There is something perfectly 21st-Century American about what happened to Texas last week (briefly: widespread power outages because proprietors of Texas’ stand-alone Come-And-Take-It power grid didn’t winterize, and users hit with four- and five-figure bills because the public utilities commission removed price caps so the public rather than the power companies would absorb the spike in costs).
It was not a good look for conservatives because conservatives worship the free market and want to subject all government functions from town management to Social Security to its authority. The blackout and subsequent gouging (which the power authority generously suggested the gougees could pay off over 10 years) made it clear that Texas’ privatized energy scheme was not designed to provide benefits to citizens, but rather to extract wealth from them.
I doubt very many people really believe, deep down, that the privatization of any government function — schools, parks, civil administration, power, etc. — will do anything except enrich investors. The few who do believe it, however, include a disproportionate number of editorial writers; and their propaganda has over the years convinced many citizens, whose judgment has been impaired from years of government-is-the-problem lectures from Reaganoid con men, that it might be okay to let some functions be privately run. Like prisons, for example — after all, those people deserve whatever happened to them, and it’s not like it affects us personally, and the prison company that’s charging prisoners absurd fees to read books or talk to loved ones would certainly Pass The Savings On To The Consumer. (Spoiler: They don’t, unless the Consumer happens to own a private prison company.)
But this requires some deft management on the part of the privatizers. They can’t get too greedy and they can’t get too obvious. The rubes have to at least think there’s a potential benefit, even if they don’t see it in their tax bills and user fees.
Republicans have shown some discipline in this regard. They waited a long time to shoot their shot on Social Security “reform,” for example. (When they did it still failed because that was so obvious a con that even a Republican wouldn’t go for it.) But as long as the grifters could keep their extant grifts relatively quiet, they could all count of getting away with it.
The Texas power failure was not quiet, though. Conservatives at first tried to play it off with straight-up rightwing culture war bullshit, with Governor Greg Abbott blaming it on the non-existent “Green New Deal” and former Governor and U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry claiming Texans would rather freeze in the dark than connect their power grid to other states’ socialistic electrical systems.
When that blew up, Abbott and the rest of them turned to stern face-pulling and a promise not to let the power company soak Texans anymore and to study the problem. The clear hope is that the spring thaw will make it all seem less crucial, and they can get away with some deck chair rearrangement .
But this soft shoe routine requires a measure of decorum all around. True, some businessmen would get a little overexcited — like the CEO of Jerry Jones’ fracking company who celebrated the Texas freeze-out as a “jackpot” — but the connection between them and the politicians had some plausible deniability. So long as the politicos could brass it out, the thing might not blow up.
This is where the Ted Cruz Cancun adventure came in. As I said at alicublog, it didn't help that no one really likes Ted Cruz. But his serial dragging in social media and in the news for running to sunny Mexico and leaving his constituents to freeze shows why these things must be managed with delicacy: Once you have a high-profile Republican basically acting like George Constanza pushing children out of his way to escape an apartment fire, the public stops shrugging at the privatization scam and starts laughing at it.
And that’s when their scam entered the danger zone. Texas Democrats like Castro and O’Rourke decided to step up and demand the state’s grid be connected to that of other states — something Abbott and the Republicans cannot do. New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez went further, raising $5 million to help freezing Texans. This was the reaction of Allen West, Texas Republican Party Chair:
Texans can be prickly, but they don't usually respond to assistance with insults and I think very few of them would associate themselves with West’s remark, especially when AOC was putting money in their pockets while West was blowing smoke up their ass.
Meanwhile other prominent Republicans occasionally come waddling out to embarrass themselves some more (like Larry Kudlow, who blamed the blackout on Joe Biden) but are mostly silent on the subject, preferring to hold forth instead on how Biden stole the election (in which they are assisted by the TV networks, all of which had election conspiracy theorists on their Sunday morning talk shows).
Call me a cockeyed optimist, but I think normal people, of which we still (despite everything) have a preponderance in this country, will look at this and at least begin to think of Republicans the way you and I have been thinking about them for years: As dangerous lunatics who should be kept as far away from the levers of power as possible.