FORT WORTH, Texas (Tribune News Service) — Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick suffers from an unfortunate penchant for ill-timed, cringe-worthy bad statements, many of which are understandably misconstrued.
Like when he said last month that he and other senior citizens would be willing to risk catching and even dying from COVID-19 if it would save future generations from facing total economic collapse.
Or when he doubled down on those comments to Fox News’s Tucker Carlson, saying that “there are more important things than living,” such as “saving this country for my children and my grandchildren, and saving this country for all of us.”
That phrase, about the relative value of life, has been used to paint Patrick, a vehement opponent of abortion, as a ghoul and a hypocrite.
But I don’t think it’s overly generous to assume that, however poorly communicated, Patrick’s real meaning was far less sinister and far more hopeful than it sounded.
He was, I think, referring to the very American idea that creating a better life for our kids often demands willing sacrifices.
Last month, when Patrick expressed his readiness to die to save the economy, Kathleen Parker of the Washington Post called his words “insidious messaging that encourages older citizens to sacrifice themselves for the young.”
I disagreed but saw her point.
The pandemic was new; we did not yet know the toll it would take on our health care system.
If rationing became commonplace, the sick and elderly would be denied or encouraged to not accept care more often than people who are generally healthier and younger.
That seemed cruel and un-American. All lives should matter equally.
A lot has changed in the ensuing weeks.
The run on hospital beds, the rationing of ventilators, the use of makeshift field hospitals in every major city — except in a few isolated hot zones — has not materialized.
The death toll, sobering and still climbing, is thankfully nowhere near initial projections.
This is probably due to extreme social distancing and the temporary halt of major sectors of the economy; we can only assume.
Other hard realities have emerged, too. More than 26 million Americans have filed unemployment claims, countless families are struggling to pay bills and buy food, businesses are collapsing and rates of domestic and child abuse and suicide are reportedly on the rise.
Projections for the future of the national and world economy vary, but it’s probably safe to assume we’re in for a recession of unknown duration.
That will mean a decline in the standard of living for the middle class and, more devastating, for the working poor and already impoverished.
It will have a deleterious effect on public health.
It will permanently disrupt the pursuit of the American dream for generations to come.
It will impose a human cost we have yet to calculate or comprehend. And it will get deeper the longer this continues.
For many people, that’s a tradeoff they are willing to take. To this point, I have been one of them.
But I’m increasingly concerned about how my children and grandchildren will be affected by the life-altering decisions we make today.
And like most parents who want better for their children than they had themselves, I’m increasingly willing, at any personal cost, to make sacrifices and take risks to ensure that will be true.
I believe that is what Patrick was trying to say, and I suspect that coming from another person, that message would have been better received.
Many people will have to make difficult choices about how to live moving forward, and all of us will have to continue protecting ourselves and neighbors who are at higher risk.
But at some point, we will have to reopen the economy.
It’s reasonable to debate when that should occur and it’s absolutely necessary to talk about the trade-offs, because there will be many.
That’s the necessary conservation Patrick is attempting to join, and for that, maybe he deserves a little more goodwill from his critics.