No, Protesting Public Health Measures Doesn’t Make You Like MLK or Gandhi

As most Texans try to protect their families during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s become increasingly clear that the state’s Republican leaders are putting politics ahead of public health. Consider, for example, state Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano, comparing a Dallas salon owner who kept her shop open in defiance of public health orders to Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi. Really.

Never mind, of course, that the salon owner’s defiance appears to have been a lucrative PR stunt staged by assorted politicians, activists and conspiracy theorists. Truth is, the state’s Republican leaders have been practically falling all over themselves in an effort to pander to protesters (and the conservative groups pulling their strings) against public health orders. Exhibit A: Sen. Ted Cruz — who some weeks back self-quarantined because of possible exposure to the virus — flew to Dallas for a photo-op haircut at the salon. And Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said he would pay the salon owner’s fine.

Of course, Patrick has pretty much led the way down this perilous path in Texas, insisting that we sacrifice the lives of senior citizens so that people can get back to the mall and beauty salons during the pandemic.

“No one reached out to me and said, ‘As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?’ And if that’s the exchange, I’m all in. … I just think there are lots of grandparents out there in this country like me … that what we all care about and what we all love more than anything are those children.”

The self-proclaimed “pro-life” champion doubled down a few weeks later:

“There are more important things than living.”

Well, OK then. Now we know what his priorities are.

The economic damage from this pandemic is real and serious. We all want to get back to normal as soon as is safely possible. But public health officials warn that rushing to reopen the economy too quickly, before necessary measures like widespread testing are in place to slow the spread of the virus, will lead to more suffering and death. Even Gov. Abbott has acknowledged this likelihood. The question now is whether, as restrictions are lifted, the governor and other elected officials listen more to public health experts or to conspiracy theorists and other extremists screaming about the tyranny of protecting people from a lethal virus.

Meanwhile, we can say this for sure: endangering lives by ignoring the warnings of those public health experts doesn’t make you a hero or anything like Martin Luther King Jr. Texas needs leaders who understand that. Elections matter.