by Josh Hammer
On Tuesday, governors Greg Abbott (R-Texas) and Tate Reeves (R-Miss.) announced they would be lifting their statewide mask-wearing mandates, business capacity limitations, and various other COVID-19-related restrictions. “COVID still exists,” Abbott said, “but it is clear from the recoveries, from the vaccinations, from the reduced hospitalizations, and from the safe practices that Texans are using that state mandates are no longer needed.”
Texans and Mississippians might be forgiven for wondering why their governors did not earlier follow the courageous path of Governor Kristi Noem (R-S.D.), who has garnered national headlines for her stubborn refusal to enact various mask-wearing mandates and other lockdown orders. But still: Better late than never.
Abbott now joins Florida’s standout Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, who recently finished second behind former President Donald Trump at the 2024 presidential straw poll conducted at the Conservative Political Action Conference, as a fellow leader of a highly populous red/red-leaning state who has dared to defy the histrionic groupthink and draconian lifestyle restrictions that have far too often defined America’s COVID-19 response. DeSantis’ leadership on getting Florida back to seminormal again (the conference itself, normally held outside Washington, D.C., was held in Orlando, this year due to laxer COVID-19 restrictions) has dramatically elevated his national political profile. Abbott, a less surefire 2024 presidential contender, similarly stands to benefit politically, at least within the Lone Star State.
Joe Biden, never known for his eloquence, lambasted Abbott and Reeves for making a “big mistake” and succumbing to “Neanderthal thinking.” But federalism is a stubborn thing, and Uncle Joe has no say in how Texas and Mississippi exercise—or don’t exercise, as the case may be—their “police power” regulatory authority over their respective citizenries.
In reality, though, it is Biden, Dr. Anthony Fauci, and the ruling class’s myriad other lockdown apologists who evince something closer to “Neanderthal” logic. For they are the ones who, a full year after the explosion of unprecedented restrictions on our most rudimentary of rights, would seek to continue circumscribing those rights—freedom to worship, freedom to associate, and so forth—in the name of a virus with a recovery rate of around 98 percent.
Remember the Trump White House’s “15 Days to Slow the Spread” program? That was approximately 350 days ago. And while the issue of hospital capacity overload—sold by the ruling class to the masses as the singular putative justification for lockdown restrictions—continues to merit close attention, the national landscape at this point has changed substantially.
“Operation Warp Speed,” one of the greatest public-private partnership success stories in American history, has now given way to a tremendous, if a bit disorganized, vaccine distribution rollout across the 50 states. We may not reach herd immunity soon, and we may not match our Israeli friends in terms of staggering distribution efficiency, but we are rapidly approaching the point in which the elderly, immunocompromised, and otherwise-vulnerable will be vaccinated.
At the outset of the pandemic, I joined others in taking a cautionary approach. If ever there were a time to countenance short-term restrictions on cherished liberties to better protect the elderly and secure the common good, this would have been it. But it quickly became obvious that far too many politicians of both parties saw fit to follow the all-too-candid advice of former Chicago mayor and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.”
By prolonging the mandates, restrictions, and lockdowns far past their natural expiration date, power-hungry politicians have also exacerbated fractious class tensions. COVID-19 lifestyle restrictions do not impact our well-educated ruling class, which can get by just fine working white-collar jobs from the socially distanced comfort of a home office, but they have destroyed countless small businesses and sidelined innumerable blue-collar workers.
Combined with the fact that the pandemic seemingly provides many Democratic governors, such as New York’s Andrew Cuomo and California’s Gavin Newsom, with a fig leaf to crack down on religious service attendance, it is difficult to see how the common good is being well served.
The long-term effects of the COVID-19 lockdowns are unknowable, but the medium-term effects are already clear. We have self-induced economic carnage, a child development calamity, a spiritual disaster, and a mental health crisis. Maybe this made sense for a very short period of time. But that period of time is very clearly over.
By all means, continue to take sanitation precautions. It’s not yet time to throw away the hand sanitizer or burn your masks. But it is long past time to reopen America. Kudos to Texas and Mississippi for leading the way.
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Josh Hammer is the opinion editor of Newsweek. A popular conservative commentator, he is of counsel at First Liberty Institute and a syndicated columnist through Creators. A frequent pundit on political, legal and cultural issues, Hammer is a constitutional attorney by training. He is a former John Marshall Fellow of the Claremont Institute and was a law clerk for Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah).