Apparently, the Republican argument suggests, we should just forget about the coronavirus and ignore a disease that has killed 700,000 Americans, variously overrun our hospitals, interrupted jobs, businesses, and lives, and has spurred a strong political resistance movement.
Even as some courts have already endorsed the idea of government mandates for masks and protections against contagion, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is challenging the right of President Joe Biden to act for public health as "yet another instance of federal overreach."
It's apparently okay for Abbott to mandate against mandates not only for the state's employees but for its private businesses as well. But, by contrast, it's not okay for the federal government to tell Texas, Florida, or any state what to do about a pandemic that knows no bounds, or for companies with more than 100 employees.
That Texas is only now beginning to emerge from two months or more of spiraling covid cases, hospitalizations and deaths is not the focus of this dust-up over the rules. Rather, it's a bold political showdown.
Frankly, it's disgusting, no matter what one's politics are. No, this drawdown borders on insanity. Why do we have time, energy, and money available for endless court battles over who's really in charge?
Has Abbott not heard of the telephone, to simply call Biden and engage in some debate if they disagree?
In any event, airlines based in Texas are moving ahead with mandates anyway, guaranteeing more tumult, not less.
Why It's Strange
It is such a strange battlefield that we need to look at it for what underscores this continuing Texas rebellion, especially since it spreads so quickly to other Republican-led states. Several things that question our general understanding are coming to the surface simultaneously.
- Discussion about countering a pandemic seems futile. Whenever one side of our cultural divide talks about medicine, the other is talking about rights, including the right to be as sick as one chooses and the right to infect others. We've passed the time of legitimate discussion about immediate health effects of vaccines; that is not even on the table in these moves by Abbott, who has been vaccinated and who has undergone a mild form of covid. The anti-vax position has become nearly fully a political one. By all medical standards, having had covid is no guarantee about carrying the contagion further or even to protection beyond some undetermined but finite time.
- Blame for covid under anti-vax is limited now only to the also endless debate over its origin from nature or from a man-made process in a China laboratory, either as the result or by-product of some National Health Institute grant over a study of interspecies transmission. There is no acknowledgment that keeping more than 30% of adult Americans unvaccinated is a problem that manifests as a continuing public petri dish of mutation. Meanwhile, the Right is actively blaming Biden for high gas taxes, for a messy withdrawal from Afghanistan, clogged supply lines and sagging international dominance—because they all are happening on Biden's watch.
- Spending zillions of dollars on treatments for those who already have covid may blunt hospitalizations but does nothing to halt the spread of an airborne contagion. Yet, we're seeing tons of support across the political spectrum to spend $2,000 a dose for antibody treatments now emerging, even in pill form, rather than a $20 vaccine. For those who also argue against Biden's big-spending proposals as wasteful, this position seems, well, incongruous.
- The legal arguments here are arcane, as well as, frankly, ludicrous to you and me and our jobs. Is this more about state power versus federal power in a constitutional republic than about a chance to jack up Biden and ignore a public health menace? The force of law seems to favor the federal government acting in an emergency. The practical concerns for businesses like American Airlines based in Dallas pulled among conflicting mandates from the feds, the state and demands of consumers are simply not as important to this governor as a political principle.
By all accounts from all political viewpoints, telling businesses what they cannot do is seen as antithetical to a "conservative" view that wants government restraint.
If It Quacks. . .
It is much more understandable to see the Texas challenge over covid mandates right alongside the Texas challenge over abortion, over voting rights, over the environment and even over issues of immigration.
That is, Texas politics demand that Abbott, running at least for reelection if not for president, must protect himself from absolutists even more right-wing than he himself believes. This week, we saw hardliner Republican candidate Allen West continuing to tweet from his covid hospital bed against vaccine mandates and for expensive alternative treatments. Don Huffines, a former Texas state senator who is challenging Abbott, tweeted that "Greg Abbott is a political windsock and today proves it, He knows conservative Republican voters are tired of the vaccine mandates and tired of him being a failed leader." Apparently, in response to a Huffines criticism that a state website to help teen suicide might be fostering trans discussions, Abbott had the site pulled.
About 15 million Texans have been fully vaccinated, or just over half, lagging the national average.
Why kowtowing to a minority of voters in hopes of reelection is a bit of a mystery to me. But the reason for anyone to run for governor or president should be to solve problems.
It's hard to see what problem this governor is solving other than his own political dreams.