It is unusual to have certainty of how the executive of a government — whether a mayor, governor, or president — will respond to an unexpected crisis. The responses to those crises often become what defines the leadership of that executive. They define a leader’s character.
Whether it is an unexpected foreign war, a horrific terrorist attack, or a deadly pandemic, how the person in charge leads through it is more telling than any campaign could ever be. President Joe Biden didn’t campaign on the war in Ukraine. President George W. Bush didn’t campaign on the terrorist attacks of 9/11. And President Donald Trump didn’t campaign on COVID-19. At least not the first time.
All of the responses to these crises were revealing to voters.
Last week, U.S. Sen. Mike Braun announced that he has co-authored the “Freedom to Breathe Act.” The federal legislation will ban the federal government’s ability to implement mask mandates for domestic air travel, public transit systems and schools.
Casey Smith reported for he Indiana Capital Chronicle last week on the bill Braun authored with three other Senate Republican colleagues. He first said in his Wednesday statement, “We’re not going to go back to the top-down government overreach we saw during COVID.”
Being at the top
This gubernatorial candidate has some kind of issue with “top-down” leadership? Even when he adds “overreach” to his canned statement, he is signaling how he would have led in 2020, or more aptly, how he would have chosen not to lead. Senator, in a crisis, “top-down” leadership is the name of the game. It’s the job for which you are running. And it is unlike filing dead-on-arrival legislation with three other members of congress looking only to “own the libs.”
It’s lonely at the top. Especially in a crisis. Braun’s statement is slippery on one hand, and troubling on the other.
First, let’s be clear about masking. Masking works. There is no credible scientific study that concludes otherwise. If Braun is saying mandates were less effective at getting people to wear masks than they should have been, then we can agree. That’s what is so slippery here. Anti-maskers love the “Freedom to Breathe Act” because they see it as proposed legislation that will allow them to never wear a mask again. The void here is that in 2020 and 2021, people needed to wear them, if there is a better way than a mandate to get people to wear them, I’d love to hear about it.
Anti-maskers are confused by studies that show people not complying with mandates make the mandates ineffective. Duh. The most notable study in their arsenal is one released earlier this year by the Cochrane Library. The sweeping report details the struggle of getting Americans to wear masks, and that the mandates were ineffective at persuading people who refused to comply. It’s this circular thinking that leads to unserious legislation like Braun’s.
ABC News and Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times both do a good job of clarifying what the Cochrane study actually says. But months later, anti-maskers have wrongly used the study as evidence they don’t have to listen to public health officials anymore. And at least four U.S. Senators apparently agree with them.
But there’s more
There’s more to Braun’s statement. He added, “Congress needs to say forcefully that these ineffective, unscientific mask mandates are not coming back in any way, shape, or form.” Again, it’s not the masking, it’s the mandates that failed. Newsflash: Americans routinely resist governmental mandates. If there is a negative sociological companion to our culture’s independence, it often is our collective selfishness. Again, it’s not the masking, it’s our refusal to see how the selfless act of wearing one could help someone else.
But the pronouncement that Braun will not support mask mandates “coming back in any way, shape, or form,” telegraphs that if he faces a public health crisis as governor, he simply won’t lead through it.
Anti-maskers became anti-vaxxers. The National Institute of Health estimated “that at least 232,000 (deaths) could have been prevented among unvaccinated adults…had they been vaccinated with at least a primary series.”
In a public health crisis, the goal of a president, governor or mayor should be to persuade their constituencies to do the things they can to survive. This last commitment by Braun is revealing in that it announces he is not interested in that.
The world learned plenty from COVID-19. The biggest lesson is to expect the unexpected. The next pandemic could be worse. It will likely be different. And Indiana has a contender for the office of governor who doesn’t want government to lead if or when it comes.
Indiana’s governor is already constitutionally weak by comparison to most states. We certainly don’t need a new one who wants to make it weaker.