This seems to be Governor Rick Perry's basic approach to the unprecedented and catastrophic wildfires that are sweeping Texas, destroying thousands of homes, blackening tens of thousands of acres, and killing -- in a single week -- four people. Perry's approach to the drought and wildfire problem has been truly alarming, especially if you think he might actually be our next president.
Texas had a wildfire protection plan, one that called for adding "200 firefighters, creating rapid-response teams to quash small flare-ups, building advanced automated weather stations and establishing two training academies for wildfire crews." The Texas Forest Service proposed the plan -- it began seeking funding in 1999 -- and finally told lawmakers in 2008, "This is the final straw! Bigger fires call for bigger state resources!"
Neither Governor Perry nor the legislature responded. Former Republican Senator David Swinford, whose Panhandle district suffered devastating fires in an earlier drought, desperately tried to get more funding for the plan and for the state's volunteer fire departments. Swinford lost. "The dereliction of duty is the state not putting money in that program," he said. "I got tired of watching it."
But when drought came again, and Texas lost its first million acres to wildfire this spring, Perry acted. He proclaimed an official day of prayer for rain, declaring that "Texans have been strengthened, assured and lifted up through prayer; it seems right and fitting that the people of Texas should join together in prayer to humbly seek an end to this devastating drought and these dangerous wildfires..."
Prayer was not Perry's only response. On July 5, only a few months after he had publicly mused about the need for Texas to consider secession if the federal government didn't stop spending money, Perry asked President Obama for federal disaster relief -- which Obama promptly provided.
Perry didn't, and still hasn't, taken any kind of active role in dealing with either the drought or the fires; he's left everything up to overstretched state and local agencies, which he systematically starved of funding as governor, with occasional calls for help from Washington. Indeed, in July, after asking Obama for aid, Perry publicly shrugged his shoulders and once again turned the problem over to the divinity. "I think it's time for us to just hand it over to God and say, "God, you're going to have to fix this [...] I think it's time for us to use our wisdom and our influence and really put it in God's hands. That's what I'm going to do, and I hope you'll join me."
Of course, Perry disputes the idea that continuing to dump billions of tons of carbon pollutants into the atmosphere is increasing temperatures and exacerbating drought, so his unwillingness to try to take preventive action to curb extreme weather is at least ideologically consistent. But his passivity in the face of the need to prepare for, and respond to, fires and droughts -- wherever they come from -- is staggering even on the right. When running for president, Mike Huckabee once commented that even if God sends a flood, human beings have to put out the sand bags.
Perry may strut, but he's dangerously passive -- with a reckless willingness to attribute the fruits of this laziness to divine will.
During the siege of the Alamo, William Travis did everything he could to get reinforcements for his dangerously outnumbered troops. Perry reminds me not of the heroes of the Alamo -- Bowie, Crockett and Travis -- but of the ineffectual, passive provisional leaders of the Texas Republic who failed to send the help Travis needed -- as Travis said, "My bones shall reproach my country for her neglect."