The good news for Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine is that much of Ohio’s rural areas have strong followers of President Trump. The bad news for DeWine is that much of Ohio’s rural areas have strong followers of President Trump.
In a polarized society where virtually all social issues get overly politicized, that has certainly been true with the COVID-19 pandemic.
So while DeWine enjoyed the red Trump areas of Ohio pushing him past Democrat Richard Cordray during the 2018 gubernatorial race, he now finds himself in a predicament – like some other Republican governors – because he now has the responsibility to protect citizens with policies that are often diametrically opposed to the president’s posture.
DeWine went from state hero to state villain in warp speed because he was left holding the bag when necessary state policies arose that ranged from inconvenience to financial devastation. Not only did President Trump not provide any cover to governors like DeWine, his downplaying of the virus and his dismissal of COVID’s threat only turned up the heat on state leaders.
DeWine, and governors like him from coast-to-coast, find themselves in as vexing a political dilemma as any in recent memory. That’s because the right answer is the wrong answer for many citizens. And the right answer is also the wrong answer to those who subscribe to the president’s school of thought. Decisions that are made for the common good still lead to vocal criticism from those who are negatively impacted or see the approach as out of step with the president.
Should restaurants be restricted or shut down? How about fitness centers? How about libraries? How about retail centers? And, of course, by all means, how about schools and sports?
The reason the issue is impossible is because the answers are as different as the demographics of the people in Ohio. Thumbs down from owners and workers of those places. Thumbs up from people who are or have family members who are at risk. Americans have gotten away from the idea of the common good, therefore, if it’s bad for “me” then it’s a dumb decision and bad for everyone.
Then comes the weird justifications. Masks don’t work. Statistics can’t be trusted. Testing results aren’t completely reliable. How can the state do THAT, when it allows THIS? And on and on. Examination of all of those issues should occur, but not if the intention is only to come to a predetermined conclusion that COVID’s very real threat should be dismissed.
Where political leaders fell short – and continue to fall short – is an honest dialogue on COVID-19. The fact is, people died and people are going to continue to die until the pandemic is over. It’s a pandemic and people die during pandemics and they sometimes die at alarming rates, particularly the elderly and the vulnerable.
Most everyone agrees on that. What everyone doesn’t agree on is what the state’s posture should be if the consequences are that THEIR grandparents or loved ones are the ones who might be laid to rest. The pandemic becomes real to people when the impact becomes real.
What is also true is that leaders cannot completely shut down the nation or a state to control what cannot be controlled. The answer, as Gov. DeWine and other governors know perfectly well, is a reasoned balance that doesn’t decimate state economies and doesn’t allow COVID to run rampant, cause more deaths and overwhelm medical facilities.
Both of those things cannot be accomplished with one set of policies. Economic hardship and increased deaths are the reality of a pandemic and that should have been better communicated from the beginning and should be better understood by the American people. Political figures who have tried to tap dance around those realities and navigate these waters without sternly communicating the obvious consequences are fighting a losing battle.
It is an impossible task to find a balance that satisfies everyone. DeWine’s political reality is that COVID-19 permanently damaged his brand, but not because his actions have been wrong. Ohioans should recognize DeWine is in a no-win situation and his policies have been reasonable, even though many have been disaffected.
As a vaccine appears imminent and we head into what is hopefully the final furlough of this awful race, the clear reality is there are no winners in a pandemic. The only question is how much are we going to lose – whether that be economically or in terms of funerals – and our political leaders are doing their best to steer a boat through the choppiest of choppy waters.