116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
I received quite a bit of advice as I began my career as an advocate for educators, but this piece has always stuck: “Administrators are not always your enemy; members are not always your friends, but lawyers are always lawyers.” After years of working with politicians, I’d add to that advice. “Politicians are always politicians.”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not naive enough to expect politicians not to be political. In fact, beware of the politician who denies they’re one.
Politicians who are true leaders have one formula in common. They put principle and people before politics. The others use politics to keep their jobs, and that’s their only principle.
Early on, former President Donald Trump sent the message clearly that the pandemic was to be downplayed for political reasons. His party agreed. Even with a virus storm coming he ignored it because it didn’t fit his, “Always be a winner” narrative. He changed the subject and ignored the scientific inevitable.
To combat the virus, the president would have needed to take politically unpopular measures, and Trump didn’t do politically hard. Instead, he told his base what they wanted to hear.
He put politics ahead of principle and people. That’s why wearing a mask became political instead of what it should have been from the start, protection for your neighbor and for yourself.
Even when the virus started to kill thousands, they politically rationalized it was only the old and weak. They still held maskless White House parties, and laughed at those cautious Democrats hiding in basements
Using the same easy political calculus, some Republican governors, including Iowa’s own Gov. Kim Reynolds, have decided to politicize the so-called vaccination passports, even though the White House has said it will not roll out a federal program requiring proof of vaccination.
Reynolds recently said, “I strongly oppose vaccine passports and I believe we must take a stand as a state against them, which I intend to do either through legislation or executive action.”
Never mind; vaccinations have long been required to enroll in public schools or universities, unless the person has a religious or medical exemption. Reynolds chooses the easy political route slamming the door on any discussion.
That’s music to the ears of her base, but not so fast. Why not have a serious discussion about the next step in opening Iowa safely? I’m not totally sold on the concept either, but before the governor unilaterally rejects the idea, shouldn’t the decision be made with an eye toward balancing freedom with safety, based on science?
The governor seems very willing to go for the quick, easy answer instead of putting people before quick fix politics. This isn’t the first time either. When all but a few state governors did the hard thing and mandated masks, Reynolds did easy half measures saying, “Iowans will do the right thing.”
Politicians love to do the politically popular thing so they’ll cruise to victory. But voters need to examine if those decisions are about principle and people or just politics. If the answer is politics, we need to find new leaders.
Bruce Lear of Sioux City retired after 38 years in public education, 11 as a teacher and 27 as a regional director for the Iowa State Education Association.