One of the first things they teach you in column-writing school — OK, there aren’t really any column-writing schools, but, as the saying goes, if you buy the premise, you buy the bit — is that there’s no point in writing the obvious take, meaning something with which everyone agrees.
But I’ve learned over time, and particularly in the last few years, that there is no longer any take — no matter how obvious — that passes this test.
And to prove the point, I give you Rep. Ken Buck, who is not only the benighted congressperson from Colorado’s 4th CD, but, simultaneously, the in-way-over-his-head chairperson of the fast-sinking Colorado GOP.
It is Mr. Buck who has boldly taken up the cause that the best way to fight off the novel coronavirus pandemic is to do virtually nothing. Yes, it’s definitely out-of-the-box thinking, if you want to call it thinking.
Buck goes all in, telling The Denver Post that “You don’t shut restaurants for 30 days… I have no problem with (stopping) sporting events or things that don’t impact our civil liberties and don’t impact everyday life. Those are things that I think we can suspend for a period of time. But it’s just craziness to shut down businesses or parts of the economy that are absolutely necessary.”
He says it’s an overreaction. Sure, he says, we have to protect the sick and elderly, but let’s allow others to gather in large groups so that the ultra-contagious virus can spread among those gathered and then be transmitted to the old and the sick. Four people have died from the virus so far in Colorado — one was a man in his 70s from Weld County, a Buck constituent. And Buck may not have noticed, because, well, he’s Ken Buck, but the latest information from the CDC is that nearly 40 percent of Americans hospitalized for the virus are aged 20 to 54.
It’s not just old people at risk. It’s not just sick people at risk. It’s everyone at risk, as we learn in the latest count from Italy, where 3,405 have died and they’re running out of space in the morgues. The number of coronavirus cases in America has doubled in the last two days, presumably due to more testing. In California, they’re projecting that 56 percent of the state’s population — meaning more than 25 million people — could eventually be infected with coronavirus. Here is how bad it’s gotten: Even in Texas they’ve shut down the restaurants (yes, including barbecue), the schools, the bars and are limiting gatherings to 10 people.
Those who actually know these things say that unless we flatten the curve — someone, please Google this for Buck — thousands of Americans will die, maybe tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands. Buck’s knee-jerk response is meant to be a civil libertarian stance, as if Patrick Henry would be saying today, “Give me liberty to stop in for a burger or give me death.”
If Buck were just a right-wing back bencher whose commentary — “What we have done is turn public policy over to the doctors,” he told The Post, as if doctors weren’t the right people to consult in a pandemic — would normally be of little note except to those who have repeatedly elected him to Congress. But there is the matter of the Colorado GOP. He is the person state Republicans have inexplicably chosen — out of all Colorado Republicans — to lead them back from the abyss.
So, here’s leadership, Buck style.
When last seen, Buck was making a fool of himself by posting a video daring Joe Biden and Beto O’Rourke to take the AR-15 he keeps in his office as a tribute, I guess, to the right of people to use weapons of war. “If you want to take everyone’s AR-15s in America, why don’t you swing by my office in Washington, D.C., and start with this one,” he says in the video while wielding the gun, which his office later said was actually inoperable. O’Rourke tweeted back that Buck is making his case far better than he could.
That was at about the same time Buck was one of only two House members to vote against the first coronavirus relief package and then was one of 40 to vote against the next relief bill, which he called a “boondoggle.”
Is this the official Republican Party line? It’s not Donald Trump’s party line. It’s not Mitch McConnell’s party line. Even Sean Hannity has backed away from this kind of thinking — even while saying he always took coronavirus seriously. (Yes, seriously.) I don’t think it’s Cory Gardner’s, either, but I’m not sure because, as I may have mentioned, he doesn’t take my calls and, anyway, he’s self-quarantined.
You don’t need me to tell you what kind of shape the Colorado Republican Party is in these days. The 2018 midterm elections, in which Republicans were basically swept statewide, was the party’s worst showing in modern history. Gardner, who is generally considered the most vulnerable Republican senator in the 2020 elections, is the only Republican now to hold a major statewide office.
And Buck’s response to the sweep in the legislature, you’ll remember, was to say that he would teach Democrats how to spell r-e-c-a-l-l. We know how that turned out. Let’s just say don’t look for Buck in next year’s spelling bee competition.
And it’s not just the Colorado GOP, of course. It would be amusing, if it weren’t so frightening, to see Donald Trump telling us we should listen to the experts on how to treat the virus. It’s the same Trump who has called climate change a hoax, and who, until recently, was calling coronavirus a hoax and who has been joined over the years by Republican after Republican in disputing 9th-grade basic science.
If you missed Thursday’s coronavirus press conference, it was a real show, which predictably turned into a Trump rant-a-thon. He was asked how he reconciled his statement that he knew from the start that the virus was a pandemic with his statement that the virus took everyone by surprise. His answer: “We were very prepared. The only thing we weren’t prepared for was the media. The media has not treated it fairly.”
And then he went on to say how the media —some of which (like me) are saying Trump’s constant use of “China virus” is racist — is siding with the Chinese.
So, Trump, as we know, doesn’t take any responsibility for the lack of hospital beds, for lack of respirators, for lack of masks, for the unforgivable delay in testing or for anything else. He always fingers China — Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said it was because some Chinese eat bats and dogs, not mentioning that some American eat snakes and squirrels — not because the virus started in China, which it did, but because it is suitably foreign. And he blames the fake news media because he always blames the media.
But if Trump listened to Buck — and I doubt he does — he’d hear his right-wing fringe blaming him for a failure of leadership: “We are telling people they can’t go to church. We are telling people they can’t hold political rallies. We are telling people that, as the result of a disease that is not targeting younger populations, they can’t go to school. We are in the midst of a panic that is creating irrational responses.”
And Buck goes on:
“We don’t have a leader. It was FDR who said, ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’ We need leaders to stand up and say we’re going to have a measured response.”
Yes, it was FDR who said that. Seems Buck did learn something at Princeton. FDR said those words in addressing the Great Depression. What he meant — and what Buck seems to have missed, among other things — is that Roosevelt meant we must face the danger without being paralyzed by fear. It was FDR who then launched the New Deal, something far more expansive than even the trillion-plus-dollar programs now being considered in the face of the pandemic.
Here’s a guess, which no one — not even these days — could possibly dispute. If Buck were a congressman in the 1930s, he would have fearlessly voted against every single one of FDR’s New Deal bills and called each one a boondoggle. So to Ken Buck, I say, FDR that.