America's pandemic of COVID hypocrisy

There are two pandemics in America. One is COVID-19; the other is the toxic infection of political hypocrisy related to the disease. We can’t be precise about how the first will turn-out; we know exactly how the second will play. 

You can see it an election cycle away. If COVID-19 continues in some variation, the same politicians who fanned its spread by resisting public health mandates will be the first to condemn the Biden administration for not ending it.

It’s a callous, even dangerous strategy. The question is, are Americans so inoculated to shameless hypocrisy and opportunism that it will work?

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Leading the list is Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisDemocrats lean into vaccine mandates ahead of midterms California dreaming did not become reality for Republicans Florida landlord requiring proof of vaccinations from tenants MORE — so extreme in his views and political ambition that he sued cruise lines from imposing sensible COVID-19 health rules. Paul Krugman documents DeSantis’s recklessness in this week's New York Times: “More than 10,000 Floridians are hospitalized, 10 times the number in New York, which has about as many residents; an average of 58 Florida residents are dying each day, compared with six in New York.” DeSantis has steadfastly refused to take a hardline on jabbing arms with vaccinations, but you can bet that he’ll punch away at Biden.  

Tennessee has sent its farmers nearly half a million dollars to vaccinate cattle against respiratory diseases and other maladies, but Republican Gov. Bill Lee won’t incentivize humans to get COVID vaccines. The bad news for Tennesseans is that the state has experienced a 250 percent increase in COVID cases in the last two weeks. The good news is that the cows are doing okay.

If South Dakota Gov. Kristi NoemKristi Lynn NoemSouth Dakota lawmakers release petition to impeach state attorney general OSHA faces big challenge with Biden vaccine mandate Overnight Health Care — Departing FDA vaccine regulators argue against COVID-19 booster shots MORE critiques Biden’s COVID response, remember that she refused to order people to wear masks and even expressed doubt about their effectiveness. This week she told the Associated Press that she has no plans to ratchet up her messaging to urge people to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Her rationale? She believes that her messaging has reached a “saturation level where people start to tune you out.” I’ll wager a Long Island pizza against a South Dakota bison burger that her philosophy on saturation levels won’t apply if she runs for president.

When Texas Gov. Greg Abbott attacks, recall his executive order prohibiting local governments and state agencies from mandating vaccines; and strengthening a prior order prohibiting local officials from requiring face masks. 

When Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonOvernight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley becomes lightning rod on right Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Senate Democrats ding Biden energy proposal MORE (R-Ark.) offers his plan to manage the disease, rewind to this this breathtakingly accurate statement – I think it was meant as a criticism – on Fox News: “If you just turn these decisions over to a bunch of public health bureaucrats, of course the only thing they’re gonna consider is what they think is in the best interest of public health.” Um, yeah. 

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Which brings us to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who last week bragged on Fox: “I've introduced legislation in the Senate to ban vaccine passports, to ban the government saying, ‘We're going to issue a document to make sure you've had a vaccine.' I've introduced legislation to end the mask mandate on airplanes. It's crazy that airplanes are mandating mask mandates. It doesn't make any sense, and Democrats are opposing this because they believe you don't have a right to make a choice for yourself." 

Cruz says this is all about freedom. Don’t kid yourself. If this were about true libertarianism, the senator would have offered companion legislation to ban other limits on freedom: going through airport metal detectors; not smoking on planes, giving vaccinations to children to protect them against measles, mumps and rubella; DWI laws. 

I fully understand that hypocrisy is often the staple of a good political message, and that neither political party has a monopoly on it. But this is different. This is like watching a house burn down, then blocking the fire department from responding, then blaming the firefighters for not responding quickly enough. This is being so feverish with presidential ambition that you’re willing to risk increased infections, hospitalizations and fatalities among those you represent.

In fairness, there are many reasons for increased infections — not just the callous strategic positioning of presidential candidates. But, if you have actively, steadfastly blocked President BidenJoe BidenSunday shows preview: Coronavirus dominates as country struggles with delta variant Did President Biden institute a vaccine mandate for only half the nation's teachers? Democrats lean into vaccine mandates ahead of midterms MORE from reducing COVID-infections in your state, you have forsaken the right to criticize him credibly when the infections increase.

Last week, Alabama’s Republican governor, Kaye Ivey, told a Birmingham reporter that “It’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks. It’s the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down.”

She also said, “Folks [are] supposed to have common sense.” So are our leaders, governor. 

Steve Israel represented New York in the U.S. House of Representatives over eight terms and was chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is now the director of the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs at Cornell University. Follow him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael.