Public Enemies: Ron DeSantis & Greg Abbott
I know there are an awful lot of Texans and Floridians who are wondering why their governors seem to be on COVID's side not on their side. While the two right-wing governors-- and 2024 presidential hopefuls-- come up with new ways to kill more residents of their states with anti-mitigation efforts, every day Florida and Texas have the most new cases. Yesterday Texas had 17,752 new cases and Florida had 15,402. Florida has a horrific 141,541 cases per million residents and Texas' is 117,933 per million. Florida just passed Utah and will soon pass Tennessee and Arkansas as DeSantis prepares to surpass the Dakotas in per capita cases. 61% of Florida's adults and 57% of Texas' are fully vaccinated. And in the reddest counties in the two states, we find places where less than 20% of the adults have been vaccinated!
This morning southeast Florida congressional candidate Christine Olivo told me that "Ron DeSantis needs a trip down the yellow brick road so he can find his brain, a heart and some courage. He is controlled by the 'pro-life' Republican Party that is literally killing thousands of Americans through public policy." Deaths in Florida are up 178% in the last 2 weeks and increasingly expensive hospitalizations are up 39%, while in Texas, deaths are up 139% and hospitalizations are up 55% in the same period. DeSantis and Abbott, wrote Michael Gerson this morning, are in denial and risking lives and have betrayed the public trust. While San Francisco is beginning vaccine mandates to protect its residents, DeSantis and Abbott are still opposing local mask mandates (although Abbott was just overruled by the Texas Supreme Court on his crackpot schemes to kill more Texas children and teachers).
As covid’s third wave seemed to be fading in the spring, and the promise of normality was in the air, Republican governors Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas came out strong-- through legislative measures and executive orders-- against masks and vaccine mandates. The issue had a growing symbolic power among right-wing populists, who are always searching for ways to operationalize their contempt for government. Accusations of covid-related coercion now constitute another front in the culture war. DeSantis and Abbott took full political advantage.
But then Florida and Texas led the resurgence of covid-19 in the United States, filling hospital beds and intensive care units across those states. Cities, school districts, hospitals and businesses naturally want to take measures such as mask and vaccine mandates that are equal to the severity of the outbreak.
What was supposed to be a costless, largely symbolic political commitment has led DeSantis and Abbott to a particularly vivid moral choice. Should they allow local government and community institutions to save people from harm? Or should they actively prevent those measures to appease a radical faction of their party?
The decision, it seems, wasn’t close for them. There is no public evidence of inner turmoil. If they had defied the populist base of the Republican Party, their careers (and presidential prospects) would have been as good as over.
Now these governors have a problem, as does their party.
The challenge for the governors is that public health is not the same as other issues. Their actions will lead, directly and predictably, to deaths in their states. This constitutes a betrayal of public trust so grave-- a violation of moral responsibilities so depraved-- that I am not sure there is a word for it. Selling the lives of your fellow citizens to a foreign power is treason. What is the proper description of selling the lives of your fellow citizens to a crazed political interest group?
These governors are attempting, of course, to take refuge in principle-- the traditional right not to have cloth next to your face, or the sacred right to spread nasty infections to your neighbors. But such “rights” talk is misapplied in this context. The duty to protect public health during a pandemic is, by nature, an aggregate commitment. Success or failure is measured only in a total sum. Incompetence in this area is a fundamental miscarriage of governing. Knowingly taking actions that undermine public health is properly called sabotage, as surely as putting anthrax in the water supply.
So maybe that’s the right word: saboteurs.
The problem for the Republican Party is that one of the central demands of a key interest group is now an act of sociopathic insanity. Some of the most basic measures of public health have suddenly become the political equivalent of gun confiscation. It’s as if the activist wing of the GOP decided that municipal trash pickup is a dangerous socialist experiment. Or chlorine in public pools is an antifa plot. There can be no absolute political right to undermine the health and safety of your community. Or else community has no meaning.
Public health can’t be reasonably understood in culture war terms. There are no winners and losers here-- because all of us, together, either win or lose. This is one area-- perhaps the primary area-- where we are one people. But it also shows how sick souls can result in sick and dead bodies.
Former Orlando Congressman Alan Grayson is running for the Florida Senate seat occupied by Marco Rubio. "DeSantis," he told me this afternoon, "is opposing pandemic mitigation measures in the belief that 51% of Florida voters are as foolish and irresponsible as he is. I certainly hope that he’s wrong about that." Yeah, for more reasons than one!
Cindy Banyai is the progressive Democrat taking on Trumpist Byron Donalds for a southwest Florida congressional seat. She pointed out that "Hospital officials are begging people to wear masks and get vaccinated as ERs and ICUs are filling up. In Southwest Florida, we are seeing nearly three times as many children per day coming into the ER as average. The COVID denialism and demonization of prevention measures by Ron DeSantis and Byron Donalds is appalling. DeSantis threatening school funding for non-compliance with the statewide mask ban is authoritarian political posturing. Our kids and our teachers deserve better. Byron Donalds barged into a Lee County School Board meeting on Tuesday to make a public statement against a mask mandates. He disregarded the process of citizen input by cutting in line, which is totally disrespectful to the constituents of Florida 19. This is especially terrible because his children do not go to public school and they do not live in the school district. It was yet another push in his lifelong quest to undermine and defund our public schools."
Joshua Hicks is running for a seat on the Jacksonville City Council. This morning he told me that "From the very beginning of this pandemic, Ron DeSantis has been in the way when it comes to helping Floridians. He's never taken this crisis seriously, and it's apparent he does not care about the health and lives of the people he's supposed to serve and protect as Governor. Ron DeSantis wants to pretend everything is normal-- because that fires up his base of non-believers and delusional QAnon supporters. He pretends while Floridians die. Local officials across Florida are working hard to protect their communities from this virus-- Ron DeSantis should grow a conscience and get out of their way." Please consider contributing what you can to Joshua, Christine Olivo, Cindy Banyai and Alan Grayson by clicking the 2022 Florida thermometer above.
A new poll released by the Associated Press this morning asked American adults about vaccine mandates and who should be required to be vaccinated.
Workers who interact with the public, such as at restaurants and stores- Yes- 56%, No- 27%
Hospital or other healthcare workers- Yes- 62%, No- 19%
Government workers- Yes- 55%, No- 21%
Members of the military- Yes- 56%, No- 23%
And among members of the general public, the question was asked in terms of participating in various activities:
Attend crowded public events, like concerts, sporting events, or movies- Yes- 56%, No- 27%
Go out to a bar or restaurant- Yes- 51%, No- 28%
Travel on an airplane- Yes- 57%, No- 25%
I would love to see that information broken down by states and counties.