“The buck stops here.” — Harry S. Truman
As everyone knows, Governor Abbott lifted the mask order and also lifted restrictions on the number of people that can enter into restaurants and other businesses. Except, he really didn’t. All he did was pass the buck down the line to local governmental entities to make the call for themselves. When they wouldn’t make the call, the local businesses themselves would have to decide.
Predictably, schools did not know how to proceed from there. We were waiting for word from the Texas Education Agency. Their word would determine how we would proceed in our schools. As you might have expected, they passed the buck too. They said they recommended that schools maintain mask orders, but allowed for individual school districts to opt out if they so chose.
Thus, we see the miracle of modern conservative thought in practice. It’s one thing to leave localities in control of relatively minor matters. Abbott doesn’t need to weigh in on whether you use Hunt’s or Heinz ketchup at the county fair. He doesn’t need to be there to pick between Cletus and Bubba to see who gets to run the ferris wheel or shoot off the fireworks.
It’s completely another to abdicate responsibilities on matters of life and death. Yet, this is what conservatives are doing. It would be one thing if Abbott stood up and said, “no more masks.” Except, that’s not what he did. He stood up and essentially said, “if you feel like it you don’t have to mandate masks, but if you would like to I guess it is your decision.” He’ll stand behind you. He’ll stand about 4000 feet behind you with the engine running.
The main ingredient missing throughout this whole year has been the absence of leadership. When citizens were asked to ration in World War II, they didn’t allow individual states, counties, or cities to opt out. During gas shortages it wasn’t optional to flout the rules and do whatever you damn well wanted. You couldn’t buy your beef at HEB and yet only have SPAM at Kroger’s. These things were all universal.
The pandemic has been a collective failed response. Now, you could choose to look at it any number of ways. It could be a failed response because of the people you had in leadership. At the end of the day, political parties don’t necessarily matter as much as the people in the driver’s seat. How do they react under pressure? How do they adapt to changing conditions? Houston and Harris County have a long history of reacting well to hurricanes and other disasters even though those entities have been represented by people from both parties.
Another aspect of the failed response could be a failure of governing philosophy. Conservatives don’t want to govern. Sure, that might be nutshelling it a little too broadly, but their philosophy is that private business can do a better job of organizing than government. Individuals can make up their own minds. It sounds wonderful. It really does. It sounds wonderful until you get into crisis mode and you need everyone to pull in the same direction.
The final failure is ours. Instead of buckling down and accepting new realities we are collectively bucking the system. We pressure government to lift mask mandates. Why? What’s so hard about wearing a mask? Boil it down and living in a society is about mutual respect for other people’s wellbeing. We obey traffic laws because they keep us safer. We follow rules of convention and convenience for the betterment of all. Yet, we can’t seem to all get on board to wear a mask.
If that proves anything, that proves that we need leadership. When someone is chosen to run a state they need to run it. They need to take the bull by the horns and tell everyone what needs to be done in times of crisis. Yes, you work with other officials and you get information from multiple sources to make the best decisions. Yes, you allow local officials to make their own calls whenever possible to best implement your vision. Yet, it still has to be your vision. In times of crisis someone has to step up. We’ve proven we can’t be left to our own devices.