With more than 100,000 Americans already dead in the COVID-19 pandemic, new polling confirms that a substantial majority of Americans say controlling the spread of the coronavirus is more important than reopening the economy. But Republican elected officials in Texas are siding with extremists who scream that having government act to save lives is the path to tyranny. They’re playing with fire.
Nearly 6 in 10 Americans say the COVID-19 pandemic has had a severe economic impact on their local communities, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Yet 57 percent believe protecting lives is a bigger priority than getting back to business. The partisan divide is stark: 81 percent of Democrats and 59 percent of independents say trying to control the pandemic is most important right now, while just 27 percent of Republicans agree.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott — after considerable dithering and delay — in March followed the lead of local officials in the state’s largest cities and counties in issuing public health orders restricting public gatherings and closing nonessential businesses. But as he now allows bars, restaurants and other businesses to reopen, he has barred local officials from working to keep spread of the virus down by requiring people to wear masks in public or keeping tighter restrictions in place if local conditions warrant it.
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick infamously suggested that we should sacrifice the lives of senior citizens in order to keep businesses open. Last week he taunted Democratic governors who have been more cautious about lifting public health orders: “Some of them don’t seem to know when to let their people be free.”
Other Texas Republicans have echoed the suggestion that saving lives is somehow a threat to liberty. State Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, has called for prioritizing the reopening businesses and insisted in the earliest days of the pandemic in Texas that “protecting the liberties and rights of people remains our most sacred duty.” Really? A more sacred duty than protecting the lives of people? And that’s from a politician who claims to be “pro-life” — just like the lieutenant governor who’s ready to throw Grandma from the train.
None of this is really a surprise. Their rhetoric aligns closely with that of the extremists who dominate the Texas GOP. Prominent Republican donor and activist Tim Dunn, for example, claims government support for the unemployed during this crisis has “incentivized” workers to “remain on welfare“ and calls government efforts to fight the pandemic an effort to “advance tyranny.”
Texas needs new leaders — progressive leaders who prioritize saving lives over bowing to political extremists. Remember this in November. Elections matter.