in politics, then it is worth noting that Ted Cruz also wants to be president. As such, if this is her motivation, then she must believe that helping people in a disaster is how to score points. In contrast, Cruz would seem to believe that leaving people to fend for themselves while he flies off to a resort is how to score points and seem presidential. Weirdly, some of Cruz’ defenders have tried to cast him as acting nobly for going to Cancun—they say he freed up resources to be used by others. One would suppose that these same people would be lavishing praise on AOC: she flew to Texas with $4.7 million in resources. While this is but two examples, the comparison of AOC and Cruz does provide a clear juxtaposition of the difference between the professed ideology of the right and left: Cruz represents the view that government cannot (and perhaps should not) help citizens while AOC represents the view that government should do just that. While Cruz attempted to quietly depart Texas as a way of showing that he believed he had no role to play in helping people, the mayor of Colorado, Texas posted in plain language what Republicans normally at least try to put in coded language.
While Republicans do vary in their ideology, former Mayor Boyd asserted that “No one owes you are (sic) your family anything; nor is it the local government’s responsibility to support you during trying times like this! Sink or swim it’s your choice! The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING! I’m sick and tired of people looking for a damn handout.”
While somewhat extreme for a crisis, this view of the role of the government and business is consistent with the general view of the Republican party. It clearly echoes the talking points of Fox News and reflects the view of disasters taken by mainstream national Republicans. Lindsey Graham serves as good example—back in the good old days when only 60,000 Americans had died of COVID, Graham asserted that he would only extend the additional $600 unemployment benefits “over his dead body.” Outside of disasters, this view is quite mainstream in the Republican party and represents the fruit of the Reagan era view of the role of government in helping citizens. The Texas crisis, which is taking place in the broader pandemic crisis, provides yet another test case of this view of government. It does not seem to be doing well for most of the citizens of Texas (and America) but is working exactly as intended.