Yes, the measure is fair. Yes, professional wolf-crier and Uber-Christian Todd Starnes is a hysterical jackass. Yes, believers who continue to congregate pose an unacceptable risk to every healthy person they come into contact with. True, the measure doesn’t single out religious people.
Still, I want to ask Beshear what that sudden hole in his foot is.
On occasion, leaders must tell it exactly like it is, but the smart ones don’t cause unnecessary strife. What the governor said about enforcement is a textbook example of soliciting animosity:
“[A]ny individual that’s going to participate in a mass gathering of any type that we know about this weekend, we are going to record license plates and provide it to local health departments. Local health departments are going to come to your door with an order for you to be quarantined for 14 days.”
That gave conservative Christians a stick to beat Beshear with. It was inevitable that they would do just that — with relish.
If the governor had limited his remarks to explaining that gatherings of more than 10 people are forbidden, and that violators will be cited, no big deal. That’s how other states do it, including overwhelmingly conservative/religious ones like Louisiana.
But raising the specter of using state minions (law enforcement officers and health department employees) to spy on people’s comings and goings, to start a list of churchgoers’ license plates, to go to folks’ homes to read them the riot act and possibly use state violence to make them stay indoors… Oy. Not smart. Of course that’s a red flag to a dumb bull. Of course that’ll be seen as a provocation, as evidence of burgeoning anti-Christian tyranny driven by a Democrat (even if smart people know better than to fall for that narrative).
The optics were awful from the get-go.
Maybe Beshear is still settling into his new role. Until four months ago, he was Kentucky’s Attorney General. Going after bad guys is an innately disharmonious occupation that calls for aggression and bluster. Governors, on the other hand, have to try to bring people together, especially in times of crisis.
As a daily producer of fairly harsh language about religion, perhaps I have no business advising Beshear to turn up the diplomacy. But I’m a scribe, not a state executive. If the goal is to get more of the rabble to stay home, don’t say things that you know will arouse their knee-jerk, I’ll-show-you defiance.
And how would the license-plate plan even work? Surely most Kentucky families have at least two cars. With the governor’s stated threat in mind, wouldn’t obstinate worshipers simply go to Easter services in one vehicle, and use the other one for the 14 days thereafter? How many thousands of man hours would the state be willing to dedicate to tracking down and monitoring the scofflaws?
Also, I’m not usually a fan of slippery-slope arguments, but how far could Kentucky go down this path? Next week, will cops confiscate delinquents’ cars? Pre-emptively fit them with ankle monitors?
In the era of COVID-19, Beshear’s license-plate scenario is politically the
stupidest riskiest thing a progressive U.S. politician has said since an angry New York Mayor Bill De Blasio announced that he might permanently shut down churches and synagogues that won’t suspend services during the pandemic.
I don’t, and would never, suggest pandering to evangelicals. If they get their feelings hurt, that’s all in a day’s work for me. But if you’re the governor of a U.S. state or the mayor of a big city, it seems wise to pick your battles, and to phrase things in a way that’s most likely to lead to wide compliance. When you accomplish that, you’ve truly scored one for public health.