On July 13, Gov. Kim Reynold’s released a recorded a message encouraging Iowans to “step up and take personal responsibility” in the effort to slow the rise in cases of COVID-19.
The video is poor quality. Just the governor sitting at her desk, the sound tinny. The message passive-aggressive. “I don’t want to go backward,” she says. “I don’t want to reverse our progress.”
It’s a threat delivered with an unmasked smile. That same day, Iowa ticked past 35,000 confirmed cases of the virus. On both July 10 and 11, Iowa reported over 700 new cases, the highest increase of cases since May.
Reynolds has spent much of the pandemic urging Iowans to “do the right thing” without wanting to do it herself. “Do the right thing” is at its core an abdication of political leadership. Politicians too cowardly to take the steps necessary to close their states, toss the blame on the unmasked masses.
And as much as I want to mock the virus denying, Busch Light drinker standing in a bar in Fort Dodge talking about how we have to see “both sides” of the pandemic, the reality is, it’s our leaders more than our neighbors who have failed us.
In this state and nationwide our leaders have actively spread false information about the virus. Rep. Jeff Shipley lied when he said there were no COVID-19 deaths. He later tried to “walk back” that statement, which is just PR spin for asphyxiating on your own stupidity.
Reynold’s herself has failed to “do the right thing” and follow the Centers for Disease Control guidelines on mask wearing and social distancing. News conferences of her bill signings show her handing out pens and standing in large groups of unmasked Iowans, shoulder-to-shoulder, clapping and cheering for what they’ve achieved. Her publicized meetings with the Vice President have not featured on-camera mask wearing or social distancing. Instead she’s trusted Iowans to do as she says not how she does.
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A recent Iowa Public Radio story evaluated Reynolds’ shifting analysis, concluding the governor opened the state, not during a decline, but when “new confirmed cases were at their first peak.” So right when state officials bragged about flattening the curve, and Reynolds lifted restrictions, we hadn’t even seen the worst of the virus.
It’s not just our state. At a federal level, our leaders have failed to respond adequately to the crisis. And now a nation that can’t even get personal protective equipment to doctors and nurses wants schools to open.
The myth of personal responsibility is what leaders use to absolve themselves of guilt. But how can front-line workers be personally responsible when they are forced to work without adequate protection? How can they stay home if they are sick if they don’t have paid sick leave? How can teachers “do the right thing” without adequate protections and PPE or even classroom supplies? How can families do the right thing when parents have to work and children have to learn and our state and federal leaders simply smile and repeat meaningless platitudes?
In April, Reynolds dismissed a projection putting the deaths of Iowans from COVID-19 at 1,367, saying the state was on the right track. It’s July, we are more than halfway to that number, and an end to the pandemic is nowhere in sight.