Texas is home to the Alamo. It has given America such patriotic heroes as Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett, both of whom died at the Alamo. Iconic business entrepreneurs, such as Ross Perot and Boone Pickens rose to riches in Texas. Many license plate frames warn tailgaters, “Don’t Mess With Texas.” Everything about Texas was over-sized, including its rugged individualism.
But things are changing, and not in favor of the Lone Star State’s cowboy legacy.
Earlier this month, for example, the Houston City Council approved an ordinance forcing businesses, including bars, nightclubs, sexually oriented businesses, convenience stores, and game rooms, to install exterior security cameras and government-approved lighting, and turn over captured video footage to law enforcement on demand and without any warrant.
An ordinance like this would not be a shock were it enacted by Nanny Staters in New York City or San Francisco, but in Texas? Even considering the liberalism that has taken hold in almost every major American city today, a privacy-invasive ordinance such as this becoming law in Texas illustrates just how far leftward the state has shifted.
Storied Texas politician Billy Clayton once said, “A born Texan has instilled in his system a mindset of no retreat or no surrender” – clearly not a political perspective that would succumb to a city government’s mandate forcing private businesses to serve as snoops for the police.
It would be easy to blame policies such as this on the influx of refugees from California, or the hipsters who frolic in Austin, but it is not just urban liberals who are pushing Texas into the arms of Big Brother. Texas Governor Greg Abbott has revealed himself to be less of a principled conservative leader than in his recent past.
Last October, as debates over COVID vaccines raged across the nation, Abbott attempted to draw a line in the sand by issuing an Executive Order prohibiting any entity in Texas, including private businesses, from implementing a vaccine requirement for either employees or customers. Populists on the Right celebrated the order, seeing it broadly as a shot across the bow of the Left. On the other hand, limited government conservatives were appalled that a self-proclaimed conservative Republican governor would dictate to private businesses what they can and cannot do.
More recently, Abbott’s Administration began to implement rigorous screenings of commercial trucks entering from Mexico, in response to the Biden Administration’s effort to end “Title 42,” a tool used by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to swiftly deport migrants detained at the border. The inspections, since suspended, came over the loud objections by the private sector as delays in the inspection process increased dramatically. In addition to finding neither illegal drugs nor illegal immigrants, Abbott’s gambit is estimated to have cost the Texas GDP more than $4 billion.
Abbott’s recent, and well-publicized plan sending a few busloads of migrants from his state to Washington, D.C. as a way to prove his conservative bona fides, was seen widely as a political ploy that achieved nothing of substance.
As I wrote in 2018, much of the illiberal, Big Government trends we are seeing at the local level, including in traditionally “Red” states, are the result of Republicans loosening their principles against government hand-outs and big spending. This “soft” pandering to voters may net Republicans short-term gains at the ballot box, but over the longer term it actually fuels the liberal political agenda -- enabling Democrats to claim they are simply doing better at what Republicans themselves are doing.
Populist grandstanding such as by Abbott in Texas may play well to a populist base concerned more with “owning the libs” than actually restraining the government behemoth, but in the long term it actually sets back the conservative agenda.
Unmoored to substantive conservative principles, Republican populism is simply “lite” liberalism, which actually is more dangerous to the country than transparent, in-your-face leftism as pressed by the likes of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren -- a governing agenda that can be identified, opposed, and beaten back.
If the GOP regains a majority in the U.S. House, and perhaps even the Senate come January 2023, the real question will be whether the Party governs as lite liberalism or true conservativism. Recent history of the GOP makes this a very legitimate question to be asked.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He served as the United States Attorney in Atlanta from 1986 to 1990 and was an official with the CIA in the 1970s. He now practices law in Atlanta, Georgia and serves as head of Liberty Guard.