By Ray Pearcey
Hypocrisy and double speak – doing one thing while telling other people to do another- is a staple of American politics- sometimes it’s the coin of the realm. We see it in our best dystopian literature – books like1984 and in some of our most compelling music and popular movies and wildly, it’s a bedrock frisson of foundational documents like our Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. Both documents embrace an equality of “all” that folks of color and women are still far from realizing.
News that Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt has, sadly, been diagnosed with coronavirus arrived last week.
As it happens, some of his recent, highly visible actions including spearheading a now infamously “unprotected” Tulsa Trump rally and encouraging frequent visits to crowded restaurants surely sparked his infection. Add a loopy concept of “personal freedom” in the midst of an historic pandemic- all are wrongheaded, spectacular examples of acting in a confusing manner- and they are devoid of enlightened public leadership in a time when it’s desperately needed in Oklahoma. The governor needs to focus on the many in this time of grand crisis – recent Oklahoma Covid infection cases of over 1000 in a single reporting period and collateral in-state upticks in hospitalizations, ICU bed usage and deaths now demand it.
We hope the governor recovers soon and with no lasting harm- we suspect he will; unlike many Oklahomans, he will almost certainly secure world class care and close monitoring- he and his family deserve same. In a place of our fevered imagining- a realm that’s the best Oklahoma- everyone would routinely secure this kind of care as well.
Governor Stitt has loudly proclaimed, to anyone who would listen, that responding to the Covid catastrophe is a matter of personal responsibility. He has said that all the things we know about dealing with the virus – wearing a mask, cleaning our hands frequently, staying a safe distance from anybody other than your family and very close associates- are matters of individual election and singular matters of “freedom”. This is a problem – he doesn’t seem- so far, to have summoned any of his vaunted “personal responsibility” to do most of these things.
More broadly, we argue that this is complete nonsense anyway – responding to Covid is not, in the main, about personal responsibility- it can’t be; Rolling back the threat is about, the scientific community insists, relying heavily on all-hands strategies, stout public leadership, collective discipline and extraordinary “public health” measures- that last item is a practical and biomedical discipline that should now be our polestar. Viral outbreaks like Covid-19 are vicious public health events- the novel virus is the biggest vector in this century and in the last one- save for the misnamed Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918. Public health is quintessentially a matter of tight use of lean public resources, public mobilization, and elevated communications from elected leaders to counteract every day threats and- when needed- lethal biological monstrosities. It’s precisely the kind of problem that conservative thinkers and libertarians can’t seem to get their heads around. But there are some keystone matters that are largely in the realm of the collective – public health and orchestrated, emergency public actions are in the class of human experience that are every bit as important as individual enterprise, solo initiatives and “cowboy capitalism”. And doing things that help all of us- toddlers and CEO’s alike- it not just the right thing to do at some abstract level- it’s also a powerful way to raise up those who have no recourse save for securing help from the commonweal.
We call on Governor Stitt to reconsider his cowboy outlook and embrace the emerging science and the needs of the community; we hope he will now consume and actively employ the best on the ground advise from state, national and international sources. The last item merits outsized importance and very clearly, not for the first time, America has much to learn from other countries and their leaders about Covid mitigation.
Our now endangered governor should demand that all of us to do the things that will keep us safe; start with mandating an all-state mask wearing rule- he can say he’s emulating the Tulsa City Council and as, an astute former business guy, following the grand examples of Walmart, Target, CVS, Home Depot and a rapidly enlarging passel of other big time retail operators. He could call for a waylay on school re-openings in Tulsa, OKC and elsewhere until augmented funding for school virus adaption, retooled bus transport, vastly expanded remote learning infrastructure and other tangible plans are in place to insure student, teacher and staff safety and a measure of parental choice in a time of peerless uncertainty. And toxic as it may be to a Laissez-faire proponent, he and his public health crew should seriously examine imposing big city lockdowns (in Tulsa, OKC, Lawton and a hand full of other spots) that will dramatically roll back the miasmic outbreaks that are devastating places like Phoenix and Houston.
Beyond these steps, he should mobilize the not trivial health and biomedical resources of the state, our university and academic medicine communities and county health departments- taking a lead from Tulsa’s heroic health chief Dr. Bruce Dart. And he could push joint viral surveillance and antivirus testing, contact tracing and contingent hospital ramp-ups with big city mayors in Tulsa and OKC and in our small town and rural realms.
And it would help to know how the Governor plans to ensure that distribution of early stage Covid treatment regimes like remdesivir and dexamethasone gets to the most needy patients, hospitals and docs across the state- without cost or grisly political interference. Obviously, it would be great to also know- in advance- that the same dynamics, ethics and first rate planning will be in play if and when Covid vaccines become available.
Finally, our governor should shamelessly exploit his supposedly great connection to the person who occupies the White House- to help Oklahoma get through this nightmare.
And if he can’t bring himself to embrace this agenda- or something close to it- he should resign.
Featured Image, Image “Bug Country” copyright-rpearcey-2020