Friday, July 31, 2020


Shockingly, it appears that trying to kill constituents is bad for your poll numbers if you're an elected official.
A look at recent polling of nine governors ... shows that the governors who instituted face-mask requirements, urged social distancing and reopened more slowly than other states have seen a jump in their approval ratings.

By contrast, the governors who eschewed public health experts’ advice and reopened quickly — as President Trump urged — have seen their approval ratings drop, by double digits in some cases.

The five governors listed at the top of the chart have taken the pandemic seriously, and have seen their poll numbers rise. The Trumpian governors of Arizona, Florida, and Texas, who downplayed or blocked serious public health measures, have seen massive COVID-19 spikes in their states -- and massive declines in their popularity. People actually don't like being placed at mortal risk by their elected officials! Who knew?

But I understand why these Republican governors -- and the Republican president -- thought they could harm their constituents and pay no political price: because Republicans have been harming constituents for forty years and getting away with it.

Since the Reagan era, corporatist Republicanism has weakened the middle class, increased inequality, gutted regulations on corporations, and, in this century, crashed the economy twice. But because Republicans distract their base with culture-war talk and other forms of lib-owning, none of the harm GOP politicians do to their voters has ever seemed to cause them trouble at the polls.

I'm reminded of something I read a few years ago in a review of Arlie Russell Hochschild's book Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right.
The paradox that most baffles Hochschild is the question of environmental pollution. Even the most ideologically driven zealots don’t want to drink poisoned water, inhale toxic gas, or become susceptible to record flooding. Yet southwestern Louisiana combines some of the nation’s most fervently antiregulatory voters with its most toxic environmental conditions....

Hochschild discovers a walking personification of these ironies in a Cajun oil rig engineer named Mike Schaff. In August 2012, Schaff was entering his home in Bayou Corne, about seventy miles west of New Orleans, when he was jolted by a tremor....

More than a mile beneath the bayou, a Houston-based drilling company named Texas Brine had drilled into a vast salt dome, ignoring warnings from its own engineer.... Texas Brine drilled too closely to an oil deposit and the structure ruptured, sucking down forest and causing seismic damage to the homes of 350 nearby residents. Officials began referring to Schaff’s neighborhood as the “sacrifice zone.”

Texas Brine refused to take responsibility for the accident.... Four years later the sinkhole is 750 feet deep at its center and has grown to thirty-five acres. Methane and other gases bubble up periodically. Residents who defied evacuation orders avoided lighting matches.

... [Schaff] marched on the statehouse, wrote fifty letters to state and federal officials, granted dozens of interviews to local, national, and foreign press. When state officials claimed they had detected no oil in the bayou, he demanded that the EPA check their work.

But Schaff continued to vote Tea Party down the line. He voted for the very politicians who had abetted Texas Brine at every turn, who opposed environmental regulation of any kind. He voted to “abolish” the EPA, believing that it “was grabbing authority and tax money to take on a fictive mission ... lessening the impact of global warming.” The violent destruction of everything he held dear was not enough to change his mind.
So you can understand why Republicans thought they could refuse to build public-health infrastructure, ridicule and block mask mandates, and demand the premature reopening of businesses and schools -- sure, some folks would die, but GOP politcians won't be blamed, will they? They never are.

Well, voters don't blame Republicans when they can't quite grasp the direct connection between policies they dislike and Republican politicians they support. And maybe they don't assess blame when the stakes aren't obvious. But in this case, it's simple: Get the virus and you might die -- and the Republican governor doesn't think it's a terrible thing if that happens.

GOP politicians have gotten away with so much. Is it surprising that they thought they'd get away with this, too?

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