As the government-ordered shutdowns in response to the Chinese coronavirus continue to devastate Texas families and businesses, there has been a predictable parade of lawmakers washing their hands of any blame—alleging they were tied from the start of the pandemic.
Earlier today, Liz Wheeler of the One America News Network (the same network that’s been terrorizing the D.C. media establishment by not falling in lockstep and criticizing the Trump administration) tweeted that the 22 million Americans unemployed as a result of the economic fallout didn’t lose their jobs because of the virus, but because of government-mandated lockdowns.
22M Americans unemployed.
Not because of coronavirus.
But thanks to govt mandated lockdowns.
A virus didn’t do this to us.
Our politicians did.
Think about that next time you cast your ballot.
— Liz Wheeler (@Liz_Wheeler) April 16, 2020
That missive spurred Texas State Rep. Jared Patterson, a Republican from Frisco who bragged about being Democrat lawmakers’ favorite freshman, to opine that Wheeler’s message was a “dumbest tweet of the day contestant.”
Dumbest tweet of the day contestant. Luckily, you don't have the grim stats to report from no action taken. I don't agree with everything from every politician, and we have work to do against those who violated rights, but doing nothing wasn't an option and you know it. https://t.co/Xjv4f82LYH
— Rep. Jared Patterson (@JaredLPatterson) April 16, 2020
Former Republican State Rep. Matt Rinaldi quickly took Patterson to task for his comment, noting “every defense of our totalitarian experiment relies on this strawman.”
Luckily, the choice wasn’t between shutting down the world’s largest economy & plunging millions into poverty and taking “no action”. It seems every defense of our totalitarian experiment relies on this straw man. https://t.co/PMiW6z2uln
— Matt Rinaldi (@MattRinaldiTX) April 16, 2020
Rinaldi is certainly correct in this specific point, but on a broader basis, elected officials need to understand they are always responsible for the decisions they make—especially in times of crisis.
Citizens have a long history of granting their leaders the benefit of the doubt and broad discretion for their decisions in times of crisis. For example, I’m not aware of any individual who was or is now angry at George W. Bush when he ordered civilian aircraft out of the sky on September 11. Even the folks who were redirected to Gander, Newfoundland, and the Canadians who call that town their home didn’t have an ax to grind with Bush.
Was that decision made in response to a terror attack launched by Osama bin Laden? Yes, but it was Bush who made the order.
He made the call, and citizens deemed it justified. They recognized it as a commonsense and proactive measure designed to keep Americans safe and were not angry with Bush that he disrupted their travel plans. However, it’s beyond doubt that if American airline passengers were still grounded in Canada, they’d be making some noise.
It’s the same scenario with hurricanes, earthquakes, and other disasters; and in the wake of the Chinese coronavirus pandemic, it’s still elected officials making the calls.
But while Patterson doesn’t think elected officials are accountable, at least one local official in Texas recognizes he still is.
In Dallas County, Commissioner J.J. Koch told constituents he would not move to oppose the county’s ban on religious gatherings, and he’s willing to pay the price for it if voters decide he needs to.
“I’m willing to be judged in that regard, if I end up kind of not acting—and that’s essentially what I’m doing, not acting—when there’s something out there that may be unconstitutional. If that’s worthy of removing me from office at some point, then I get it,” said Koch in a Facebook Live broadcast earlier this week.
Here’s the truth:
Public officials enjoy (and deserve) deference from their constituents in how they respond to crises. They’re granted the benefit of the doubt on their discretion. They aren’t expected to be perfect or make the right decision at every juncture.
However, they are expected to take responsibility, provide a plan, and act in accordance with citizen feedback and data. To be responsive rather than merely reactive. To be servant leaders rather than leaders of servants.
And it’s on meeting these expectations that the vast majority of the Lone Star State’s elected leaders, from Gov. Greg Abbott to State Rep. Jared Patterson, have thus far failed.
Were the government-mandated shutdowns to contain the Chinese coronavirus necessary? Did they go on too long? Could they have been done better? Should someone else be at the helm when the next crisis hits?
The jury’s still out on each of those questions, but each one has an answer. Voters will decide at the ballot box, whether the politicians like it or not.