Many Democratic leaders, it would appear, are hewing to the strict guidelines they’re advocating in public when it comes to limiting the spread of the new coronavirus.
People arrive at Hobby Airport the week of Thanksgiving, Monday, Nov. 19, 2018, in Houston.
The handful who aren’t deserve a lump of coal in their stockings for Christmas — another holiday that they would presumably like the hoi polloi to spend in near-isolation.
In recent weeks the question of whether to gather for the fall and winter holidays has become politicized, because of course it has.
Republicans led by President Donald Trump, who survived COVID-19 only to host super-spreader events at the White House, have scoffed at the suggestion that Americans should eschew their usual plans in lieu of scaled-back or virtual celebrations.
“I encourage all Americans to gather, in homes and places of worship, to offer a prayer of thanks to God for our many blessings,” Trump said in his official Thanksgiving proclamation this week. The statement acknowledged the “unprecedented challenges” faced this past year but also commended Americans for “developing groundbreaking therapeutics and life-saving vaccines on record-shattering timeframes.”
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, also a Republican, was widely razzed for cavalierly tweeting a meme of the “Come and Take It” flag from the 1835 Battle of Gonzales, with the flag’s cannon replaced by a nice plump turkey. The message was that he planned to celebrate Thanksgiving as usual, despite the pandemic and suffering it has brought.
As of Thanksgiving Day, Texas had reported some 1.2 million coronavirus cases, including 76,519 confirmed cases since the previous Thursday, and more than 21,000 deaths.
Democrats, by contrast, have been exhorting Americans to follow the guidance offered by public health officials, who are rightly worried about surging coronavirus cases across the country— and in some cases taking concrete steps to enforce their recommendations.
On Wednesday, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff issued a partial curfew, to begin on Thanksgiving night, as cases in the city continued to rise. El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego had already issued such an order in an effort to help contain the virus in a community that’s been particularly hard-hit.
But a handful of Democrats have decided that the stringent rules they’re advocating shouldn’t apply to them.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom got things started by attending a friend’s 50th birthday party in Napa Valley earlier this month. After his attendance at the event was reported, the well-coiffed Democrat offered a public apology on camera, saying that although the dinner was technically in compliance with the rules he’s issued for the state, the crowd at the dinner was larger than he anticipated and his attendance was a mistake.
“The spirit of what I’m preaching all the time was contradicted,” he said. “I need to preach and practice, not just preach.”
Then New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, after signing an executive order limiting private indoor gatherings to no more than 10 attendees and repeatedly urging New Yorkers to cancel their own plans to gather with extended family, told a radio host that his 89-year-old mother and two adult daughters would be traveling to Albany to join him for the holiday.
Cuomo changed course after this news produced some backlash. “I didn’t want to disappoint my mother,” he explained at a news conference. “It’s hard. But sometimes hard is smart.”
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock flew to Houston to spend the holiday with his wife and daughter, the latter of whom recently started a new job in Mississippi. Prior to being spotted at Denver International Airport, wearing a baseball cap, Hancock had urged city residents to “avoid travel, if you can.”
“As the holiday approached, I decided it would be safer for me to travel to see them than to have two family members travel back to Denver,” Hancock explained in a statement, asking constituents to forgive him for acting from the heart.
“I recognize that my decision has disappointed many who believe it would have been better to spend Thanksgiving alone,” he continued. “As a public official, whose conduct is rightly scrutinized for the message it sends to others, I apologize to the residents of Denver who see my decision as conflicting with the guidance to stay at home for all but essential travel.”
It’s hard not to sympathize with Hancock. In addition to harboring the eminently understandable desire to celebrate Thanksgiving with his immediate family, his statement candidly affirms the premise that public officials should be held to a higher level of scrutiny than the private citizens they represent — a quaint but worthwhile notion, in our fractious political era.
Contrast Hancock’s statement with Newsom’s smarmy public apology. The California governor should probably focus on setting public policy, rather than “preaching” — after all, the parameters for controlling this virus should be informed by data and evidence, rather than belief.
But Hancock, like Cuomo and Newsom, should serve as a cautionary tale. Our leaders are asking us to sacrifice cherished times with loved ones for the common good and our individual safety, after months of having done so already.
Many Americans have proved willing to do so, thankfully. But it tries one’s patience to see political leaders urging us to make sacrifices and endeavoring to live by a separate set of rules.
A better example was set by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the 79-year-old director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Fauci has warned of a dark holiday season due to the spread of COVID-19. He enjoyed a quiet Thanksgiving dinner with his wife, connecting with his three daughters in different parts of the country via Zoom, and said he’s most likely scrapping Christmas plans.
“For my own family, I’m saying we had a really great Thanksgiving and Christmas last year. We’re looking forward to a really great Thanksgiving and Christmas in 2021,” he told USA Today. “Let’s now make the best of the situation and show our love and affection for people by keeping them safe.”