How quickly the keys will be turned to restart the economy has become as clear as the mud in the Washington swamp.
Pride rather than prudence was allowed to drive the debate last week.
On Monday, President Donald Trump said the decision about when to begin restarting the nation’s economy would be the hardest decision “he ever makes,” declaring that “he” — and he alone — had the “ultimate authority” to make that decision.
An immediate outcry came from governors and constitutional experts, who rightfully noted such a decision was the governors to make.
By Tuesday Trump abruptly reversed course, saying “the governors are responsible, they have to take charge.” He reiterated that Thursday during a conference call with governors, telling them “you’re going to call your own shots.”
But in between the president’s remarks on Tuesday and Thursday, Trump insisted, “The governors will be very, very respectful of the presidency.”
Translation: You can do it your way, as long as your way is my way.
In the conference call Thursday, the president outlined for the governors his three-phase road map for restarting the economy. Each phase will lasts at least 14 days to ensure the outbreak doesn’t make a resurgence. While it wasn’t said, it was understood he’s going to expect to see progress in six weeks. Anything short of that will likely result in a Trumpian moment.
The president has never backed away from a statement he made a month ago: “We need to make sure the cure isn’t worse than the disease.” He is now hearing more support from Republicans in Congress who are urging him to move that message forward. They wonder how much more the nation’s devastated economy can take with 16 million people already out of work and factories and businesses sitting idle. Not to mention there’s an election in less than seven months.
Hopefully the weeks ahead will not develop into a power struggle. Public safety is too important to devolve into a spitting match among officials whose attention should be focused on the greater public good.
The president’s first assertion is right — it’s a tough call. Allowing people to begin interacting with each other too soon risks undoing any progress that has been made against the potentially deadly virus. It could reignite the wave of contamination and death, much of which might have been prevented by holding off a few more weeks. Yet, unnecessary delays in allowing businesses to restart their operations could push some of those employers into insolvency, costing untold numbers of jobs and millions in economic activity.
However, the president was wrong about being the lone authority on reopening the economy. Ours is a large, diverse country and the coronavirus has affected states — and even regions within those states — differently. Blanket decisions might be made later than necessary for some parts of the country, and too soon for others.
A governor is in the best position to maintain or ease restrictions for his or her state. But within those states, a governor needs to collaborate with legislators, health officials and local leaders. Together, they are best able to assess the readiness to reopen their area’s economies. It will likely be a drawn-out, step-by-step process to prevent the coronavirus from rebounding with disastrous results.
This is where Ohio governor Mike DeWine has shown his leadership. He has been willing to gather the expertise from people at all levels before making decisions. He has viewed them as allies working toward the overall good, and not competitors for superiority.
That is the kind of leadership we need from Washington in the coming weeks.