Times Change … Republicans Don’t; The Covid Edition

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Editor’s Note: This article is an update of an op-ed this writer published with DemCast in May of 2020. You can find that article here.

In 1954, Republicans overwhelmingly voted against Social Security Disability (SDI) and defeated it. In 1956, SDI was brought to the floor again and 86% of Republicans in the Senate still opposed it. Fortunately, Democrats were in the majority and the program was approved, nonetheless.

After the 1964 historic passage of the Medicare program, GOP presidential nominee Barry Goldwater was quoted as saying, “Having given our pensioners their medical care in kind why not food baskets, why not public housing accommodations, why not vacation resorts, why not a ration of cigarettes for those who smoke and of beer for those who drink?” Because for Republicans, guaranteeing a minimum level of health care for seniors was as ridiculous and wasteful as free cigarettes and beer. In contrast, upon signing the Medicare Act, President Lyndon Johnson commented, “No longer will older Americans be denied the healing miracle of modern medicine. No longer will illness crush and destroy the savings that they have so carefully put away over a lifetime so that they might enjoy dignity in their later years.”

Decades later, it has become obvious how times change but Republicans don’t. The nation was thrown into turmoil with the strike of the novel SARS-CoV-2. In March 2020, COVID hit the coastal blue states with a vengeance, ripping through our densely populated cities before healthcare professionals had a chance to determine best practices for prevention and treatment. And while these governors were using every tool available to slow the transmission of this new highly contagious disease, including closing schools, shutting down non-essential businesses, and mandating face-coverings, other red state governors were prematurely taking a victory lap.

On May 20, 2020, Governor Ron DeSantis appeared with former Vice President Mike Pence to tout his success in Florida, barking at reporters, “So we’ve succeeded and I think people just don’t want to recognize it.” At the time, Florida had reported less than 50,000 cases statewide and less than 2,300 deaths. [By the end of May 2020, New York had experienced nearly 400,000 cases and around 30,000 deaths.] But the red state’s good fortune was about to end.

In the following year, while states with Democratic leadership continued to put the health and well-being of their citizens first, Republican governors like DeSantis were railing against any government precautions and repeatedly expressing that “we’re not shutting down” the economy.” Because for Republicans, it’s always about business first.

Now in mid-summer 2021, all of the metrics have flipped. New York has adjusted COVID restrictions as the conditions have changed over the past year and a half. State officials have actively advocated for testing, quarantines when appropriate, contact tracing and vaccinations. New York is now averaging about 4,100 new cases and 19 deaths per day with 58.5% of the population fully vaccinated. In the red states, which have rejected the best advice of healthcare professionals and even searched for outliers in the medical community to support their hands-off policies, things are not going as well. For example, Florida averages over 21,000 cases and 153 deaths per day, and the fully vaccinated finally broke 50% on August 14.

And as Gov. DeSantis has refused to follow a proactive approach to turning the tide on the pandemic, his authoritarian executive orders have prohibited local leaders from taking any mitigation measures in their municipalities. He has even gone as far as threatening to withhold the pay to any school district supervisor or administrator who, in the best interest of the students, issues mask mandates. So now in our second summer of COVID, Florida’s citizens are passengers on a rudderless ship at the mercy of the currents.   

Just as over the past 100 years Republicans have opposed any social safety net program, they opposed the American Rescue Plan. It provided relief to hundreds of millions of Americans from the economic crisis created by the previous administration’s refusal to address the public health crisis of COVID. Although many of the GOP representatives took credit for the benefits to their constituents, not a single Republican voted for the relief package.

Because, times change … Republicans don’t!

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