So once more I’m going to be writing about the Great Texas Ice Storm of 2021, and its potential political effects. Yes, I’m being kinda obsessive about it. But, dang it, I spent a bunch of days in the cold and the dark. That makes me…grumpy. You wouldn’t like me if I was grumpy. I turn green and grow fangs and sound like Bill Bixby on steroids for at least five seasons. And noooo-body wants that. I mean, grim.
Out Of The Ice
Where was I? Oh, yes. So after the Ice Storm, Texans took out their score cards and figured out who’d become a hero and who’d become a zero during the great month of December. As near as I can tell as a recent transplant to the state (a.k.a., “outsider”) looking in, the major names included:
1) Ted Cruz (zero) — Ted really took it on the nose on this one. His decamping, with a police escort, for Cancun in the middle of the storm, leaving his constituents to freeze in the dark, looked rather…well…just awful, actually. Definitely in the Let Them Eat Cake category. Unfortunately, it probably won’t hurt him in the short run. People will continue to vote for him because he offends “the libs.” But, if he is talking about running for President in 2024…when he’ll need votes across the aisle…and support from outside Texas…
“Road kill” sums it up nicely.
2) HEB Grocery Company (hero) — this is a large chain of grocery and other stores located in Texas and Northern Mexico. Its headquarters is in San Antonio. HEB won major kudos by opening as soon as it could after the Storm, and working damn hard to let people get at least SOME groceries after days in the dark. There were empty shelves and the staff was sparse, but somehow they managed it.
And, even more, at one store at least, when the power went back off again, and the cash registers stopped working, the management just told shoppers to take their groceries home without paying. They could work it out later, they said. That’s rather astonishing, and if HEB were a person, it could run for governor in a heart beat.
3) Greg Abbott (zero) — speaking of governors, this one is ours. Greg Abbott is our high and glorious leader here in the Lone Star State, and he did not exactly acquit himself well in the Storm. First, he seemed kind of inert when the Storm hit. No rushing about organizing relief or anything stirring or charismatic like that. Then, second…and way worse…he made public statements blaming renewable power (particularly wind) for the power outages. Which wasn’t true. In fact, basically, it was a flat out fib. And one told primarily to benefit the oil and gas industry…which happens to be among his largest donors.
Oh, and something new. Just as I was about to finish this piece, Abbott announced that he was lifting Covid restrictions and revoking the state’s mask mandate. I’m sure that this was partly a response to his non-response to the Ice Storm. He aims, I suspect, to curry favor with the state’s Republicans, many of whom did not believe in the virus in the first place. (You hear “Spamdemic” and “Plandemic” around here a lot.)
So, his new Covid-friendly policy will definitely help him at the polls. It will also kill a lot of Texans. But, apparently, that doesn’t matter to him.
4) ERCOT (less than zero) — ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, is the organization responsible for the ways in which power is generated and distributed in Texas. ERCOT and its directors are in very deep shit at the moment. As in, waaaaay deep. As in, “how would you like to go to jail for gross criminal incompetence?”
Or, maybe, manslaughter…given the number of people who, well, died because of ERCOT’s policies.
ERCOT was in theory supposed to give Texans the benefits of a modern, efficient free market in energy while saving them from the burdens of Federal bureaucratic regulation. But, in practice, what it actually did was protect large investors, while leaving both local power companies and their customers to twist in the wind. Oh, and an interesting aside, as I mentioned before in another column, Goldman Sachs is a major investor in local Texas power companies. Heidi Cruz is a managing director of Goldman Sachs. Heidi is, of course, married to Ted Cruz.
Funny how it all works out, isn’t it?
4) Rick Perry (zero) — Rick Perry was our former governor, and, as everyone knows, a one time candidate for President. Among many other amusing characteristics, he has a faint taste for confederal and libertarian theories of government, and he tends toward states’ right. At one point, he wrote, “If you don’t support the death penalty and citizens packing a pistol — don’t come to Texas. If you don’t like medicinal marijuana and gay marriage, don’t move to California.”
All well and good, but shortly after the Storm, Perry put a very large foot into his slightly smaller mouth by saying that Texans were (or ought to be) willing to starve and freeze a little if it kept Federal Regulators out of Texas’ power grid.
In PR terms, I believe this comes under the heading of, “Were you born this stupid, or did you have to work at it?”
5) Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (hero) — The Redoubtable AOC, The New York Democrat and general gadfly, raised something like $5 million for Texas relief, and came here to distribute it. That’s fairly remarkable, if only because Rep. Ocasio-Cortez is detested by an awful lot of folks here in Cowboy-land, that’s partly because she is Progressive and a Democrat, and partly because she is from New York, but mostly because she is an Hispanic woman and a person of color who happens to have real power.
I suppose it shouldn’t be any surprise to me that many Trumpsters et al were quick to dismiss AOC’s fundraising as “a mere stunt.” And maybe, on some level, it was a stunt. But, on the other hand, people like Ted Cruz and Rick Perry were doing nothing, where-as AOC was actually helping people.
If that’s a “stunt,” it is a damn impressive one. And I, for one, am willing to give it a standing ovation.
6) Ken Paxton (zero) — Ken Paxton is our state Attorney General. He’s also a complete twit who supports Trump and detests liberals of all stripes. But, he’s now doing the Deer In The Headlights routine because shortly after the Big Freeze, it became apparent that he and his wife (state senator Angela Paxton) were sitting happily in Utah while the rest of us froze. In theory, he’d traveled there “on business” to attend a conference that had already been arranged. In practice, well, who knows?
What is clear, though, is that he was warm while we were not. And, then, to top it off, he jetted off to Florida — where it was even warmer — to attend CPAC and, reportedly, have a round of golf with Donald Trump.
7) Beto O’Rourke (hero) — O’Rourke, or simply “Beto,” as his supporters call him, is that rare bird, a genuine Texas Progressive. You will remember his run for President.
When the Freeze hit, Beto scrambled to set up wellness checks on the more vulnerable among us. He and his organization, and scads of volunteers, phoned up senior citizens all over the state to make sure they were all right. This was a very good thing because a good many seniors WEREN’T all right, and Beto and the volunteers managed to get at least some of them the help they so desperately needed.
Beto won a good many friends and supporters with his efforts. And that may make a difference in state politics. He is known to covet Abbot’s job, or Ted Cruz’s. Personally, I think it would be a very good thing for him to be in the Governor’s Mansion, or the national Capitol.
So, I hope, people remember his efforts in a few years time.
8) The Castro twins (heroes) — two heroes, now, for the price of one. Joaquin and Julián Castro are residents of San Antonio, Democrats, and identical twins. They are up and coming figures on the Texas political scene. Joaquin is in Congress and Julian ran for president in 2020.
When the Freeze hit, they two teamed up to gather food, money, and other resources for their fellow Texans. They also worked to distribute it. (Unlike Cruz, by the way, Joaquin flew home from comfortable Washington into the teeth of the storm.)
Again, it will be interesting to see how this will impact their future careers.
9) Tim Boyd (zero, or maybe a negative number) — Finally, Tim Boyd, who is a pure villain in this story, but who, in a bizarre way, is also a hero.
Boyd was the mayor of Colorado City, Texas. You’ll note the past tense.
That’s because when the Freeze hit, Boyd got on Facebook and basically told his citizens that they were On Their Own, and if they couldn’t handle the crisis, well, that was just their problem, wasn’t it? He also said things about “sink or swim,” and “only the strong survive,” and if you were too “lazy to help yourself” then you probably didn’t deserve to live.
It was an astonishing display of boorishness and insensitivity, and, politically, it was suicidal. Boyd resigned not long after.
So Boyd entered history as the Zero of all Zeroes…the big bad villain of the tale of the Ice Storm. But in a strange way…a VERY strange way…I think he is also sort of a hero. Not a hero to me, you understand, nor to many other residents of the Great State Of Texas.
But a hero to the Power Elite…
Because, you see, Boyd articulated clearly the unspoken but underlying assumption of the ideology of modern Texas, and, by extension, that of America. To wit, he said that being “tough,” is not only a virtue, but the supreme virtue, and if you aren’t tough…if you aren’t “a man”…then you’re a wimp, a wuss, and a snowflake in search of a safe place…and you deserve exactly what you get…even if that includes death in the cold and the dark.
It is adolescent, it is immature, and it is spectacularly detached from reality, but I would submit that this idea is at the heart of what we believe…or say we believe…in America. We call it many things… “rugged individualism,” “libertarianism,” “standing on your own two feet,” …but it all boils down a single image: the Real Man and his chattels fighting off the Indians (or whoever, insert racist stereotype of your choice) while the weakling gets scalped, and a good thing, too, because it eliminates the unfit from the gene pool.
And I’m sure that Boyd is a hero to Those Who Know Best. Not that they agree with him. Not at all. I’m sure that they (secretly but sincerely) hold him in contempt. But he serves them. He propagates the beliefs that they want the rest of us to have.
For “toughness,” in this context, means something quite different from strength or courage or fortitude.
It means not making a fuss, and not bothering our betters, and dying quietly in the mistaken belief that we are being strong and stoic…
And so we don’t get in their way when they’re off to Cancun…and don’t want to hear any whining from the little people.
Even if those people…and children…are dying of Cold or Covid.
Until next time...
Until next time…
Onward and upward.
Copyright © 2021 Michael Jay Tucker