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Texas Blowhards Deserve to Have Their Hurricane Harvey Hypocrisy Called Out

Where were all these Texan federal aid fans during Hurricane Sandy?

You could say calling Texas politicians hypocrites because they voted against Hurricane Sandy aid but presumably want every federal dollar they can get their hands on now is shooting fish in a barrel. That, of course, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. Some fish end up in barrels for a reason.

We should certainly feel sorry for the people affected. In fact if you want to get really political about it, the flooding mainly afflicts one of the few counties in Texas that voted against Donald Trump (although in 2012, Harris County did go narrowly for Ted Cruz, the poster boy of Texas hypocrisy for all his hyperbolic fulminating about the Sandy vote).

But let’s not even go there. The flood victims are people and they’re Americans, and we should support them getting the federal aid they need, because we believe in the government doing this kind of thing irrespective of who the people are. If a Klan rally found itself surrounded by a raging forest fire, agents of the hated government, some of them undoubtedly Jewish and/or black, would help coordinate the rescue mission.

Still, three points about this hypocrisy are worth making.

Point one: These people should be shamed for all the lying they did around the time of the Sandy vote. The Washington Post fact-checker did a good job Wednesday of calling Cruz out on this, giving him three Pinocchios. He and others yelped at the time about how two-thirds of that aid wasn’t even going to Sandy damage. It wasn’t true. At the time, Paul Ryan complained that some of the Sandy money was going to non-Sandy-related frippery like “sand dunes at the Kennedy Space Center,” clearly intending to give the impression that lawmakers saw in the Sandy bill a big piñata to cram full of whatever goodies they wanted.

In fact, Hurricane Sandy did damage the shoreline at Cape Canaveral, leaving two launch pads exposed to the ocean. So it was Sandy related! Either Ryan knew that and lied, or he didn’t know it and he ignorantly shot his mouth off anyway without looking into the facts. Neither interpretation is flattering.

On top of all that was their demand that every penny in Sandy spending be offset by other budget cuts. They wanted to make it hurt blue-state Democratic legislators, in other words, to pass this funding. Will the same rule apply now when they get around to writing the Harvey relief bill?

Point two: We should have a discussion about hypocrisy on this question that’s a lot broader than disaster relief. How much federal money do those government-haters down in Texas get, anyway? How many federal dollars go to its many excellent research hospitals? How many federal highway dollars? How much federal money sustains Texas agriculture and livestock? How many senior centers and convention centers and community centers were built with federal money? It’s an awfully big state!

It can be hard to find answers to these questions because no single clearinghouse exists to provide, which is something I’ve long argued some rich liberal ought to fund (read this piece I wrote on the topic in the journal I edit). But I did find this on scientific research funding at higher-education institutions in Texas. The total amount was $4.52 billion in 2014, 45 percent of which came from the feds (20 percent private, 19 percent state, 16 percent from the institutions themselves). Here, if you’re interested, is a document prepared by some outfit in Texas called the Legislative Budget Board that summarizes the federal money Texas receives in every area from human services to homeland security and everything else. Even if you do no more than browse through the table of contents, you’ll see the staggering extent to which the state, like any state, simply could not function without the federal dollars it gets. Federal funds across the board pay for one-third of everything the state of Texas does.

Democrats and liberals need to do a much better job of getting in the faces of Texas Republicans, and the ones from all the other deep-red states, and calling them on this. Suppose the next time a gun nut shoots up a movie theater in a red state, Democrats muse about withholding federal crime victim assistance money to that state? They shouldn’t do it, of course. But they should make citizens aware of the contradiction that the government-haters live every day of their lives.

Point three: Let’s get out of the false narrative that there’s either rugged self-reliance (laudable, American!) or government dependence (weak, foreign!) and nothing in between. In real life, virtually everything is in between. Everybody—yes, everybody—needs the federal government. Even the richest Texas oilman, needs police protection, a fire department, good roads to drive on, clean water to drink and air to breathe, someone to clear take-off and landing for their private planes, and 50 other services that only government can provide and only tax dollars can pay for. I’d happily acknowledge that yes, sometimes government does get in the way, provided they’d acknowledge this obvious truth.

So let’s save Houston. But while we do it, let’s remind Texas what it owes Washington.