Setting aside his schizophrenic and politically expedient opinions about what local officials should have power to address — those opinions being a contradictory mishmash on issues including plastic bags, trees, taxes, fracking and the coronavirus pandemic, to name a few — Gov. Greg Abbott hit on a core truth Thursday.
That truth is this: We individual people, not the government, bear the main responsibility for keeping ourselves and each other safe from COVID-19.
Whatever else the governor might justifiably be criticized for doing and saying before and since the pandemic, he was right about that.
Abbott also was right in not attempting to reimpose the restrictions on civic and commercial life he ordered earlier in the year when it appeared COVID-19 cases might overwhelm hospitals.
There are numerous reasons why that was the right call. Not the least of which is the governor lacks the moral authority to make such demands of rank-and-file Texans. He lost that when members of his own political party, including the head of the Texas GOP, held a tent revival mostly for the exaltation of President Donald Trump in defiance of Abbott’s own orders.
That clear violation of the law, abetted by local elected officials sworn to uphold the law, drew not even a tepid public rebuke from the governor.
So Abbott no longer can order a hair dresser in Denton, a barkeep in Beaumont or any other working Texan to go home and patiently await bankruptcy for the community good.
More practically, reinstating rules that also were a contradictory mishmash of mostly unenforceable restrictions would have been unnecessary and probably counterproductive.
Texas might be at another COVID-19 crossroads. Cases are on the rise, although it remains to be seen whether more meaningful numbers such as hospitalizations and deaths will follow that upward trend.
To his credit, Abbott on Thursday said and did the right things in response to that threat. The governor is no COVID denier. He acknowledged the seriousness of the situation and urged Texans to take the simple steps widely regarded as effective in slowing the spread of COVID-19.
He left a mask order in place and urged Texans to practice social distancing, to keep their hands clean and their fingers out of their mouths and noses.
“This is not our first response to this challenge,” Abbott said. “We had a greater increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in July. We learned exactly at that time what needed to be done to crush COVID-19 in Texas, and Texans joined together to make sure we did slow the spread.”
Abbott is in an unenviable political position — damned from the right for doing anything about COVID-19 and from the left for not doing everything.
What he did Thursday was display good sense and leadership.
That’s about the best we expect from a governor.
The main work, as it should be and has been for practical purposes, is up to each of us. If we follow the governor’s advice, we can manage the crisis without the arbitrary, mostly symbolic restrictions imposed early on.
• Michael A. Smith