By Jessie Seigel / Washington, D.C.
“If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you.” That joke, made by fellow Republican Senator Lindsey Graham in 2016, still has currency.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz, known as the most hated man in the Senate, is not only disliked by his Democratic opponents, but by his Republican colleagues as well. They largely see him as a grandstander, always putting what’s good for himself ahead of what’s good for the Republican Party. Josh Holmes, former chief of staff for Senator Mitch McConnell, told The Washington Post in 2015. “he’s consistently sacrificed the mutual goals of many for his personal enhancement.”
Is it any surprise then, that four days ago, while his Texas constituents were being devastated by the effects of a violent snowstorm and icy cold wave, Cruz fled with his wife and two daughters to a Ritz-Carlton in sunny Cancún, Mexico, at a reported $300 per night?
Cruz’s “personal enhancement” did not even extend to Snowflake, the family poodle, whom he left back in Texas to freeze along with Cruz’s fellow Texans. While Cruz and family were jetting down to Mexico, those he was elected to represent were in the middle of a week-long life and death struggle to obtain food, drinkable water and some way to avoid freezing to death after the Texas electrical grid all but collapsed under the weight of the snow storm and freezing temperatures. As of Saturday, more than 14.4 million people—half the state’s population—had reported disruptions in their water service.
Leaving Texas on Wednesday, the Senator’s original plan had evidently been to stay in Cancún until Sunday. But, when caught in the act, Cruz returned to Texas on Thursday armed with transparently ridiculous explanations for deserting his state.
His justification? “Our girls when they got the news that school was cancelled this week, said let’s go somewhere where it’s not so cold—and Heidi and I—this had been a tough week, and it’s been a tough year for kids—kids all across the state of Texas, and we were trying to be good parents. And so we said we’d do it.” Cruz also claimed he was just “chaperoning” his kids to Mexico, noting he had come back the next day.
Of course, that won’t wash. For starters, it doesn’t require two parents to “chaperone” the kids. Cruz could have sent his wife and children out of harm’s way while he stayed to do his duty. Furthermore, the size and bulge of his suitcase suggest more than a one-night layover was planned. And as for it being a tough week and a tough year “for kids all across the state of Texas,” it was especially tough for the eleven-year-old who apparently froze to death in his sleep in an unheated mobile home while Mr. Cruz was off on his jaunt to Cancún. Not to mention the many others, like a woman worried to death that, because of the emergency, her ill husband would not be able to get what he needed to survive.
Some have described Cruz’s Mexico trip and his excuses as “tone-deaf.” The New York Times called his actions “a political error” and “a failure of optics.” But that mistakenly puts the emphasis on politics as sport. It makes the essential question: why didn’t this politician know how bad this would look? However, politics is not sport. It affects how we live and whether we live. Ted Cruz’s behavior was not a failure of “optics.” It was yet another failure of humanity.
In contrast to Cruz, our new president, Joe Biden, stepped in immediately to help. He quickly approved an emergency declaration for Texas on February 14, which made federal emergency aid available to the state. The following week, on February 21, Biden declared much of Texas a federal disaster area, making federal funding available to communities across 77 counties. This action facilitates grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover. Biden’s response to crises is miles above those of his predecessor, whose idea of federal aid was tossing rolls of paper towels at a crowd in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico.
In addition, Texas Democrats like Beto O’Rourke (who challenged and almost beat Cruz in his last election) and Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, pushed for federal aid to the state, as well as pitching in on the ground.
Ted Cruz is not alone in his lack of human decency. That failure seems to run rampant in the Texas Republican party from top to bottom (and if truth be known, the national party as well). Texas Governor Greg Abbott tried to blame the failure of the Texas electrical grid on the Green New Deal, maintaining that it was the shutdown of wind and solar power that “thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power on a statewide basis.” But this was a bald-faced lie. The Green New Deal has not yet even been voted on, let alone put in place.
Furthermore, Texas was forewarned that this energy failure could happen after previous massive blackouts in 1989 and 2011, caused by cold weather, which left citizens without power for days. Based on a federal investigation, recommendations were made that the system should be winterized to prepare for future such events. But the Texas government did not heed those recommendations.
And while Cruz was jetting off to Mexico and Abbott was falsely claiming renewable energy failure was to blame for the crisis, Democratic New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, proponent of the Green New Deal, was helping to raise $4 million for relief efforts for Texans in need. She also spent time on the ground, working to distribute aid alongside Representatives Sylvia Garcia and Sheila Jackson Lee, Democrats, who represent Houston.
Representative Lee has explained that Texas deliberately developed its energy grid based only upon the resources in their state. It kept its grid unconnected to the national grid because the mindset of the Republicans was: “We don’t want federal intrusion or oversight.” By not crossing state lines, Texas utilities avoided being subject to federal rules.
Because of this, when Lee asked if any states could swap energy with Texas during this crisis, the federal government said it could not be done because Texas does not have a transmission system that can reach California or Colorado. Lee declared that the Texas system was selfish: “We do for ourselves, we don’t help anyone else. So now when we need it, they can’t help us even though they have the energy.” Lee maintained that the state must make its grid integrate with the national grid, and give Texas the ability to interact with other states in the future.
The strong political power of the oil and gas industry in Texas likely underlies its refusal, thus far, to connect to the national grid. But some officials in the state, particularly in the current Republican party, have a devotion to self-reliance—for others, anyway—that is pathological.
In response to the crisis, Republican Colorado City Mayor Tim Boyd posted the following tirade on Facebook: “No one owes you and 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!... If you don’t have electricity you… come up with a game plan to keep your family warm and safe."
Boyd called those who might be waiting for a rescue lazy, and further ranted: “Only the strong will survive and the weak will parish [sic].” Darwin Does Dallas! Boyd has now resigned his office.
What the Cruzes, Abbotts and Boyds either do not understand or do not care about, is that the hell that Texans have experienced this last week is the ultimate consequence of Libertarian “individualist” ideology.
Ted Cruz and his home-state politicos have long been selling this selfishness to the people of Texas. They bought it—they voted it in, and they are suffering for it. Will their state government’s callous neglect during this life or death crisis be enough to make them vote out the selfishness of Cruz and the rest? Or will they forget by the time the next election rolls around? And if this extreme threat to life is not enough, what will be?
I must remind myself that although this Republican ideology has had a stranglehold on Texas politics for nigh on to 20 years, there are also Texans like Beto O’Rourke, Julian and Joaquin Castro, Sheila Jackson Lee and others who are working against this hard, bitter “every man for himself” thinking.
Even more important, it must be recognized that Texas, like many other states, is really a microcosmic representation of an ongoing struggle throughout the nation.
Our Senate in Washington is precariously divided 50-50 between the idea of one nation working together and the “every man for himself” ideology. Ominously, right-wing extremists have made small gains in the House of Representatives. Fortunately, at the moment, we have a President who believes in a unity of national purpose—neighbor helping neighbor, and a government elected by the people helping the people who elected it. Hopefully, Ted Cruz and his buddies got the message this time, or will be sent permanently packing.
Jessie Seigel is a fiction writer, an associate editor at the Potomac Review, a reviewer for The Washington Independent Review of Books, and a dabbler in political cartoons at Daily Kos. She has twice received an Artist’s Fellowship from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities for her work. But, Seigel also had a long career as a government attorney, in which she honed her analytic skills. Of this double career, Seigel would say, “I guess my right and left brains are well balanced.” More on and from Seigel can be found at The Adventurous Writer, https://www.jessieseigel.com.