New York Times columnist Paul Krugman joined the rest of the liberal press Friday wagging his finger at Florida and its Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis over its handling of the coronavirus in “‘Freedom,’ Florida and the Delta Variant.”
Ron DeSantis, governor of Florida, isn’t stupid. He is, however, ambitious and supremely cynical. So when he says things that sound stupid it’s worth asking why. And his recent statements on Covid-19 help us understand why so many Americans are still dying or getting severely ill from the disease.
The background here is Florida’s unfolding public health catastrophe.
Krugman pointed out that over 10,000 Floridians are currently hospitalized with Covid, then blamed DeSantis.
There’s no mystery about why this has happened. At every stage of the pandemic DeSantis has effectively acted as an ally of the coronavirus, for example by issuing orders blocking businesses from requiring that their patrons show proof of vaccination and schools from requiring masks. More generally, he has helped create a state of mind in which vaccine skepticism flourishes and refusal to take precautions is normalized.
What on earth is Krugman talking about? DeSantis actively bragged about getting the vaccines to the elderly. Remember CBS’s 60 Minutes embarrassed itself by accusing DeSantis of underhanded pay-to-play tactics by signing up Florida’s massive grocery chain Publix to help distribute vaccines?
Krugman was obliged to note, but strenuously attempted to discount, the inconvenient fact that Florida is actually doing just fine with vaccinations.
One technical note: Florida’s vaccination rate is well below the rates in the Northeast, but closely matches the national average. But seniors are much more likely to be vaccinated than younger Americans, in Florida as elsewhere; and Florida, of course, has an unusually high number of seniors. Among younger groups the state lags behind the nation as a whole, and even further behind blue states.
So, given these grim developments, one might have expected or at least hoped that DeSantis would reconsider his position. In fact, he has been making excuses -- it’s all about the air-conditioning! He has been claiming that any new restrictions would have unacceptable costs for the economy -- although Florida’s recent performance looks terrible if you place any value on human life.
Speaking of life, DeSantis kept Florida schools open, as the luckless children under blue state regimes suffered developmental setbacks and loneliness. How rejecting masks for the upcoming school year could possibly impact case levels in the present day is a baffler, but intellectual consistency has never been Krugman’s strong suit.
Above all, he has been playing the liberal-conspiracy-theory card, with fund-raising letters declaring that the “radical left” is “coming for your freedom.”
So let’s talk about what the right means when it talks about “freedom.” Since the pandemic began, many conservatives have insisted that actions to limit the death toll -- social distancing, wearing a mask and now getting vaccinated -- should be matters of personal choice. Does that position make any sense?
There’s also the freedom of your business not being bankrupted by lockdowns, but Krugman skips that in favor of redefining freedom and opposition to cancel culture as manifestations of white privilege and sexism.
My answer is that when people on the right talk about “freedom” what they actually mean is closer to “defense of privilege” -- specifically the right of certain people (generally white male Christians) to do whatever they want.
Not incidentally, if you go back to the roots of modern conservatism, you find people like Barry Goldwater defending the right of businesses to discriminate against Black Americans. In the name of freedom, of course. A lot, though not all, of the recent panic about “cancel culture” is about protecting the right of powerful men to mistreat women. And so on.