The question I hear more frequently now from people in Texas with functioning brains is, "When do we finally have to get out of Texas?"
Or is it functioning hearts?
There can only be one answer: Never. If anybody has to leave Texas, make it the heartless idiots. Give them all bus fare to South Carolina and tell them not to let the door hit them in the ass on their way.
But it ain't easy some days.
This morning a news story and an editorial in The New York Times remind us of what we all probably try to forget every little chance we get -- that a quarter of Texans, by far the highest rate in the country, are without health insurance, and that Rick Perry just did everything he could to make it worse by turning down massive new federal assistance.
But I think there's an even stickier problem here that The New York Times may not get, or, out of some profound liberal bias, doesn't want to admit. Screwing the poor and turning Texas into a Third World state is working like a Swiss watch -- maybe more like a Mitt Romney's Swiss bank account -- for people in Texas who care more about money than they do about human beings.
My occasional correspondent and sparring partner Judd Bradbury took some glee, I know, in sending me a link last week to news that CNBC had selected Texas as "America's Top State for Business" for the third time in a row.
CNBC did concede that "the state had to make some sacrifices" in order to win first place as a stellar place for business. "Texas comes in 26th in Education and 35th in Quality of Life," the story said.
Oh, well. Gotta break a few eggs.
I had watched enough of the Dewhurst/Cruz Republican Senate primary debate yesterday to convince myself that it's all about mean and meaner in Texas right now -- a race to the bottom of the heart -- when I was subjected to painful images of our own former mayor, Tom Leppert, who felt a need to make it worse for me:
"We need people who actually understand how the economy works," Leppert intoned through his trademark Riddler grin. "For far too long, we've put people in Washington who don't understand that."
The real problem we face in Texas is that guys like Leppert are smart, not stupid. They know there's serious money to be made the same way everybody else in the Third World makes it -- by polluting the air, giving people cancer and broken backs on the job site, working illegal aliens like slaves, letting babies die without medicine or food, ripping away whatever rags of a safety net may be left.
It works for them. And more and more, they see Texas as their bastion, the place where they can get away with it easier than anywhere else in America.
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So the question I hear more and more from thoughtful people is, "When do we say Uncle and get the hell out of Dodge? When does it become not merely shameful but immoral to continue to live and pay taxes in Texas?"
The answer has got to be never. Listen. Maybe the most moving story I have ever covered in a too-long career as a reporter was the crash of the Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003: Small-town Texans across East Texas poured out of their homes, filled the woods with flashlight beams and shortwave chatter. They organized their own efficient search teams that were later credited by federal authorities as invaluable. A sense of morality and responsibility was woven deep into the heart of Texas long before the Riddler showed up to help turn Texas into a moral sink-hole.
We have to stay here and fight to get Texas back from the Lepperts, the Cruz's and the Dewhursts who think the bottom line is the only line. It's serious. If we let them take Texas, next they'll want Czechoslovakia.
But it does seem like, right now when it's so hot out anyway, it might be OK just to spend a week in upstate New York or something. I mean, we don't have to stay here and look at Rick Perry on TV 24/7 352 days a year, do we? If we promise to come back, can we just get out for a little bit?