April 4, 2020

Coronavirus: Politicians Acting Badly

by Hal Gershowitz

Comments Below

We’ll skip President Trump in this week’s essay. At this point, every American should want his Administration, going forward, to perform well in this crisis. His public statements (non- sequiturs not withstanding) have for the most part begun to reflect the seriousness of the coronavirus emergency, and that is a good thing. Many others in positions of leadership, well, not so much.

Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, and several other Republicans, have laid the blame for the government’s slow response to the still-growing Coronavirus crisis on the nation’s preoccupation with impeachment. Nonsense! That is just partisan excuse-making. Government agencies such as the CDC and the FDA could, and should, have been screaming from the rooftops about the coming pandemic. They were not preoccupied with the impeachment process. In fact, White House staff who still had responsibility for pandemic defense even after the formal bio-defense directorate was reorganized could, and should, have been issuing stern warnings. 

Rep. Adam Schiff, true to form, is drafting a bill to create a 9/11-style commission to scrutinize the Trump administration’s response to fighting coronavirus. “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: You cannot count on Donald Trump to do what’s right for this country. You can count on him to do what’s right for Donald Trump,” Schiff tweeted shortly before announcing his call for the 9/11-style commission. Once again, representative Schiff presupposes the conclusions that will be drawn from his proposed Commission. Why not simply, instead, announce the need for a bi-partisan Commission to determine how America might improve its responsiveness to emerging pandemics. That’s what he would have proposed if his objective was constructive. We now know what the problems were at CDC and FDA and the focus now should be making sure those problems don’t ever reoccur. Schiff’s blame-gaming is becoming tiresome.

Among the nation’s Governors there are both Democrats and Republicans who acted intelligently and with dispatch, and there were those who seemed to inhabit a parallel universe rationalizing that individual freedom, states rights, and separation of church and state take precedence over mandated stay-at-home orders. It seems that it has not occurred to them that those who are allowed to mingle freely during the coronavirus crisis will infect others. 

Among those earning high marks for good judgment and decisiveness are Republican Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland, Republican Governor Mike DeWine of Ohio, Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom of California, Democratic Governor Jay Inslee of Washington, Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and Democratic Governor J.B. Pritzker of Illinois.

Politico’s Bill Scher also identified those Governors whose poor judgment will, forever, remain mystifying. They are: Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis who allowed college students on spring break to flood his beaches (and later return home), and then exempted religious gatherings from his stay-at-home order when he finally and belatedly acted. 

Mississippi Republican Governor Tate Reeves issued confusing and belated stay-at-home orders. He initially left the decision to quarantine to local jurisdictions, but included religious services among the state’s recognized essential services. He announced a suspension of any local orders that conflicted with his orders. Interestingly, Mississippi along with neighboring Louisiana has the highest per capita rate of coronavirus infection.

Oklahoma Republican Governor Kevin Stitt seemed to flip the bird to conventional wisdom and common sense when he posted a picture on Twitter of his family enjoying a nice meal at an Oklahoma restaurant and exclaiming, “It’s packed tonight.” Stitt did, subsequently, declare a state of emergency, but his office issued a statement that the “governor will continue to take his family out to dinner and the grocery store without living in fear and he encourages Oklahomans to do the same.” Stitt still has not issued a statewide stay-at-home order. 

Hawaii Democratic Governor David Ige ordered a 14-day quarantine for tourists arriving at the island state but allowed a five-day gap between the announcement of the 14-day quarantine and the implementation of the order. Go figure.

Alabama Republican Governor Kay Ivey took sharp issue with her Lieutenant Governor, Will Ainsworth, who warned that a tsunami of hospital patients is likely to fall upon Alabama and that the state was not taking a realistic view of the danger. Governor Ivey retorted, “Y’all, we are not Louisiana, we are not New York state, we are not California.” 

Given the paucity of testing to date, it is reckless that we do not have a uniform national quarantine order. As long as people in states that have not issued stay-at-home orders are free to travel anywhere in the country, the task of subduing the Coronavirus is simply made more difficult, if not impossible. Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah, have still not issued stay-at-home orders.   

This is not a state’s rights issue. No one has a constitutional right to endanger others.

All comments regarding these essays, whether they express agreement, disagreement, or an alternate view, are appreciated and welcome. Comments that do not pertain to the subject of the essay or which are ad hominem references to other commenters are not acceptable and will be deleted.

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7 responses to “Coronavirus: Politicians Acting Badly”

  1. Prover Stephen E. says:

    New York’s Governor Cuomo appears to be conspicuously absent from this excellent review essay

  2. Response to Stephen Prover: Given New York’s position as a prime point of entry into the US and the population density of it’s largest city, Governor Cuomo could, and should, have acted quicker than he did. He has, however, now become a strong voice for more robust federal action. New York City is a text-book example of the need for immediate and decisive action in the face of a pandemic.

  3. Robert J. Fraiman says:

    Yes , there are “good” and “bad” Governors but how about members of Congress? In todays New York Times there is an article “Doctors in Congress Press for More Aggressive Response”. The following is a quote from the article. “There were just 160 documented cases of the coronavirus in the United States when Representative Raul Ruiz (our Congressman) told Vice President Mike Pence in a closed door meeting that President Trump needed to think about declaring a national emergency. It took nine more days for Mr. Trump to do so”
    That was in early March. Since then Dr. Ruiz has been appointed to several select committees to address the problem of mass production and restocking medical supplies and equipment.
    Three cheers for OUR Congressman, Raul Ruiz!!

  4. James Fisher says:

    Hal, I applaud your rational and unbiased review of our state politicians and their individual political behavior during this pandemic. This is the type of fair and accurate judgement needed to properly assess, learn and act from this horrific situation and be much better prepared for another occurrence. Thank you.

  5. Perry says:

    With this unprecedented virus now reality it is apparent that
    all kinds of blame can be accepted. That being the case. The
    need is for instant and continuing cooperation among people
    of all beliefs.

    In the Sars epidemic commerce did not disappear nor did the
    draconian measures which have been implemented in the current
    virus edicts. We are responding but we also must as soon as
    possible get the economy working too.
    To all stay safe and please do what the scientists recommend.

    “This too shall pass “

  6. Roberta Conner says:

    Like Stephen Prover I was surprised that your rather comprehensive review of the performances of American politicians during the pandemic so far did not include New York Governor Cuomo, and even more conspicuously, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

    For far too long both the Governor and the Mayor were exhorting citizens to frequent local restaurants and bars – much like Nancy Pelosi strongly urging Americans to frequent San Francisco’s Chinatown.

    Overall however, I think you have done an excellent job of pointing out the good and bad performers of both parties across the nation. Your advice to Adam Schiff is wonderful – let’s hope he listens.

  7. Karen K says:

    Enjoyed this post, as always. Agree entirely that now is the time to come together and fix this and learn from the situation. Saw Governor Larry Hogan (Maryland) on PBS last night and thought he did an excellent job of answering questions in an intelligent and thoughtful manner. Well written and thought provoking, Hal.

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