Al Cross: Some Republicans are sacrificing science on the altar of politics – and right here we’re on the point of disaster

The pandemic has returned, perhaps stronger than ever, and its policies are deadlier than ever. Americans are dying because some politicians have advised against two important things that have been shown to prevent respiratory disease pandemics: masking and vaccines.

Kentucky has some of the worst culprits like US Senator Rand Paul and US 4th District Representative Thomas Massie. Fortunately, we have not been exposed to the damage inflicted on Texas and Florida by Republican governors appealing to the anti-elite, science-skeptical crowd who, with their eyes, Donald Trump has made a core part of their party base

But that crowd has long been a part of Kentucky, in most political parties, and Kentucky Republicans appeal to them too. Usually it’s subtle. But at the Fancy Farm Picnic last weekend, Attorney General Daniel Cameron had this lettuce: “The Democrats and bureaucrats in the big government in Frankfurt and Washington want you to follow science as long as you follow its science.” (He then declined to give examples.)

Science does not belong to anyone, least of all to any political party. It is a search for knowledge, with longstanding procedures of testing information to draw reliable conclusions. The interface between science and politics is public health, one of the more honorable professions – but one that Trump and his allies dishonored when faced with the pandemic.

Al Cross (Twitter @ruralj) is Professor at the University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media and Director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. His opinion is his own, not British. He was the senior political writer for the Louisville Courier Journal (1989-2004) and National President of the Society of Professional Journalists 2001-02. In 2010 he entered the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame.

NKyTribune is the anchor house for Al Cross’s column. We offer it to other publications throughout the Commonwealth with appropriate attribution.

Public health and science have become another mistrusted elite for many Republicans. In 1975, a Gallup poll found that Republicans were slightly more likely than Democrats to say they trusted science, 72 to 65%. That year, Gallup found that only 45% of Republicans trusted science, compared with 79% of Democrats.

This is the political landscape that Democratic Governor Andy Beshear walked on Tuesday when he ordered everyone in public schools, preschools, Head Start, and daycare to wear masks – to protect themselves, their relatives, their friends, Protect their neighbors, their communities, and the state’s economy from the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus.

After a few hours, perhaps to agree on the news, leading Republicans protested. Cameron went to court to block Beshear’s 911 call on a more valid basis than his Fancy Farm joke. Beshear, however, had one trump card, the state school board, which he appointed; it issued an emergency ordinance that only applies to public schools. The Republicans who run the legislature did not think about this when they passed a bill last winter limiting emergency governors’ ordinances to 30 days without legislature approval.

In general, Republicans say they are defending the authority of parents and local school authorities. These are politically popular views, but local school boards were not chosen to make public health decisions and this is a public health emergency that requires reliance on experts, not parental opinions driven by emotion or Misinformation being driven on social media. Beshear had thrown the ball on the boards but most dropped it and declined his recommendation for a mask mandate.

In particular, the comments made by Republicans on Fancy Farm and afterwards lacked warnings about the virus and the need to get vaccinated against it. In a forum where few Democrats attended, comments for the vaccine would not have been popular; A mid-July poll found that Republicans are four times more likely than Democrats to say they haven’t been vaccinated and are likely or definitely not to be vaccinated. This was a nationwide poll, and the Kentucky results would likely be stronger; A slightly earlier poll found that Kentucky ranks second only after Minnesota (!) In the percentage of people who said they didn’t get vaccinated because they don’t trust the government.

We are facing a crisis, and the shy, flattering Republicans are part of the problem when they should be part of the solution – like the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce backing Beshear’s school mask mandate.
Cameron’s showing off was atypical of the most prominent protégé for Senator Mitch McConnell’s most prominent protégé, who wasn’t at the picnic but was perhaps the best example of any Republican in masking himself when there were no vaccines and promoting them upon their arrival by Senator Mitch McConnell. But McConnell is unlikely to run again and is not as burdened with political considerations as the Republicans who want to be governor, senator or whatever.

The chairman of the state education committee, Max Wise, R-Campbellsville – whose name (with that of former diplomat Kelly Craft) from the US representative of the 1st relevant criticism of Beshear.

“The timing couldn’t have been worse,” said Wise, noting that the governor’s order came the day before many, if not most, schools were due to open. Wise said he is still in favor of schools being able to decide in collaboration with local health officials (which Beshear says everyone is in favor of his mask mandate).
Looking back, it’s 20/20, but two weeks ago it seemed clear the pandemic was spiraling out of control, more in Kentucky than in most states.

Beshear should have acted sooner, but at least he acted. One wonders where Kentucky would be if Matt Bevin still held the governor’s office.

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