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What the Devil won't tell you

Daddy Ducey had his chance to deal with COVID; It's time to call Mom

Gov. Doug Ducey, in his coronavirus press conference Thursday, had encouraging news to share as he told a story of Arizona’s improved outlook during the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Case numbers, positive tests and hospitalizations are all trending in toward the better, he told Arizonans. Ducey rather publicly broke with President Donald Trump and announced the state would let school districts make the decision locally about when and how to do the majority of re-openings. He even had Democrat Kathy Hoffman, the state superintendent of public instruction, with him as he addressed reporters in a rare show of bipartisanship.

Arizona has an improving story to tell and Ducey was going to tell it.

“We are going to continue to take a responsible approach and the decisions from my office will be guided by public health,” Ducey said, concluding an upbeat presentation and inviting the press to ask questions.

The first few reporters – all men – got up and essentially bought into the framing Ducey had provided.

Then KNXV reporter Nicole Grigg stood up, walked to the microphone and flat socked Ducey in the nose. She challenged his use of New York Times, MSNBC and Johns Hopkins University numbers for Arizona while continuing to ignore home-grown research done jointly by Arizona State University and the University of Arizona. Ducey had told those institutions to stand down their reporting early in the health crisis.

The governor staggered back for a bit pointing out that the New York Times and MSNBC weren’t cherry-picking numbers to downplay the virus, which has become a cause celeb for his Republican Party.

Then Grigg then planted a rhetorical flurry in Ducey’s figurative nostrils: “How can you say that cases are going down when there is a 60,000 case backlog at one of the state’s largest testing facilities? How can you say you are making data-informed decisions with incomplete data?”

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Ducey for a couple weeks now has pointed to a slowing of the increase in the number of cases here as a reason to not lock things down, or even go back to the loose "maybe stay at home" suggestions he issued in the spring.

"Why do you sit here and say that things are positive?," the Phoenix reporter asked.

If this were the old days back on Manor Hill Drive, Ducey would have cradled his bloodied beak and admonished Grigg: “I’m telling my mom!”

Ducey yadda, yaddaed through an answer with a tone I interpreted to drip with condescension and mansplaining. "We don't have the demand for the test," he said.

Ordinarily, I’m not a fan of septum-crushing questions. They tend to be counterproductive to getting information because they throw the source on the defensive. Empathy is a much better device to get governors to spill.

Speed is life

In this case, Grigg — who's been dogging Ducey daily for months — was dead on because it’s important to pierce the senses of futility and inevitability.

Arizona has positive trends only in the context of a hellscape. A stay-at-home order is still needed to save lives that can be saved. Ducey won't issue one because it's bad for business — but how do we have a good economy while living in one of the global hotspots of a pandemic.

I have a neighbor who works at one of Banner Health’s clinics and he’s being redeployed to University Medical Center, where the staff needs relief like the 101st Airborne at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. These bands of brothers and sisters are in the Bois Jacques Woods and COVID-19 is absolutely shelling them into oblivion.

Speed is life. The faster we get the virus under control, the more people we save. Ducey wants a slower recovery because that’s best for business and fits his ideology. It’s why hundreds have to die every week for God only knows how long.

Arizona’s cases are “trending downward.” Positivity rates after tests are also decreasing. The R-nought number defining how many others each sick person can infect is on the wane. Fine. Arizona is still are reporting more four to five times the daily infections than the 446 million people living in the European Union.

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Our state has lost more lives to coronavirus than were killed on 9/11.

Let me throw a couple other numbers at you, Dear Reader. If Arizona were a country, it would rank between Laos and Paraguay in descending order of total population. Those two (we used to call them) third-world countries have reported 36 combined deaths from COVID-19.

Disclaimer: Laos says they have zero deaths. I don't buy that for a second because because communist countries aren’t known for transparency. However, they did impose a lockdown and strict quarantine measures, taking a much stronger approach than the U.S. The argument in Laos is whether or not the numbers are zero, or just low. It's not whether the country is a global hotspot like Arizona has become.

While polls show Americans don’t buy the official line from the the United States of Trumpia, we run the risk of accepting an unacceptably low bar as proof of success.

No sociopath

For instance, it is increasingly apparent that given a choice between Ducey and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the state is far better off with Ducey in charge. He’s not incompetent maniac insisting everything is great as his state is ravaged by the pandemic.

Over in Texas, my family is stuck with Gov. Gregg Abbott, who I think wants to do right by the Lone Star population but he’s looking over his shoulder at a lieutenant governor telling the world “there are better things than living.” I suppose that’s true, but freedom from wearing a strap of cloth over one’s face isn’t one of them. Fearing a primary challenge, Abbott has been forced to hold back on the kinds of measures that could bend the curve. There are a lot worse things than losing the governorship.

Ducey is doing all that "he can do" but that's a different amount than "what can be done." The governor is no new-school sociopath. He's an old-fashioned laissez-faire conservative, who thinks the government should have a light touch interfering with the economy.

That's fair, except that he's resistant to taking further (half-)measures to interfere with coronavirus because that would be interfering with the economy.

The spring rounds of stay-at-home-orders were supposed to get the virus under control. Failure to keep them in place long enough to work, lead the rise in new cases. It’s also going to likely lead to another trillion-dollars in spending – probably about twice the Toxic Asset Relief Program.

We're spending this money because Republicans of the new and old schools, aren't capable of believing this pandemic requires a sustained public response.

I'm not denying that Ducey has taken some action in that he shut down bars, gyms and other public facilities (or at least the ones that don't flaunt their flouting of the order). That was when coronavirus seemed destined to climb to 6,000 cases a day. So it seems like Arizona is going to have to get used to the horrible and be thankful we haven't climbed into the absolutely horrific.

No one's explained how an economy is supposed to improve during a pandemic, when the consumer base is filled with a bunch of people afraid their names would be added to the body count.

My first column about COVID-19 predicted the governor and the Republicans in the Legislature were going to have overcome their allergy to the notion of public action in order to fix things.

The daddy problem

A pandemic screams for the sort of collective public action that Ayn Rand would hate.

However, the state and national response to the global pandemic is an increasingly political game of “Who’s your daddy?”

Daddy is the Republicans, more specifically, the MAGAs. Mommy is the Democrats, specifically women and a bunch of men who are too wimpy to let mere human lives fuel an economy chugging along uninterrupted by stay-at-home orders.

I didn't invent this construct and it's been used against the Left for years. Empathy is fine for sniffles but tough guys are required when things get dangerous. 

In letting COVID-19 fly free, Daddy will justify the body counts by saying, “I did what I had to do to protect this family!”

This masculine versus feminine approach to the virus has even been noticed by Ducey’s administration, who unveiled an ad to undercut it, even as they are perpetuating it. The 30-second spot released by the state depicts a boxer equating masks to gloves, saying “They don’t make me weak.”

Well, I’ll tell you what strong looked like. It looked like a woman at a microphone smashing through the bubble because that’s what journalists do.

And it looks like Mayor Regina Romero of Tucson and Kate Gallego of Phoenix issuing a must-wear-mask directive that correlates almost precisely to Arizona’s turn-around because that’s what strong leaders do. Ducey kinda wimped out and left the hard decisions to local government leaders.

Absent context, Ducey is claiming progress. 

The question is whether Arizona and America will shut up and let Daddy call the shots, because he knows what's best and is strong enough to do what's right.

The country and Arizona have gone for it in the past. We have taken care of Daddy so Daddy can take care of us all the way to mass incarceration, ignoring climate change, tax cuts for the rich, a wealth gap for the ages and a stupid war in Iraq. Maybe coronavirus will be the bridge too far.

“There’s no victory laps. There’s no celebrations,” Ducey said, as if he could use a pat on the back. “Everything put up here is informed by the data.”

That may be true, but it’s filtered through an ideology out of sync with the times.

It’s increasingly clear Arizona, Texas and Florida, it’s clear that Daddy has an agenda other than preventing deaths. It’s also becoming clear, we might have to go get Mom.

Blake Morlock is a journalist who has spent 20 years covering government in Arizona and also worked in Democratic political communications. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.

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Gov. Doug Ducey says Arizona is moving in the right direction as the state fights the coronavirus. It would be a much better story if he had what it takes to overcome his own ideology.


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