Opinion: Daily Journal

You seem lost, governor. We certainly are

Gov. Roy Cooper (pool photo)
Gov. Roy Cooper (pool photo)

I’ve about had it. 

Enough, already, with the mandates and decrees enacted to protect us from COVID-19. From each other. The inconsistent and obtuse data. The pedantic lecturing

Enough. I’m tired, and I’m not alone. I’m sure of that, evidenced by the myriad lawsuits and outright defiance.

I’m tired of the moral platitudes. The lack of leadership, on all levels. The repugnant hubris of choosing winners and losers. 

It’s as if we’ve chosen a group of recalcitrant 12-year-olds to select players for a pair of schoolyard kickball teams. I pick you, but not you. You? No, you stink. I want her instead.

Bars are dangerous, says Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat. Meeting and gathering, even with social distancing, is irresponsible, he says.

But peaceful protests, with little or no social distancing, are OK, says Cooper, because they’re protected under the First Amendment. They certainly are, no matter their roots or the protesters’ collective contention. But on that point, the governor isn’t so clear. Cooper complained about protests to open businesses and churches, before acquiescing over constitutional rights. A couple of weeks ago, Cooper marched, sans mask, with protesters seeking justice over the killing of George Floyd.

Cooper’s definition of dangerous is replete with variables and caveats. 

Gyms and fitness centers are dangerous, says the governor and Mandy Cohen, state health department secretary.

This idea, stated as fact, is simultaneously ironic and hypocritical. Gyms would assuredly take every precaution to take care of its customers, and the customers would most assuredly reciprocate. But gyms remain closed, even though they are essential to continued physical and mental health. All of North Carolina’s neighboring states have reopened gyms — as have all but a handful of states — for those reasons and to stave off more foreclosures and bankruptcies. 

N.C. Sen. Rick Gunn, R-Alamance, has put forth two bills that would reopen gyms and bars, as well as expand seating at restaurants.

Cooper vetoed the first attempt June 5 but, as of this writing, hasn’t acted on the second, House Bill 594. Each time, the governor responds to questions about his reasoning by shrinking behind Cohen, who launches into a veritable filibuster. Breathing this, science that. I keep waiting for Thomas Dolby to pop out from behind the curtain in Cooper’s war room screaming, “Science!”

Cooper, from his emergency bunker, bloviates with little threat of pointed questions or uncomfortable follow ups. Fed up. That’s what I am.

I’m fed up with reporters — from TV and what used to be large, influential statewide newspapers — who ask so-called questions of Cooper parroting his talking points and promulgating his agenda. Cooper’s screeners, as a matter of habit, pick out the same reporters who only occasionally ask something that tips him off balance, such as one about nursing homes from an emotional reporter who lost her father and simply wanted answers.

The governor offered sympathy, if little else.

In more than three months of COVID-19 news conferences, Cooper has called on Carolina Journal — let me see, now — once! I’ve concluded it doesn’t matter much anymore. Cooper, who is up for re-election, has a big lead in the polls. 

Like beer cans at a NASCAR race — last year, anyway — the governor’s message is always tilting. In Cooper’s case, the tilt veers left, as the spirit of communication becomes political, partisan.

More people are getting tested for the virus, and the percentage of positive results has, for weeks now, fluctuated only slightly. 

Enough already. 

People 65 and older bring the lowest percentage of positive results — 14% as of Tuesday, June 16 — yet account for 81% of the deaths attributed to COVID-19. People older than 75 account for 61% of deaths.

Cooper and Cohen, spurred by a reporter’s question, are considering making masks mandatory in public. Counties around the state are thinking about it. Masks are now mandatory in the city of Raleigh. 

Peggy Noonan, last week in the Wall Street Journal, writes that governors were correct in taking strong action early in the crisis, because federal leaders certainly weren’t.

“There is no doubt that the lockdowns saved many, many lives and allowed hospitals to hold their ground. Some governors moved late, some made big blunders. … But at the beginning of the crisis, in the face of federal dithering and denials, they were at least doing something.

“Then they got carried away,” Noonan writes. “The shocked and cooperative citizens of March are the battered, skeptical citizens of June.

“They saw the inevitable politicization of the process. They saw the illogic and apparent capriciousness of many regulations. They suffered financially and saw little sympathy for their plight. They were lectured and hectored. There was no governmental modesty in it.”

“There will be exactly zero appetite this fall for daily news conferences in which governors announce the phased, Stage 2 openings of certain sectors that meet certain metrics that some midlevel health-department guy seems to have pulled out of his ear,” Noonan writes.

The virus is still here, Cooper says often. He’s right, and it’s not going anywhere, at least until there’s a vaccine. It’s silly to talk about a possible second wave in the midst of the first. Cohen, too, is right when she says we must learn to co-exist — us and the virus.

But, starting now, we need leaders who don’t obfuscate or preach. Who offer clear reasons for closing this or opening that. We need reporters to start asking pointed questions and leaders who will answer them, honestly and succinctly. 

This virus is dangerous and, in way too many instances, lethal. I’m not discounting its ferocity, or its threat to the old and the vulnerable. We’re responsible for protecting them, but not through government edicts, or with elementary slogans, foggy phases, or pedantic press conferences. It’s like “Groundhog Day” all over again. Cue Sonny and Cher.

North Carolina residents need leadership, a consistent message and guidance based on facts and digestible data. We need a vision for the economy, not forced empathy or threats of another shutdown. Cooper’s words and actions do little toward instilling any semblance of hope or understanding. 

Governor, you seem lost. We certainly are.