NYT’s Fausset Uses Hurricane to Chide Anti-D.C. Rhetoric, ‘Bizarre’ Conservatism of Texas

September 5th, 2017 5:16 PM

New York Times reporter Richard Fausset once again chided the "bizarre" conservative, anti-Washington sentiment of Texas after Hurricane Harvey, seeming to appreciate the red state being brought down a peg in his story for Tuesday’s front page, “After Proudly Defying Washington, Hard-Hit Texas Needs Its Aid.”

Few places need the federal government right now more than Texas does, as it begins to recover from Hurricane Harvey. Yet there are few states where the federal government is viewed with more resentment, suspicion and scorn.

For Republicans, who dominate Texas government, anti-Washington sentiment is more than just a red-meat rhetorical flourish -- it is a guiding principle.


There are few doubts that a Republican-dominated Congress will end up delivering aid to a battered state and key base of Republican power. But along with an outpouring of support, the process is raising eyebrows and drawing charges of hypocrisy.


Most notably, Senator Ted Cruz, one of Washington’s most ardent proponents of fiscal restraint, has suddenly taken on a new role, promising to lead the effort to secure a generous federal aid package.

In 2013, in a move his critics consider infamous, Mr. Cruz joined more than 20 of his Texas colleagues in Congress in voting against a $50.5 billion relief package for victims of Hurricane Sandy, saying that the bill was larded with pork projects unrelated to rebuilding the battered Northeast coast. (The bill passed regardless.)


Mr. Cruz last week continued to defend his 2013 vote, arguing that more than two-thirds of the Hurricane Sandy relief bill went to spending unrelated to the storm, an assertion that fact checkers have found to be largely untrue.

It depends on which fact-checkers you trust, liberal ones or conservative ones. Fausset leaned on The Washington Post fact-check, naturally.

But in Texas, some conservatives say Mr. Cruz’s actions, both then and now, square with their principles of fiscal prudence and the proper role of government.


Mr. Berry, whose home was badly flooded by Harvey, said that Texans like him certainly believe many federal government powers to be intrusive, overblown or unnecessary. But he argued that disaster relief was not one of them. Rather, he said, it was a necessary government function, like the military or infrastructure spending, that conservatives support.

Fausset went to town on Texas “hypocrisy,” bringing it up again.

This line of thinking explains, in a way, how Texas conservatives saw no hypocrisy when Mr. Perry suggested in 2009 that the state might secede over profligate Washington spending, but bitterly complained four years later when the Obama-era Federal Emergency Management Agency declined to pay for all of a disaster recovery effort after a fertilizer plant exploded in the city of West, Tex.


In Houston and elsewhere, secession talk is not unusual, but it usually falls somewhere between a pipe dream and joke, a way to underscore Texas’s brief 19th-century run as an independent republic and a pervasive sense of exceptionalism and independence. Indeed, the idea of Texans as self-reliant and a breed apart is one shared across the political spectrum.

In contrast, talk of secession in left-leaning anti-Trump California is practically celebrated by the Times.

Fausset took more cheap shots at conservatives, using brash Texas liberal Jim Hightower as a source.

Texas conservatism, before Hurricane Harvey, manifested itself in ways both typical and sometimes bizarre. The state is one of 19 that have declined to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, saying that doing so would be fiscally irresponsible. Parts of Texas were also gripped in 2015 by fears that a military training operation, Jade Helm, held during the Obama administration, was actually a huge covert operation to steal Texans’ guns and impose martial law.

For liberals in Texas and elsewhere, the new mainstream of Texas conservatism is almost as disturbing. [Jim] Hightower accuses Mr. Abbott and others of indulging in “laissez-fairyland economics that everybody should just be on their own and the strong people survive.” He added, “They abandoned the essential American notion that we’re all in this together.”


Indeed, to some Republicans, the way Texans have banded together and mounted ad hoc rescue operations demonstrated not only the concept of Texan self-reliance but also a conservative principle that there are forces more important than government.


But many Texans also acknowledged individual efforts were not enough.

Fausset made a more specific anti-free-market argument on the Times political podcast The Daily, as Gracy Olmstead pointed out at The Federalist. She dug out this excerpt of Fausset talking to host Michael Barbaro:

The city of Houston famously, or infamously, doesn’t have zoning the way most cities do. And so one of the hallmarks of Houston life within the city is the sort of block that has the strip joint next to the Baptist church next to the quickie mart. So this idea that Houston is not zoned is relevant to the disaster unfolding in that it reflects a kind of laissez faire and libertarian streak in Texas consciousness....

Olmstead pointed out:

There’s a problem with the way Fausset’s response is worded: mixed-use zoning -- the ability to construct “a strip joint next to the Baptist church,” as he puts it -- has little to do with building in wetlands and prairies. Buildings are buildings. Pavement is pavement. As a friend put it, “Water doesn’t care what kind of sign is on the building it’s flooding into.” (Or, as Gov. Greg Abbott wrote on Wednesday, “Zoning wouldn’t have changed anything. We would have been a city with zoning that flooded.”)