A list as threat part of a toxic political culture
Votes for and against bills in the Legislature are a matter of public record. And statements expressing support for or unmovable opposition to various measures are generally made, well, out in the public square. Such stances are no mystery for those interested in the issues.
Gov. Greg Abbott, however, wants to help you out in this matter of transparency. He has promised a daily “list” of those opposed to measures he wants approved in the special session, which began last week.
“No one gets to hide,” he told a forum hosted by the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation on Monday.
But shining a light on what’s unhidden isn’t really a matter of transparency. Rather, it is part and parcel with the kind of toxic political culture that has long afflicted Texas, though it enjoys national expression as well.
Translated: You’re either for Abbott or against him on these measures. Also implicit, you’re either a true conservative in his image, or some dastardly other — to be shamed into submission.
In a past age, statesmanship meant influencing others with persuasion and argument, which meant employing facts and reaching across the political aisle. Collegiality and civility were once staples in the public policy process.
What Abbott has issued here is a threat, plain and simple.
The message: if there exists principled opposition, heave it over the side in the interest of political expediency, lest you be outed to a political base that shares the governor’s us-and-them attitude and just happens to vote in party primaries.
But there are plenty of principles involved in opposing a number of the special session issues that Abbott wants to bully legislators into supporting.
Targeting transgender Texans who have, with no reported ill effect, been using the bathooms of their choosing is one of these issues. The principles here are tolerance, basic human kindness, a desire to avoid economic sanction and an aversion to gender-checking bathroom police.
Preempting local tree and texting-while-driving ordinances might be opposed for the principle of local control — if voters don’t like what their local representatives do, they can vote them out. Moreover, local governments often act when state inaction forces their hands.
Property taxes? What Abbott wants on local governments’ ability to levy property tax increases will leave unaddressed the true driver of higher property taxes — inadequate state financing of public schools.
Supporting these doesn’t mean you are unprincipled. Neither does opposing them. In some circles, being on Abbott’s list will be worn as a badge of honor.
But, do you detect a theme?
When Abbott announced in San Antonio recently that he will run for a second term, “liberals” were his boogeymen. “I’m willing to take on liberals, I’m willing to take on Washington, D.C., and I’m counting on you to have my back,” he said. Us and them.
His first television ad in his first election bid warned against “California-style government” and made a call for “preserving Texas as the land of liberty and freedom against Obama and his allies as they attempt to turn Texas blue.”
Just politics? OK, sure, but there is a price paid. It’s something we see on the Editorial Board a lot. Most of our correspondence is civil and rational. But there is another kind: Not so much uncivil, though there is a bit of that, but missives with an overreliance on labels — as if “liberal,” “conservative,” “alt-left,” “alt-right,” “fake news,” “mainstream media,” “California,” “blue” and “red” say it all.
No need to debate facts, let’s just call each other names or cast one another as liars and the evil other.
It is divisive. It’s bullying. It enables a culture in which labels substitute for facts, a culture where demonization is more important than cooperation. It is wearying and destructive.
But what creating a list of alleged shame isn’t? Statesmanlike.