As always when Louisiana Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards exhibits his arrogance, understand that what he alleges of his opponents serves as a distraction from realizing he does exactly what he accuses others of doing. COVID-19 is, as is proved again and again, no different.
That trait manifested yet again concerning Republican Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry’s opinion about, specifically, a face covering requirement issued by Democrat Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins but expanded to address Edwards’ recent proclamation 89 JBE 2020. That order issued a masking requirement for anybody age 8 or older in public indoor places with “commercial establishments” responsible for enforcement (the Perkins version for Shreveport added penalties such as turning off the city-run water at noncompliant businesses), as well as closing bars, all in response to rising infection and hospitalization rates from the Wuhan coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic.
The opinion provided the legal justification to sentiments expressed here: the masking requirement – not just as it relates to individuals but for the supposed enforcement – didn’t have enough justification to permit the curtailment of liberties ordered. It doesn’t cancel the order, but provides a basis to a court challenge and leaves the legality of enforcement in doubt.
Practically speaking, it won’t have a large impact. Prior to the ruling, a number of local governments said they wouldn’t enforce it (essentially meaning they wouldn’t direct officers to intervene if a business wanted to expel customers without as mask unless a ruckus broke out, nor would they cite businesses that don’t enforce the proclamation), and maybe more might emulate the opinion’s caution on enforcement. And it will expire in any event on Jul. 24, unless renewed.
The most notable consequence came from the reaction by Edwards, who doesn’t like to brook any opposition (even as Landry successfully has successfully challenged other Edwards executive actions in court). He called the opinion “politically motivated,” saying he wondered why Landry had once supported “extraordinary measures” but not now. In response, Landry noted the nature of the crisis was different now than then, when the state’s health care resources approached capacity as opposed to the adequate slack at present, and had addressed that in the opinion in observing the absence of that condition made the burden of proof for stripping essential liberties insufficient.
This is typical Edwards: assert that his policy choices are not driven by politics and declare therefore anything different is politically motivated, which obscures the reality that politics drives his decisions. The question at hand cannot avoid political judgment: either Edwards goes too far in allowing overriding liberties because the emergency situation doesn’t meet the burden of proof required, or he doesn’t. Landry delivered a fine exposition why in his judgment, using existing jurisprudence, Edwards overstepped with the COVID-19 mask mandate.
Edwards sees otherwise, because of a fundamentally different view of governing that places less value on the autonomy of the individual, seeing an erosion of that more towards serfdom as acceptable, with government having greater power to command and control in the name of protecting a people defined less autonomously and more dependently as individual human beings. By devaluing the dignity of the individual and therefore the strength of the political liberties attached to that, it requires in his mind a lower burden of proof to interfere with those liberties. That doesn’t make his word the definitive apolitical pronouncement from on high about a controversial subject.
Political judgment played a role in his proclamation, but his reaction to criticism of the proclamation reveals a more naked politicization of the issue. By responding this way, Edwards, who has a history of disregarding data inconvenient to his pandemic-related policy, can create a scapegoat for the policy failings that have typified his pandemic response to date. If Louisiana continues among the worst states by the numbers four months into the crisis, at some point a governor no longer can point the finger of blame at anybody else but himself. Edwards needs another distraction from a weary public catching on to his culpability, and he attempts to provide himself with another future excuse in alleging Landry’s opinion encouraged subversion of his order that would have solved everything.
The latest surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations – but which hasn’t occurred in deaths – comes as a consequence of a much more youthful skew in victims, and will contribute to an acquisition of herd immunity much more likely to place the pandemic into submission than a crackdown on liberty. Again, keep in mind this isn’t the Andromeda Strain. If anything, Edwards order might cause more suffering because it would delay that acquisition and keep the vulnerable threatened longer, but, hopefully, not.
In the final analysis, this event again demonstrates that whenever you hear Edwards protesting that somebody else is playing politics, you can bet he’s the one actually doing it.