by Ronnie Ross
“With great power comes great responsibility.”
Okay, it’s definitely a cliche, but, of course, cliches are hackneyed for a reason: there is a basic, underlying truth to them. This is especially true for our elected officials. By voting for them as our representatives, we have given them immense power, and we expect them to use that power with great discernment and judgment. Over recent days, we have seen some of the results of the handing over of that power: Virginia has become the first southern state to enact extensive LGBTQ+ protections with the Virginia Values Act; we have become the first southern state to enact clean energy standards; we have eliminated civil asset forfeiture; we’ve enacted automatic voter registration; and, the list goes on and on and on.
Having been defeated last November 5th by incumbent Republican State Senator Jill Vogel, I was not able to be a part of casting any of these historic votes. But, like so many folks who knocked doors, made phone calls, wrote postcards, and so much more, I was still part of the great circle of folks who believed and worked for the majority to matter. Here in the 27th State Senate district, we ran a great campaign, having gotten more votes in the district than Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax when he ran against Senator Vogel. When I called the Senator to concede, we had a lovely, gracious conversation with one another. We also, of course, talked about the responsibilities that candidates and elected officials necessarily bear.
As an elected official, it is not just actions and votes that matter, but words too. The words of our electeds have weight. Thus, I was so disheartened to hear Senator Vogel’s recent comments on the John Fredericks Show. John begins by noting that Virginia has been way under the projections for deaths due to the novel coronavirus, as well as the number of hospital beds needed as a result of the virus. During her answer, Senator Vogel said some things that are very, very true. She noted that the shuttering of the economy has absolutely decimated so many Virginia businesses. This is true, and this is terrible, and this is why it is so important to work with the federal government to get relief for Virginia businesses. Senator Vogel then went on to note that it is the responsibility of elected officeholders to speak out about the crisis.
Here is where I wish the Senator might have said something along these lines:
“Yes, John, Virginia under some of the projections of the models. But, it is important to note two things. One is that models have a cone of uncertainty; they’re simply a tool. Two–and this is more important–is the Paradox of Prevention. The fact that our numbers are down is proof that social distancing is working. When prevention measures work, they can often look like an overreaction. This is the Paradox; only if we hadn’t acted would we have seen what could have happened. Thus, it is so, so crucial to listen to the experts and keep social distancing, all the while providing our businesses with economic relief to get through this.”
Instead, Senator Vogel said that is was her “fervent hope that the governor will relax the June 10th deadline for reopening the Commonwealth and the stay at home order so people can get back to their normal lives.” She went on to agree with John Fredericks, saying, “All of the recent information that has been reported out…is showing the numbers are way under” and “the cure is far worse than the underlying problem here.”
Listening to this, I found myself shaking my head and muttering, “no.” This is the exact opposite of what our elected officials should be telling folks! Opening up the Commonwealth too soon will get people killed. More than that, it will throw our economy into even deeper turmoil, as we have to react to another increase in COVID-19. It would have the exact opposite of the intended effect!
Senator Vogel concluded by saying that “it is absolutely political and economic malpractice if we continue to shutter businesses.” First of all: this is a crisis, why do we care about politics and what is good or bad politics? We are talking about people’s lives. Secondly, the greater malpractice is the refusal to listen to experts. Putting our fingers in our ears and refusing to listen to what scientists are saying because it is not what we want to hear is no way to run a Commonwealth or a country.
Look, I know I might sound angry or irritated, but that is because I am. I think of someone like my dad who, given his current immuno-compromise, would likely die of COVID-19. I think of all the families who have been ripped apart by illness hospitalization and sickness. And then I think of how much more destruction there would be if we stop distancing too soon.
I am angry. Because words matter. Because politicians need to be responsible. Because people are too worried about scoring political points rather than doing the hards things that are what’s best. Rhetoric like Vogel’s on the John Fredericks Show this past Friday? It’s the height of irresponsibility.