Like It Or Not, This Crisis is Political

Clete Wetli | April 22, 2020 | Opinion Article

Lately, all manner of pundits, elected officials, and subject matter experts have commented that our nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic should be apolitical. Initially, that may sound logical to some, but after a moment or two of critical thinking, it appears to entirely miss a much larger and salient point. The fact, like it or not, is that this crisis has been political from the start. Politics has played a defining role in all of this well before the term “Coronavirus” became part of our daily vocabulary.

Perhaps, what these well-intentioned people mean to say is that we should try to put aside our partisan differences in order to deal more effectively with the chaotic and deadly crisis that looms before us. That’s quaint and rather sophomoric as a platitude, but it blithely ignores the fact that our government is indispensable at a time like this. One can’t ignore that it’s also a fact that politics is the essential component of what defines our government and dictates the character and substance of its response. 

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Taking all this one step further, politics and political affiliation are nothing more than a voluntarily tribal, collective expression of our values and morals. Intrinsically, politics is adversarial as distinct groups with different priorities, morals, and values vie for power within government to advance the agendas and policies they advocate.

For decades, conservative Republicans have delusionally championed the supposed virtues of “limited government” through their conspiracy-laden 4Chan interwebs, disingenuous “big gubmint baaad” political campaigns, and the mind-numbing echo chamber of conservative talk radio. They have denigrated all government social assistance by falsely claiming that it causes generational dependency. They view many policies and laws that were designed to protect the public as nothing more than an intrusion by the “nanny state” and one more dangerous step toward tyranny.

So, in deep red places like Alabama, Republicans have taken an axe to a long list of programs that benefit the poor, veterans, the disabled, and the elderly. They’ve defunded everything from food assistance to unemployment. They’ve sat idly by while hundreds of thousands have no health insurance and have watched hospital after hospital close their doors permanently.

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Then, without much warning, everything changed due to COVID-19. 

Suddenly. Republicans now desperately need the assistance of the very government that they have spent so much time vilifying. Unfortunately, the Republicans have already underfunded, understaffed, or, in some cases eliminated, the programs that would have helped mitigate and alleviate a major public health crisis like the one we now face. Under their watch, we’ve seen epic mismanagement and incompetence. Further, they had no significant plans for an emergency, should one arise. Ironically, they all feel justified asking for a “handout” right now because this crisis is affecting them personally.

Alabama Democrats, on the other hand, have spent years fighting for Medicaid expansion. They’ve tried to get rid of Alabama’s backward grocery tax. They’ve fought for real, living wage unemployment benefits and for social services that help lift people out of poverty and into financial independence. Democrats funded agencies that planned for emergencies like the one we’re all facing right now, but never thought Republicans would be so short-sighted as to question their value or existence.

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So, yes, this crisis is political and it’s myopic not to view it from that perspective. It matters because it shows the results of what happens when conservatives dismantle necessary government agencies and programs simply because they believe it’s a good ideological talking point that excites their big corporate donors. It illustrates the destructive nature of Republican rhetoric as it has manifested into policy by putting the greed-addicted desires of the wealthiest before the genuine needs of working-class, everyday people.

Hopefully, COVID-19 will cause Republicans and conservatives to reevaluate their own politics and to see how they’ve made this crisis far worse than it should be. 

COVID-19 is political and Republicans own every bit of this mess. 

From Trump to AL Gov. Ivey, this crisis has shown the fundamental flaws and failures of the Republican Party. 

It’s time for a real change and, hopefully, the November election will be transformational.

Clete Wetli is former Chair of the Madison County Democrats and a liberal political activist.

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