Democrats need to stop being COVID hypocrites
The number of virus-related hospitalizations across the United States exceeded 100,000 patients on Wednesday for the first time. More than 2,700 people died — the worst daily total so far. And Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control, warned that this winter could be among "the most difficult in the public health history of this nation." The case for hunkering down in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic is stronger than ever.
Meanwhile, the Democratic mayor of Austin, Texas, apologized for taking a vacation to Mexico.
According to the local paper, Mayor Steve Adler hosted 20 people in early November for his daughter's wedding and a reception at a "trendy hotel" downtown. The day after, Adler and seven others traveled to Cabo San Lucas for a week-long vacation at a family timeshare. All this happened after Austin's city government recommended against indoor gatherings larger than 10 people; during his vacation, Adler even released a video urging city residents "to stay home if you can" in advance of the Thanksgiving holiday.
The international travel, he acknowledged on Wednesday, was a "bad example."
But Adler isn't the only Democratic official to set a bad example lately. The list includes Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who apologized Wednesday for traveling to Mississippi for Thanksgiving, even after telling others not to travel. And The Associated Press reported this week that San Francisco Mayor London Breed and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo had dined out and traveled for Thanksgiving, respectively, while telling their constituents to stay home. Two weeks earlier, California Gov. Gavin Newsom apologized for dining out at a Napa Valley restaurant. Conservative publications are keeping lists of Democratic politicians who have violated their own restrictions. Even in the best light, many of these officials violated the spirit of the rules and recommendations they have imposed to slow the coronavirus.
Democrats have a real "do as I say and not as I do" problem on their hands — one that could endanger public health.
It may seem unfair to single out Democratic officials, given that many high-profile Republicans continue to act like the pandemic is no big deal. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, for example, is hosting a series of holiday parties "involving hundreds of guests, food, and drinks." GOP governors have been slow to come around to imposing mask mandates on their citizens. And President Trump's White House has been the apparent source of several outbreaks.
Democrats, though, have vowed to abide by a stricter standard, to take the virus more seriously.
President-elect Joe Biden, for example, repeatedly vowed during his campaign to "follow the science" in fashioning his new administration's response to the coronavirus. Across the country, Democratic officials generally have struck a stronger tone in favor of social distancing, masks, and other measures to prevent the illness from spreading. And they have faced fierce backlash — like the outrageous kidnapping plot aimed at Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — from right-wing constituents whose conception of freedom rejects acts undertaken in the name of public health.
All of that work could come undone with just a little bit of hypocrisy.
Americans have every right to expect their leaders to abide by the same restrictions imposed on everybody else, after all. Leaders who fall short of that standard signal that there are two sets of rules — permissive for the privileged, strict for the rest of us.
"There can only be one set of rules," Kaylee McGhee White wrote this week at the Washington Examiner, a conservative publication, "and if our leaders cannot find it in themselves to abide by them, they shouldn't be considered leaders at all."
Hypocrisy by men and women in high places is galling enough on its own. But the real risk is that double standards will melt into no standards at all. If my city's mayor decides to sidestep the rules — or even good sense — by having an indoor restaurant meal, or taking an out-of-town trip to see family, why shouldn't I do the same? Every person who decides to follow suit takes the chance of spreading the virus, and its accompanying misery, to a wider group of people.
Some officials have had the good sense to be embarrassed by their own behavior. "I want to say that my decision was unwise and hypocritical — a mistake that I want to deeply apologize for," Denver's Hancock said in a statement. "My job as mayor is to not only help come up with safe practices for the entire city. It's also to set an example, and on that measure, I failed."
COVID fatigue is a real thing. My dad lives across town from me — I haven't hugged him since March, and I would really like to do so. We usually visit my wife's parents for Christmas, but this year we are staying home. After nearly 10 months of careful living, it is so human to want to just be done with it all. Elected officials, Democrat and Republican, are human, too. Hopefully, the vaccines soon arriving on the market will begin to allow something like a return to normalcy.
Until then, Democratic officials have to do more than order others to live restricted lives. They must lead by example. Too many of them are falling short.