Science, honesty should guide our Covid response


“Waist deep in the big muddy, and the big fool says to push on.”  

– Pete Seeger

The Fool referred to in the above lyric was President Lyndon Baines Johnson, who, despite sober assessments that the war in Vietnam was unwinnable, continued escalating a conflict that eventually cost 66,000 Americans (and close to a million Vietnamese) their lives between 1964-68. Johnson’s leadership failure cost him his presidency, which seems like a small price to pay weighed against the cost of those who lost a child, a spouse, a father or a mother in a senseless war.

Two of my favorite quotes about human beings come from the late, great basketball coach John Wooden, whose UCLA teams dominated college basketball during the Sixties. Wooden was always more than a coach, being equal parts coach, preacher and philosopher. 

Wooden quote 1: “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”

Wooden’s words augmented Seeger’s. Two weeks before Christmas, we are “Waist deep again in the big (viral) muddy,” but this time the muddy isn’t the rice paddies or jungles in Southeast Asia, but a preventable disease ravaging every community in the world. Like Johnson, against all rationale and scientific advice, our president has ignored any attempt to control the spread of the disease. He doesn’t even mention that 3,000 Americans are now dying each day from a pandemic he made worse by denying it was a problem and refusing to take measures to control its spread. While the president tunes up his golf swing as the death toll in America alone is approaching an astounding 340,000 lives.  

This brings to mind a second Wooden quote: “Whatever you do in life, surround yourself with smart people who’ll argue with you.”

Whether you like the national leadership or not is irrelevant, but my God, you have to listen to others who know more than you do. That the president politicized a disease appalls me, and that so many of his supporters did not grasp that they could like the president but not agree with him about the virus concerns me.  

The same goes for California’s governor and San Francisco’s mayor. They ignored their guidelines and availed themselves of family gatherings and fine French meals. Decades ago, I swore off membership in any political party when I realized none had a monopoly on truth. Has our leadership served us well? Let the chips fall where they may. I think not.

It didn’t have to be this way. In the early 1980s, as the first signs of the HIV crisis began to surface, C. Everett Koop, a deeply conservative and Republican man thought by many to be too conservative to protect the nation’s health, was the United States Surgeon General. In stark contrast to his moral pre-disposition, Koop did battle with the socially conservative politics of the White House by taking action to slow the spread of AIDS in the United States. At the time, some wrongly branded the affliction a “gay man’s disease.” Koop, whose ideology likely did not support gay men and who was under political pressure not to take effective action, let medical science and intellectual honesty guide his response. Koop did not succumb to callous prejudice or political favor, and he saved tens, if not hundreds of thousands of lives by doing his job to protect the American people. 

As for those who believe the pandemic is a conspiratorial hoax, all I can say is, “Please take your place at the back of the vaccine line.”

For our own Gov. Brown, I’ve heard more than a few shots directed at her, but I applaud the governor’s steadfastness. It is not politically easy to shut down a state, and there is terrible hardship when you close schools, businesses and churches. We want to blame the messenger, Gov. Brown, but perhaps the better response should be “Thanks,” because we’ve been fortunate so far that Oregon’s COVID-19 infection rates have been lower than most other states. More Oregonians will survive to tell the tale. Amen.

Risk is part of life, and it isn’t for me to tell you how to live, but I believe it makes sense to keep your guard up. And seriously, people, all we’re talking about is a mask, some hand sanitizer, and keeping away from larger groups. It isn’t that much to ask. I encourage all to stay vigilant and protect themselves and others. Even with an effective vaccine, it will take a while to stop the virus, so unless you meet the standards identified below for “exceptionalism,” I encourage all to keep the mask on, mingle less, and maintain all possible safeguards. You may be young and healthy, but your grandmother isn’t.  

You Are Exceptional if you can:

* Jump up in the air and not come down.

* Walk on water.

* Deposit your body waste with no smell.

All others: You are not exceptional. Keep The Mask On!


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