DeSantis Elevates Vaccine Antics to Theater of the Absurd
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida has been competing with his counterpart in Texas, Greg Abbott, to see who can be more adept at replacing sound public policy-making with political theatrics in the Covid-19 era. DeSantis just pulled ahead.
On Sunday, he told Fox News he wanted police officers disgruntled about local vaccine mandates around the country to know they were welcome in Florida. “Nobody should lose their jobs based off of these injections,” he noted. He said he planned to introduce legislation in Florida that would offer new jobs and $5,000 bonuses to officers who relocate from out of state. “NYPD, Minneapolis, Seattle, if you’re not being treated well, we’ll treat you better here,” he said.
At a press conference Monday, he dissembled when asked about those comments. “This has nothing to do with their vaccination status, so that’s just wrong,” he allowed, before slagging “corporate media” for lying about what he said. To be clear, the governor said, his job offers are “for officers period — this has nothing to do with their vaccination status.” Fine, but anyone watching DeSantis on Fox News would have believed his offer had everything to do with police officers’ vaccination status. Regardless, DeSantis said he sees an opening.
“We’re looking to capitalize off a lot of communities across our country who’ve turned their back on law enforcement, who aren’t providing them the support,” he said. “I don’t think police officers should be fired over shots.”
Imagine that. DeSantis continues to be so hungry for a national profile that he’s willing to offer cross-border critiques of other leaders who are trying their best to safeguard the public amid an uncertain and epic pandemic — and he wants to “capitalize” on that. DeSantis has been highlighting his rivalries with other states and cities for months, presumably to prepare the ground for a presidential bid in 2024. In April, he said crime rates in several cities had increased after they cut police budgets, a connection that criminologists disputed.
While I relish the idea of watching how Florida might handle tens of thousands of police officers suddenly descending on the state en masse, demanding jobs and bonuses — and adding expenses to state and local budgets — I know it won’t come to that. It’s enough to use this episode to parse the philosophy DeSantis deploys to justify his shenanigans.
He clarified his thinking in a Twitter post on Monday, saying he opposed mandates for three reasons:
1. Your livelihood should not be dependent upon whether you get a COVID shot. This is a personal decision.
2. The Biden Vaccine Mandate is unconstitutional, and we have a responsibility to fight back as a state.
3. Vaccine mandates are bad for the economy.
Here’s my alternative version of those thoughts:
- Your livelihood, liberty and well-being should not be dependent upon whether someone else decides to forgo a Covid-19 shot. Some decisions are not personal when the common good is at risk.
- The Biden administration has said its testing and vaccine guidelines are drawn narrowly and apply only to federally regulated workplaces, federal employees and federal contractors. It hasn’t claimed extra-constitutional powers around mandates. The Supreme Court has established that state and local governments have the right to impose mandates in certain circumstances, and those are the entities DeSantis is taking on (and potentially undermining) with his job offer.
- Vaccines helped save the economy — even though we missed the opportunity they afforded to more fully corral the virus. Allowing Covid to fester and mutate would be bad for the economy; hence, mandates that encourage increased vaccinations, as they have, are good for the economy.
In the propagandistic upside-down world DeSantis inhabits, offering police irked by mandates $5,000 to relocate is good policy, but paying Florida residents $100 incentives to get vaccinated is bad policy. Arguing that mandates are bad for the economy is good policy, but allowing cruise ships to issue mandates that are good for their business and their passengers’ health is bad policy.
Florida’s governor is also not even serving law enforcement very well. Covid-19 was the leading cause of line-of-duty death for cops in 2020. Public officials concerned about the well-being of police should be doing everything in their power to ensure they get vaccinated, including supporting mandates. A dose of tough love toward police would also help when assessing their protests. In cities such as Chicago, police are outliers when it comes to accepting mandates. Most city workers in Chicago have complied with local mandates, raising interesting questions about what makes the police such a particularly resistant — and unrepresentative — cohort.
In the end, DeSantis is comfortable having elastic definitions of reality and holding self-contradictory positions because rationality isn’t his goal. Bemoaning the heavy hand of government and aligning himself with law enforcement is what he’s after because it plays well to the electoral base he is courting.
DeSantis has already tolerated an unnecessary and vicious surge in Covid-19 illnesses and deaths in Florida in the service of his ambitions, so there’s no stopping him now. But his appetites and ruthlessness shouldn’t be forgotten.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Timothy L. O'Brien is a senior columnist for Bloomberg Opinion.
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