Alan Zendell, April 23, 2020
Oscar Wilde said that Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life. Judging by our country’s response to the COVID-19 virus, he was wrong. Consider the way Hollywood has treated pandemics. There have been at least twenty big screen treatments of the subject since the 1950s. They basically fall into two categories: those in which most of the human race is turned into zombies, and those that focus on fighting the pandemic before it kills everyone.
The second group consistently focuses on the scientists who are desperately working to find a cure. There is always an element of politics and there are usually a few corrupt or incompetent leaders who don’t get the message, but generally Hollywood makes the reasonable assumption that desperate times will unite us. Whether it’s alien invasions, rogue asteroids, or mysterious illnesses, the movies assure us that our survival depends on a united response led by science.
It’s unfortunate that Trump and his political advisors spend their time watching Fox News instead of those movies. Public health experts and epidemiologists have had to fight every day to keep the country on track to mitigate the effects of the virus. It’s been an ugly spectacle with many wasted weeks that could have saved lives, but so far, the scientists have prevailed. And we have seen unity where it was most important, among our state governors.
Life struggled to imitate art these last few months, but it is about to encounter it’s most difficult obstacle. Now that the battle over health policy is largely resolved, we face an even more insidious if less deadly enemy. The enemy is unrelenting partisanship. It’s face is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. No other politician has so consistently devoted his career to trashing the opposition, and what’s best for the nation be damned.
He famously announced on Barrack Obama’s first day in office, in 2009, that his job was to assure that Obama would fail as president. His sole mission has been to increase the number and power of red states and diminish the blue ones. Now he has expanded that fight to include federal financial aid in response to the pandemic.
McConnell is betting that he can control how emergency funding flows to the states. He had to cave to Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats to pass the $2.2 trillion aid package under the force of public opinion, but he’s back trying it again.
It’s neither a secret nor a mystery that blue states have more financial challenges than red ones. Financial problems and budget shortfalls are almost synonymous with large urban areas. With the exception of Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, and Atlanta, seventeen of the twenty largest metropolitan areas in the United States are in blue states (12) and purple states (5).
McConnell’s new ploy is to make sure red states come out of the pandemic as whole as possible while impoverishing, and therefore, weakening the blue states. This is unabashed partisanship of the worst kind. It’s pure unfiltered politics, waging the fight the Tea Party began in 2009, not coincidentally, the same year McConnell declared total war against Democrats to the exclusion of everything else.
In life as opposed to art, it happens this way all too often. Pandemics, natural disasters, and economic collapses all have one thing in common. No matter how bad things are for the mass of people, there are always some who profit. For some it’s being in the right place at the right time and possessing skills that are in short supply. For others, it’s the result of predatory planning and scheming, waiting for an opportunity to pounce.
Big cities and populous states have enormous financial and budgetary commitments. The ability to support teachers, police, firefighters, state and local governments, and public health facilities all depend on state budgets, and one of the mostly costly items those states have is pension systems. Those are the things McConnell is attacking out of pure political spite. Yesterday, he said he’d rather see states declare bankruptcy than bail them out. That’s not only evil and selfish, it’s also hypocritical.
Our major cities are the financial engines that make our country go. The entire nation benefits from their productivity, but it’s largely left to the individual states and cities to fund themselves. Where states are helped by federal aid, the distribution is extremely uneven. New York Governor Cuomo addressed the disparity today. He pointed out that New York contributes $116 billion more to the federal treasury than it receives in federal aid, while McConnell’s deep red Kentucky receives $148 billion more in federal aid than it contributes.
McConnell said there’s no way he’ll support bailing out blue states. Cuomo asked, “Who’s bailing out who?”