The lights are coming back on in Texas. It’s been nearly two weeks since cold weather cut power and water for 4 million people there. More than 30 have died. And lately, some Texas homeowners have been getting $8,000 utility bills for their pains. What a mess.
Give me the wintry Berkshires any day. The weather outside is frightful, but the electricity is so delightful that a few inches of snow can’t stop it. Sure, the odd falling limb claims a power line now and then, but we robust hill tribes are used to cold weather. So, usually, is our power grid.
What went wrong in Texas? State officials at first tried to blame an over-reliance on wind turbines, but we soon learned the real problem: state officials.
You see, Texas has been run for decades by small-government conservatives. Nothing wrong with that, in theory at least. The idea of limited government goes back to the Enlightenment. Our Constitution is littered with restrictions on executive and legislative power. Not a word, though, about electric power.
Federal regulation of that essential service was effectively stifled in Texas decades ago by small-government-minded state officials, acting in cahoots with the energy industry, to protect profits and keep the feds at bay. That’s why Texas did not have to winterize its energy grid, build reserve capacity into the system or make interconnect agreements to share electricity in weather emergencies with its neighbors. Those mostly colder states, like ours, have done that stuff.
But then, such states tend to be run by meddling, big-government socialists. Who else would so blithely ignore the wisdom of deregulation? Who else would reject a system that uses “the market” to let retail power prices fluctuate with scarcity (hence, those $8,000 utility bills)?
I was reminded of that disparity recently, when I tried to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Spent weeks constantly checking hotlines and websites in every jurisdiction where I might possibly qualify. Every state, county and converted ballfield seemed to have different criteria.
Some would give shots to nonlocals, others wouldn’t. Most locations would accept only geezers over 75. Some allowed kids of 65. A few places accepted frontline workers, but only doctors and nurses. Others included teachers and bus drivers. Preexisting conditions were qualifiers in some places, elsewhere not.
The prize for originality goes to Massachusetts, which said anybody who could drag an old person in for a shot could get one, too. I thought about making a kidnapping run on a nursing home, but conscience deterred me.
Worse than the lack of consistency was the absence of any central source of information. People were better informed about Tiger Woods’ car crash than how to get a vaccine.
My search took me to Florida, a small-government paradise. Here, the Republican governor has opened “pop-up” sites — with VIP lists — in mostly white and Republican housing developments built by political donors. I didn’t make the cut, but I did score a shot at a drive-thru public park. Few questions asked.
This nationwide vaccine chaos is largely the gift our most recent president. A small-government guy himself, he effectively turned the COVID problem over to the states. Then he left them to compete with each other for ventilators, protective equipment and vaccine doses, while offering little guidance or coordination.
Ah, small government. Builds character, makes us self-reliant. Also cold, thirsty, sick, poor and, all too often, dead. But to small-government folks, that’s the price we pay for freedom. Gov. Greg Abbott said his fellow Texans would rather do without power for days than submit to federal regulation. He’s probably right.
Extreme right. Anti-government sentiment has become the defining ideology of the Republican Party. The GOP is currently lining up to oppose our new president’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief proposal, along with his other legislative plans. They’re just too … government.
Slightly to the right of the GOP (or in the middle of it, some would say) are more than 500 hard-line anti-government organizations, a third of them armed. Anti-government activists stormed the Capitol last month. Their colleagues in suits control legislatures and regulatory bodies across the country, blocking measures that would strengthen health, workplace, voter and consumer protections. They do this, of course, for our own good.
As Ronald Reagan, patron saint of the modern anti-government movement, declared in his 1981 inaugural address, “Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.” To which, Grover Norquist, who founded a leading anti-tax group at Reagan’s behest, colorfully added: “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the tub.”
America is having its bathtub moment. The water sure is cold in there.