Conspicuous Action.

Those two words encapsulate a politician’s default response to any crisis (or “crisis” – many dubbed as such do not, considered rationally, deserve that level of emphasis), with the effects or efficacy of the action of secondary relevance. Doing “something” is better politics than doing nothing, even if nothing’s a better choice. Doing something big and broad-brush is better than doing something more subtle and targeted, even if the latter is more likely to produce better results with fewer adverse effects.

It’s the act, not the result, that captures cameras, headlines, and voter attention, and allows politicians to chest-thump their leadership come election time.

Bear this psychology in mind in the next few weeks, as the predicted (and inevitable, given the realities of seasons, weather, and the routines of life) increase in COVID-19 infections emerges.

Back in the spring, politicians imposed lockdowns, shutting businesses, restricting gatherings, calling for social distancing, hand washing, mask wearing, and the like. Their stated purpose was to “flatten the curve.” The referent curve was the infection rate, and flattening it was about preventing hospitals from being overwhelmed, about allowing treatments to be developed, about allowing the various supply chains of health care equipment, medicines, personal protection equipment, and the like to spool up, and about buying time to better understand the virus.

All that was achieved, to a substantial degree, despite the chaos and disputes that emerged from the politicization of the pandemic. Today, we are perhaps less than two months from initial distribution of a vaccine, by itself a stunning achievement, given that vaccines normally take a decade to develop, rather than months.

That’s of little interest to politicians, however, not when there’s political hay to make. Consider New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, he who made a stupendously wrong decision regarding COVID patients and nursing homes, who not only refused to acknowledge it or the thousands it killed, and instead wrote a self-congratulatory (the aforementioned chest-thumping) book about how well he did. Cuomo responded to the news of a vaccine with a bizarre statement about how his distrust of the Trump administration (true reading: an intense and brain-fogging personal hatred for Trump) means he won’t be OK with the vaccine being administered in New York until Biden is in the White House. That he opted out of participating in and being informed of the process he derided is of little import, apparently.

Cuomo’s position on the vaccine is utterly reprehensible, because it’ll result in preventable deaths if he actually follows through. Even more so when considered in the context of his escalation of lockdown restrictions in response to an increase in infections. It’s as if he is only interested in lives being saved when he is the savior.

While I fully expect someone to point out the horrible optics of that initial fit of pique and a quiet walk-back of his planned refusal, it’s a corollary lesson for our political education: Credit is more important than success.

Biden, eager to differentiate himself from Trump, has already made it known that a 4-6 week national lockdown is on his dance card. No matter that the nation’s wide diversity of geography, circumstances, etc. makes it far more proper that state and local leaders act than the one-size-fits-all approach a Federal mandate would be. No matter the vast economic harm that’ll be re-inflicted on an economy just now recovering from the beating it took in the spring. No matter that the lockdowns increase deaths from other causes, as people are less likely or able to receive attention and treatment. And, no matter the countless businesses destroyed, the countless jobs lost, the economic devastation that will take years or even decades to undo.

Politicians could be focusing their efforts on the high-risk segments of the population, and put some measure of responsibility on individuals to figure out what’s right for them and theirs. Unfortunately, our sound-bite culture doesn’t play well with that sort of measured activity. “You didn’t do enough, so Person X died!” is a politician’s worst nightmare, even if, given time and attention, he could offer up evidence that his measured response was the better one.

So, from the big-government-leaning, and for the big-government-leaning (including most of the press), we’ll get big bold lockdowns.

The harm they cause will be shrugged off or buried in obfuscation. Kinda like the true number of nursing home deaths in New York that Cuomo’s colossal blunder caused.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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