Of Viruses and Governors

Photo by Jeffrey Hamilton on Unsplash

I have a close correspondent in Europe, with whom I have exchanged ideas for years.  Most recently he shared with me his worries and frustration with how Germany has been responding to the virus that has occupied so much attention these past months.  Here are thoughts from the response I shared with him.  I shall call him Walter.

  

Dear Walter,

Thank you for your note.  The virus lockdown and response situation in Germany sounds worse than I thought.  We don’t hear much about it in our media.  Most of what I pick up from Europe is from British commentators boasting about how glad they are that they got out of the EU just in time.  They claim to be way ahead in vaccine administration, particularly compared with Macron’s record in France.

Here in the U.S. we have been witnessing a general overreaction but we also experience the benefits of a federal system.  The variety of states are following a variety of policies, and people can see what works better (if the news can get through the big media channels).  The general pattern seems to be that the more the lockdown the higher the incidence, which these governors then use to justify even tighter lockdowns.  But even the worst states, like New York and California, are starting to realize that they have gone overboard.  Virginia is starting to ease up, perhaps because they have elections this year for governor and legislature (where Democrats have very thin majorities).  Schools are starting to reopen—despite the teachers unions who want to stay closed—but who also want their teachers first in line for the vaccines.  Children have been hardest hit, not by the virus but by the policies.

Politicians do talk to one another.  The virus gave a good excuse for heads of the executive branches to enjoy making decisions without working with the other branches of government.  The Chinese Government showed how, by engaging in a sharp, heavy lockdown of Wuhan, including control of information.  I don’t claim that they told governors here and leaders around the world what to do, but they did show them what to do and how to use the virus as the excuse. 

In the U.S., most governors with the early heavy-handed policies were Democrats, and the media were by and large in deep sympathy, quickly pitching stories to support what the governors wanted to do, helping to hype the hysteria on which the governors’ decrees were based.  Once the governors issued their first round of decrees they got to like it, but they needed to keep going to keep their legislatures off balance.  A few judges here and there, eventually, ruled that some of the governors had gone too far, rolling back some of the policies.  Many judges found ways to stay out of it, considering these to be policy matters, not judicial issues.

The thorn in the side of these governors has been other governors, who followed more reasonable approaches, such as the governors in Florida, Tennessee, Texas, even South Dakota, among others.  That is the beauty of a federal system.  It has worked imperfectly, but it has been a salvation, particularly as people have seen better results—from the point of view of the virus and of the economy—in these other states.  It has worked to keep the debate somewhat alive, even with media working hard to silence alternative voices.

This all shows the importance of a constitution, with personal freedoms and diffused government.  But it also demonstrates the importance for people to insist on observance of their rights.  Bless those who have had willingness and means to go to court and judges who have been willing to take the cases and support the Constitution.  The biggest tool that people have is perhaps economic, and there have been economic responses that have been penalizing states that have it wrong. 

Another important tool will be elections.  A few states, such as Virginia, have elections this year, and there has been a rising tide of resentment to the policies.  Throwing out of government the officials who have violated rights and pursued destructive policies would send a powerful message to other parts of the nation.  What we hope for now are good candidates, the ability to get their message out through the media opposition, and integrity in the elections (plenty to worry about there).

Anyway, a long answer.  But I understand your frustration.  I am, however, hopeful.

Wayne

About Wayne Abernathy
I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. I am the husband of one wife, the father of 5 children, and grandfather of 16 (and counting). In my career I have served on the staff of the U.S. Senate for some 20 years, including as staff director of the Senate Banking Committee. For just over 2 years I was the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Financial Institutions. Just recently, I retired from the American Bankers Association, where for 15 years I was an Executive Vice President, for financial institutions policy and regulatory affairs. I am most comfortable at home, where I like to read and write, and at the Temple, where I rejoice in helping to unite families.

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