Opinion: Daily Journal

‘If I die in Raleigh, at least I will die free’: Well, not exactly

Old Crow Medicine Show performs in 2016 at Merlefest in Wilkesboro. (Photo by Dr. Gordon Burns via Merlefest Flickr account)
Old Crow Medicine Show performs in 2016 at Merlefest in Wilkesboro. (Photo by Dr. Gordon Burns via Merlefest Flickr account)

Ketch Secor of the energetic American roots band Old Crow Medicine Show and a few of his talented friends streamed a concert from the stage of the Grand Ole Opry this past weekend.

In eloquent music parlance, they killed it.

One song, “Wagon Wheel,” though overplayed and over covered — Darius Rucker remade it — thrust Old Crow into the national spotlight. The band picked up and finished the song, which Bob Dylan started years ago, and made it iconic.

The song is about a musician and busted poker player “running from the cold up in New England,” hitchhiking to North Carolina, presumably to see a girlfriend, who happens to play the guitar. The hitchhiker picks the banjo. Now.

One line in the song, the last before a reprise of the chorus, strikes me each time I hear Ketch sing it. 

Always resonating. Hitting different, as my sons say.

“If I die in Raleigh, at least I will die free.”

I heard the line Saturday and turned to my wife.

Unless, that is, I told her, Roy Cooper is governor.

Cooper, if he talked to Carolina Journal, would probably say that statement is ridiculous. Of course we’re free, he might say, and that he’s just trying to keep us safe. His supporters will cheer him, regardless of the latest lockdown edict. Most reporters will — with a few exceptions — too, avoiding any questions that may challenge him or cast doubt on the value of his restrictive suppressions.

Paul Woolverton, a former colleague of mine in Fayetteville, seemed to shake Cooper a bit with a question about the differences between breweries and bars. Bars have been closed since March. Breweries, and wineries, and distilleries, have been open for months.

I’m keeping you safe, Cooper, a Democrat, sort of mumbled in response.

Woolverton wrote: “There is a difference,” said the governor, “in that these were made, the products were made on site, and in addition, the small number of those craft breweries and wineries presented a strong plan of public safety to the Department of Health and Human Services, to the point that the experts believed that that would work.” 

Let’s pause for a moment to give bar owners, who’ve done everything possible to promote a safe environment, the chance to spit out their drinks to avoid choking.

South Dakota and Republican Gov. Kristi Noem has taken a different tack on the coronavirus. Eschewing the nanny state approach, like Cooper’s, South Dakota is largely open. The state celebrated the Fourth of July at Mount Rushmore, and the annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis, which draws more than 200,000 went off as planned, even as mainstream media mocked Noem and city officials as careless and reckless.

“I think what we are seeing,” she told Fox News, “… is encouraging leaders to make decisions where they will overstep their authorities and a time of crisis, and that’s how we lose this country.

“The story that needs to be told,” Noem said, “is that I trusted my people, they trusted me, they took personal responsibility for dealing with this virus, and we are doing very well. Not only do we have one of the lowest death rates, we’ve got about 40 people in the hospital today statewide, our infection rates are low, our job losses are low, our economy is doing better than virtually any other state, and I think it’s a real testimony to what could have been possible in other states, but those governors just made the wrong decisions.”

We’ll know about Sturgis in a couple weeks, but Noem is clear and correct about a couple things: Trust and personality responsibility.

Free? Not in North Carolina, and not now.

We’re not allowed, per the governor, to work out indoors. Instead, my gym holds classes outside, and has moved free weights to a tennis court, where members can work out a few hours each morning. I truly appreciate the effort, though I can’t help but feel I’m serving time for something.

My twin boys are seniors, and while I’m thankful they’re old enough to take classes at home without supervision, I’m sad they’ll miss their last year of high school, at least as it should have been. One son has played basketball since he was 4. We hope he plays in 2020. My other son thrives on the social aspects of school. Forget that.

These never-ending suppressions and lockdowns were never about flattening the so-called curve. Rather, this is, and has always been, about politics. Positive COVID-19 results, as reported by the state Monday, were down to 6%, as close to that mythical, magical 5% the media and state officials keep talking about. 

So what? says Cooper.

Last week he delayed reopening bars, gyms, bowling alleys, etc., another five weeks, until Sept. 11. That’s a fantasy, too. I don’t expect Cooper to shift to Phase 3 — let alone go full on into Phase 2 — until after the election, and then it’ll depend on who wins. Or he’ll just delay reopening until we have a functional vaccine.

Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state health department director, opened Cooper’s news conference last week by congratulating Missouri for expanding Medicaid, a move North Carolina Republicans, to their credit, continue to resist. Cohen isn’t an elected official.

So, tell me again this isn’t about politics. 

“If I die in Raleigh, at least I will die free.”

Sorry, Ketch. Cooper is still governor.