Much has been made of how Vermont Gov. Phil Scott earned a mandate in his decisive reelection victory earlier this month.
Tuesday, Scott invested that goodwill in the same place he earned it — confronting the COVID-19 pandemic. He only earned more respect in the process.
Scott’s opening remarks at the twice-weekly COVID-19 briefing were what Vermonters, and frankly, the entire country, needed to hear: It’s time we come together to beat this thing, once and for all, so we can safely reopen our economy and reconnect with the ones we love.
It was a forceful and inspirational call to the true nature of patriotism — doing the difficult but necessary thing in service to your community and your country. And it was a stinging repudiation of the pernicious Randian selfishness that is rotting this country from the inside.
Scott, frustrated by the wrong-way trend of recent coronavirus growth, spoke to criticism of the restrictions he put in place last week, in which he closed bars and clubs and prohibited multifamily gatherings.
As he has done since this crisis began, Scott leaned on science and data for answers. And the data shows that more than 70 percent of new COVID-19 cases are being spurred by the very gatherings that Scott ordered shut down — not tourists, or restaurants, or gyms, or schools.
“It’s because adults continue to get together with other adults — multiple households, inside and outside — in situations, usually involving alcohol, where they stop taking precautions,” Scott said.
But Scott’s toughest talk — the statements that many Americans need to hear — was focused at skeptics who believe the rules are for other people. People who won’t wear masks, don’t quarantine when they should and don’t tell contact tracers the truth about where they’ve been.
“Make no mistake, I understand that if you want to ignore the science or choose not to believe it for one reason or another, there’s not much we can do to stop you,” Scott said.
“But I want to be clear: The number of people in hospitals is growing because some care more about what they want to do rather than what they need to do to help protect others, keep kids in school, keep people working and prevent the healthcare system from being overwhelmed to the point where care is being delivered in makeshift hospitals.”
“It’s a fact that the consequences of an overwhelmed healthcare system will have a far greater impact on our economy and our well-being than all the prevention and mitigation measures in place across the country,” he said.
Scott’s toughest statements were reserved for those who are hiding their selfishness beneath stars and stripes.
“Please don’t call it patriotic or pretend it’s about freedom. Because real patriots serve and sacrifice for all, whether they agree with them or not,” he said. “Patriots also stand up and fight when our nation’s health and security is threatened, and right now, our country and way of life is being attacked by this virus, not the protections we put in place.”
Does Scott have the right to talk about what real patriots say and do? Without question. His own father, Howard Scott, lost both legs in a tank explosion during the Allies’ invasion of Normandy in World War II. Those injuries led to Howard Scott’s too-early death when Phil Scott was just 11 years old.
So yes, our governor knows what real sacrifice looks like. Compared to real sacrifice, wearing a mask is easy and painless.
We do not always agree with Gov. Scott on issues and policies. But Tuesday, he demonstrated the leadership that should make Vermonters proud to call this Brave Little State their home.
And now it’s up to us to do our part.
“In the environment we’re in, we’ve got to prioritize ‘need’ over ‘want,” Scott said.
Need, Scott said, is keeping schools and businesses open. Want is a house party where people get sloppy with common-sense COVID prevention once they’ve downed a couple glasses of wine and put their entire community at risk.
“In my view, in-person education, protecting our healthcare system and keeping people working (as long as we can do it safely) are things we need. Parties and cookouts, hanging out with people just to socialize, may be fun, but these things are “wants” not “needs” and they put a lot of people at risk,” Scott said.
“Put a different way, with pediatricians making it clear that in-person education is critical to the well-being of our children, I’m going to prioritize keeping kids in school.”
So may we all.