Local Politics: Ohio leading the way in pandemic dysfunction

While Biden speaks of the role states play in curtailing the pandemic, Ohio legislators continue to abdicate any and all responsibility in stemming the COVID tide

Craig Calcaterra
Jon Husted (left) and Mike DeWine celebrate the win for their Republican gubernatorial ticket at the GOP celebration in 2018. They are running for reelection in 2022.

President Joe Biden, speaking at a meeting of the nation’s governors about the never-ending and again-surging pandemic on Monday, said, "There is no federal solution. This gets solved at a state level."  This is something that, like anything else a political figure of any sort of stature says in this polarized age, enraged a lot of people and pleased a great many other people. Except, contrary to how such things usually go, it enraged the people who might normally support President Biden and pleased those who hate almost everything he says and does.

Those who were angry were Democrats and lefties who viewed the comment — which, like a lot of things that anger people, was mostly being taken out of context — as the President's abdication of the Pandemic Fighter In-Chief role he more or less assumed when he campaigned on "shutting down" COVID and making up for the Trump Administration's woeful response to the virus. Those who seemed pleased by the comment were many of the Republican governors to whom he was speaking who have chafed at what they feel to be federal overreach in the nation's pandemic response.

Then, of course, there were conservative cable news figures who one might expect to be happy at a Democratic president apparently backing off on something but instead decided to frame it as Biden being a spineless hypocrite. Which is a hell of a way to respond to getting what one seemingly wants. It's almost as if those guys are disingenuous blowhards who understand that outrage is better at fueling ratings than agreement.

I'm not terribly concerned about the blowhards today, however. Nor am I particularly concerned with how Democrats and lefties are misreading a random comment from the President which, in context, should be read as Biden pushing back against the abdication of responsibility by state governors by telling them that, actually, yes, they do have a lot of responsibility and we're all in this together. What I am concerned about today is what, if anything, the seemingly pleased Republican governors who left that meeting yesterday plan to do with the responsibility they were just reminded that they possess.

This is on my mind not only because of the omicron surge, which has new daily COVID cases up something like 65 percent over the past couple of weeks nationwide and up by more than 75 percent in Franklin County. It's on my mind because, once again, Ohio is serving as the poster child for how not to manage the pandemic.

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On Christmas Day, the Washington Post ran an article about how Republican-controlled states have passed laws to restrict the power of health authorities to require masks, promote vaccinations and take other steps to protect the public health. The story deals with multiple states but Ohio is clearly the star of the show. It opens with examples of Ohio's patchwork mask and vaccine rules, is beefed up in the middle with how Ohio's Republican-dominated legislature has hamstring the Ohio Department of Health and ends with examples of how powerless local governments in this state are to do almost anything in response to COVID now. After reading it, one cannot help but come away with the impression that the Buckeye State is the leader in the clubhouse when it comes to pandemic management dysfunction. 

Ohio's example, both as described in that article and as we have all observed firsthand, also makes it clear how disingenuous it is for anyone to say that they care about fighting COVID but that they object to the sort of federal approach Biden has been advocating.

Let's take Biden's "there is no federal solution" comment at face value and pretend that, actually, he has joined the Federalist Society, become a new convert to the states' rights movement, ordered Dr. Anthony Fauci to stand down and quit going on TV and is punting all COVID responsibility to Ohio and the other states. What then? 

What happens in a state where the legislature has shot down any and all attempts to mandate vaccines, masks, or public health measures of any kind? What happens in a state where, in an effort to fill the vacuum, local governments have passed their own measures, but police and sheriff's departments have refused to enforce them? What happens in a state where, in the absence of any state or any effective local measures, private businesses attempt to police their own establishments but are told that they can't even do that? What is a society in which federal authority is treated as illegitimate and state authorities not only refuse to act but go out of their way to undercut all authorities beneath them? What do you do when the President says "this gets solved at the state level" but there is no suggestion that anyone with a lick of power in this state cares to solve anything? 

I don't know what you call that state of affairs, but that is the state of affairs that exists, and if there is no federal solution, there is, in fact, no solution at all.