Winter Storm Uri and Politics 101

Winter Storm Uri has ravaged Texas this week. There’s a lot to focus on, though I find analyzing politician responses to the situation most important.

In some cases, depressing.

Senator Ted Cruz has been under fire for going to Cancun, Mexico on Wednesday while millions of Texans went without power. He originally planned on being there for four days but the intense public backlash forced him to come back the next day.

Conservative pundit Sean Hannity allowed Mr. Cruz to explain himself on Thursday. Sure, the Senator was in contact with a meteorologist who was concerned about the storm days before he left the country and urged President Biden to declare a national emergency, but that reads like doing the minimum for an interview. You showed up, have decent clothes on and aren’t stabbing the interviewer. When can the actual interview begin?

The brunt of Mr. Cruz’s explanation is here : “We lost power for two days. Our house was dark, we had no heat. Actually, the fireplace behind me…we were all huddled around the fireplace ’cause it was the only heat in the house. After a couple of days of the girls being really cold, being in the teens and 20s outside, our girls asked and said ‘Look, school’s been cancelled for the week. Can we take a trip and go somewhere warm?’ Heidi and I as parents said ‘Ok, sure.’ So last night I flew down with them to the beach and then I flew back this afternoon. I had initially planned to stay through the weekend and work remotely there. As I was heading down there, I had second thoughts almost immediately.” (3:20–4:05)

How many people knew that the Senator and his family went a couple days without power? Near the end of his remarks, Mr. Cruz said that he had many of his daughter’s friends over because their home was one of the few with power. No one will talk about those facts because of a colossal error in judgment.

The Senator argued that he has two roles as a dad and public servant. He wanted to be a good father. Especially considering he went without power for two days, it’s understandable why his girls would want to leave. Here’s a radical thought: why not have your wife and daughters, who aren’t elected politicians, go without you from the start? Has he heard of something called ‘traveler’s insurance’, in case he had to cancel a planned trip?

Being a public servant involves sacrifice, whether that be taking less money than you could make in the private sector or the loss of free time and autonomy. Winter Storm Uri wasn’t simply a bad storm-it was the worst one the state has seen in multiple generations. Sorry Ted, this is a time where your political servant hat comes on and the dad one comes off. It’s not as if he’s a single dad-I’m sure his wife is more than capable to console his daughters as they sit on the beach sipping mojitos and blasting country music while refusing to speak Spanish in their ritzy resort.

CNN reporter and editor-at-large Chris Cillizza has an excellent take on the Senator’s actions:

“Cruz isn’t a power grid expert. Nor, as a Senator, does he have any ability to effect immediate change in the way the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which runs the Texas grid, operates.

But in moments of crisis-and there are millions of Texas in crisis right now-people look to politicians for comfort and reassurance. And they do it even if they know that no one particular politician has the ability to help them out of their current problems. They do it because, in theory, our elected officials are leaders in our community and, therefore, are responsible for bringing the community together in moments of tragedy or catastrophe.

It’s the spirit that brought Barack Obama to Charleston’s Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 2015 to deliver the eulogy for Reverend Clementa Pickney, one of the people killed in a racially motivated mass shooting. Or George W. Bush to the pile of rubble left in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City.

Obama didn’t change the racial problems in this country by being in South Carolina, or the trend of mass shooting. Bush didn’t vanquish terrorists or bring back those who had died at their hand in New York.

But they were there. They showed that they grieved, too. That even if they hadn’t lost a family member or a close friend in these tragedies that they empathized with those who did suffer those losses because we are all Americans and all struggle and strive together.”

I will analyze the excerpt in a second. First, let’s look at what another politician did.

On Friday, New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez started a fundraiser to help Texans in need. As of Saturday night, she and others had raised $4 million, according to her Twitter. The fundraiser is hosted by ActBlue, which is a left-leaning site that many Democrats use for fundraising.

Charity Navigator, the best charity ratings website, has not rated them yet, though InfluenceWatch, “a collection of fact-based, accurate profiles of all of the various influencers of public policy issues”, has a little article on them. As far as I can tell, there’s nothing nefarious going on. I couldn’t find any fine print about money being raised going to Democrats’ campaigns or something.

Money raised goes to nine groups, mainly food banks and the like. Earlier today, Ms. Cortez was in Texas, volunteering and working at the Houston Food Bank.

I disagree with Ms. Cortez’s politics on almost every issue. However, her behavior here goes beyond policy-to the first rule of politics, as Mr. Cillizza wrote. Before a discussion can be had about policy, you have to feel your leaders care about you and empathize with your needs. Considering Ms. Cortez doesn’t represent Texas and there’s no hidden stipulations tied to the money raised, I’d say Ms. Cortez cares and empathizes. Of course, the gesture helps her politically, but this is an example of good behavior being popular.

Last night, Senator Cruz posted several photos of himself loading bottled water into vehicles, most likely at a food bank. Many have criticized the gesture as being ‘too little, too late’ and ‘using his constituents for a photo op.’

I find the criticism of him helping out unhelpful and unfair.

We’ve become a very unforgiving country, which isn’t helpful for political discourse. Mr. Cruz made a huge blunder which will significantly damage his political career. But how does beating him down with criticism as he tries to make it better help?

Don’t misunderstand me-Texans should vote him out if they feel he doesn’t represent their needs. People around the country should be angry with him for some time and one gesture isn’t going to repair the rift his behavior caused.

It’s simple: he made a huge mistake and did something small to help correct it. What else is he supposed to do now? Have his public presence become radio silence? Give some ideas as to what else he should do.

Unfortunately, it’s not possible that he and Ms. Cortez would work together due to their nasty history, he could start some fundraisers on his own and maybe even re-open his home to house some suffering people for a time. He also may be doing a lot behind the scenes. I hope that his office issues a statement detailing what they’ve learned or done soon.

No one expects Mr. Cruz to resolve the crisis himself. Rational people know he can’t do so. Rather, they simply want to see their elected representative in the trenches with them, inside of hiding in an ivory tower.

You want people to get more involved? To be more educated about politics? To speak their minds? To become active citizens?

Be there in terms of crisis. Don’t flee the country!

You want politicians to have a less crafted image, to be human and more approachable?

Don’t blast them for trying to correct their mistakes.

As Sherlock Holmes would say, “Elementary, my dear Watson.”

(He never said this in the novels, but that’s a discussion for another time)

I am a recent college graduate with a major in Political Science, History and Spanish who has a keen interest in politics.

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