Lessons learned from the pandemic.
It’s commencement time on college campuses. Part and parcel of graduation are the platitude-laden and largely forgettable commencement addresses through which graduates and their families are made to suffer. (Quick. Who spoke at your graduation and what did he or she say?)
But there are exceptions that prove rules and one commencement address this year stands out. It was given by Mitch Daniels, former governor of Indiana and now president of Purdue University.
Gov. Daniels was speaking on the need for his COVID-era graduates to put the pandemic experience behind them and re-adopt an All-American willingness to embrace risk as the price of gain. To make his point he called attention to the government’s response to the COVID pandemic and he said this:
Sometimes they [government leaders] let what might be termed the mad pursuit of zero, in this case zero risk of anyone contracting the virus, block out other competing concerns, like the protection of mental health, the educational needs of small children, or the survival of small businesses. Pursuing one goal to the utter exclusion of all others is not to make a choice but to run from it. It’s not leadership; it’s abdication.”
Governor Daniels is right and when the books are written on the COVID pandemic, I predict that many in government and industry – and ultimately, all of us – will be in for some harsh criticism.
We as a nation did, in fact, engage in the “mad pursuit of zero” and we did, in fact, largely pursue that goal to the “utter exclusion of all others.” By pursuing a zero risk of COVID objective, and by effectively engaging the help of the media in that pursuit, mayors and county judges and governors were able to avoid making the really hard choices. They were able to avoid accountability for the enormous damage done to families, school-aged children, small business owners and many others who lost their mental health and their livelihoods.
What we have learned – or at least what we should learn – from the pandemic is that people in high positions in government are quick to assume power and slow to relinquish it. Our own state notwithstanding, the reluctance on the parts of mayors and governors across the country to relax COVID-related mandates is instructive. So, too, is the media outcry when a governor like Ron DeSantis in Florida or Greg Abbott in Texas goes against the tide and does.
Just this week voters in Pennsylvania, as a direct result of their experience with the pandemic, passed an amendment to their state constitution that limits the emergency authority of the governor to 21 days unless extended by express consent of the state legislature.
That is an encouraging sign of civic health.
With respect to COVID, no one in government at any level from city to county to state to federal is likely to ring a bell anytime soon and shout, “All Clear!”
Life will get back to normal only when We the People say it’s time.
And that is how it should be.