The Republic of Texas believes in self-reliance and is suspicious of Washington sticking its big nose in your business. “Government is not the answer. You are not doing anyone a favor by creating dependency, destroying individual responsibility.” So said Sen. Ted Cruz (R), though not last week. Sunday on Fox News, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Texas would need upward of $150 billion in federal aid for damage inflicted by Harvey. The stories out of Houston have all been about neighborliness and helping hands and people donating to relief funds, but you don’t raise $150 billion by holding bake sales. This is almost as much as the annual budget of the U.S. Army. I’m just saying.
I’m all in favor of pouring money into Texas, but I am a bleeding-heart liberal who favors single-payer health care. How is being struck by a hurricane so different from being hit by cancer? I’m only asking.
Houstonians chose to settle on a swampy flood plain barely 50 feet above sea level. The risks of doing so are fairly clear. If you chose to live in a tree and the branch your hammock was attached to fell down, you wouldn’t ask for a government subsidy to hang your hammock in a different tree.
President Ronald Reagan said that government isn’t the answer, it is the problem, and conservatives have found that line very resonant over the years. In Cruz’s run for president last year, he called for the abolition of the Internal Revenue Service. He did not mention this last week. It would be hard to raise an extra $150 billion without the progressive income tax unless you could persuade Mexico to foot the bill.
Similarly, if a desert state such as Arizona expects the feds to solve its water shortage, as Sen. Jeff Flake (R) suggested recently, by guaranteeing Arizona first dibs on Lake Mead, this strikes me as a departure from conservative principles. Lake Mead, and Boulder Dam, which created it, were not built by Lake Mead Inc., but by the federal government. The residents of Phoenix decided freely to settle in an arid valley, and they have used federal water supplies to keep their lawns green. Why should we Minnesotans, who chose to live near water, subsidize golf courses on the desert? You like sunshine? Fine. Take responsibility for your decision and work out a deal with Perrier to keep yourselves hydrated.
Arizona is populated by folks who dread winter and hate having to shovel snow. In Minnesota, we recognize that snow is a form of water and that it’s snowmelt that replenishes the aquifers. So we make a rational decision to live here. A warm, dry winter is a sort of disaster for us, but we don’t apply to Washington for hankies. If we made a decision to live underwater on a coral reef off Hawaii, we wouldn’t expect the feds to provide us with Aqua-Lungs. If we chose to fly to the moon and play among the stars and spend spring on Jupiter and Mars and we got lost out there, we wouldn’t expect NASA to come rescue us. Get my drift here?
I was brought up by fundamentalists who believed it was dead wrong to get tangled up in politics. They never voted. Our preachers had no time for that. They knew that we were pilgrims and wayfarers in this world and that we shouldn’t expect favors from the powerful. We were redeemed by unfathomable grace and preserved by God’s mercy, and our citizenship was in heaven. We looked to the Lord to supply our needs.
This has changed, and godly Republicans now believe in the power of the government to change the world in their favor, of the Education Department to channel public money freely to religious schools, of the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade and prohibit Joshua from marrying Jehoshaphat.
Conservatives blanch at spending additional billions to subsidize health care for the needy, but a truckload of cash for Texas? No problem. It makes me think we Minnesotans should get a few billion in federal aid for recovery from the upcoming winter. It is going to be cold. This will cause damage to homes. Drive-in movie theaters and golf courses and marinas will suffer loss of revenue. We must salt the highways to prevent accidents, and the salt corrodes our cars. And then there is the mental anguish.
If Minnesota gets billions of dollars for winter recovery, then I am going to seriously consider becoming a conservative. As a philosophy of governing, conservatism is rather sketchy, but if it helps Minnesota, I am all in favor. I have my principles, but I can be bought, same as the rest of you.
Garrison Keillor is an author and radio personality.