Precision gives the English language its power. At its best, it can convey strong ideas lyrically and lucidly. At its worst, it can inflame passions while avoiding direct responsibility for those passions.
Take the case this week of Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and his newly unveiled public safety plan.
In a Dallas speech on Tuesday, the Republican front-runner for governor outlined his plan and rightly lamented the growing influence that Mexican drug cartels have in Texas by pointing out, among other examples, specific instances of law enforcement corruption in Starr, Hidalgo and Cameron counties.
“This creeping corruption resembles third-world country practices that erode the social fabric of our communities and destroys Texans’ trust in government,” he said in a videotaped speech.
Abbott, more than most, understands the power and nuance of the English language. After all, he’s the state’s top lawyer and a former jurist who sat on the Texas Supreme Court — two jobs that require a keen understanding of the need for precision in language.
So there is no doubt that the comparison of corruption in South Texas to third-world countries — made in prepared remarks — was intentional and highly nuanced.
It gives the attorney general the plausible deniability that he needs to say that he was not directly comparing the Hispanic-heavy Rio Grande Valley itself to third-world countries. He was simply comparing the corruption to those third-world countries, many of which happen to be in Latin America.
There is also no doubt that Abbott would not have made a similar comparison to third-world countries had he been talking about corruption in Dallas or Houston.
That’s why we applaud state Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, for calling on Abbott to apologize for such cynical and offensive remarks. And we join in that call.
In fact, we view this incident as a potential defining moment in this year’s election. We call on all campaigns for statewide elective office — especially Abbott’s probable rival in November, Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis — to denounce these words or embrace them. Our numbers in the Valley dictate that we have a seat at the table in which public policy is fashioned. We demand to know the attitude of those with whom we are seated.
If Abbott’s words are given a pass by the political establishments of the state, then we’re concerned that it represents business as usual for statewide politics, despite the Valley’s growing numbers and economic influence. And that business is focusing resources and responding to the influence of the Interstate 35 corridor — at the exclusion of the border region in general and the Valley in particular.
As we have said on our Opinion page several times before, this year’s election should not fall into that traditional zone of venomous nativist rhetoric that inflames the passions of white conservatives at the expense of the state’s growing Hispanic population.
Abbott has been guilty of such practices in the past and we need to declare as a region that we are tired of having Hispanics act as the bogeymen of Texas.
We should all be ashamed of the antics of corrupt law enforcement and other facets of corrupt government in our midst. But the fact that corruption happens — as it happens all over the state — should not diminish our sense of being Texans or Americans. Nor should we allow others to diminish that sense in highly nuanced speeches.
The irony of Abbott’s statement is that it would have made little difference in any of the local cases that he mentioned if the border security plan that he introduced had already been in place. That’s because the federal government prosecutes the vast majority of corruption cases in our state, including those in the Valley.
The promise of $300 million of state taxpayer money is another cynical attempt by a politician running for statewide office to leverage xenophobia into votes. To add to the xenophobia with references to third-world countries — however nuanced those references may be — should be out of bounds. We as a region should demand that.