by Bob Barr
Political maps of the United States routinely distinguish between “blue” and “red” states, with the descriptors providing a short-hand way to differentiate between “liberal” or Democrat-leaning states (blue) and those that are more “conservative” or Republican-leaning (red). While these color-coded distinctions never provided anything approaching a scientific formulation of politics within states, they have remained in common usage for more than two decades.
The manner in which states currently are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, illustrates clearly that when it comes to dealing with “emergencies,” red states are equally as eager to push aside privacy, property and other rights fundamental to individual liberty as are their blue counterparts. And it is not only the more “moderate” or liberal-leaning Republican governors, such as Maryland’s Larry Hogan, who figure in such analysis.
That Californian Gavin Newsom jumped on the statewide “lockdown” bandwagon early in the coronavirus crisis surprised no one; he is the uber-liberal governor of an ultra-liberal state. Similarly, it came as no great surprise that New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy pushed the envelope of emergency executive power when he closed all gun stores in the Commonwealth (a move he has since been forced to reverse).
However, it was not blue states that started the cascade of states canceling by executive orders long-scheduled primary elections due to fears that voters would be susceptible to catching the virus while standing in line to vote. That questionable process was led by red states, including Ohio, Georgia and Louisiana.
It was North Carolina, a formerly red state trending to “purple,” that was early to close off its beautiful and popular Outer Banks areas to non-residents; enforced by police roadblocks. In Florida, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis came under withering fire when he failed to close the Sunshine State’s many beaches to college students on Spring Break, when the virus first took hold. After being burned by such criticism, Florida made a 180-degree turn and has become among the most draconian in taking steps to try and prevent travelers from virus “hot spots” (like New York and Louisiana) from crossing into its territory.
Other “Deep South” red states have succumbed as readily as have northeastern blue states to the lure of executive control over their citizens and their citizens’ personal information. For example, two states that share little in common other than allegiance to the American flag – red state Alabama and deepest-blue Massachusetts – decided that the medical privacy of their citizens had to fall in the face of the COVID-19 threat.
According to a recent story in Vice News, both of these states are disclosing to law enforcement and other first responders information that individuals may have been infected with the coronavirus. Bureaucrats in both states have staunchly defended invasion of this most personal medical information, by claiming it is “necessary” to protect first responders who might be called on to interact with such individuals. Those officials note, for example, that the information is not to be “retained” and is to include only addresses but not the name of who might live at the address. Such distinctions, of course, are meaningless as a practical matter, considering the ease with which databases containing personal information routinely are shared among government and corporate entities. In fact, according to Vice, Alabama’s program expressly allows release of a suspected COVID-19 infected person’s information to be made available to anyone who might be at “risk” from such person.
“Emergency” decrees by municipal officials summarily ordering the closure of entire categories of businesses have become the norm everywhere; whether in deep-blue counties in traditionally deep-blue states like California and Washington, in states recently-turned blue like Virginia, or in Republican-controlled red counties like my home county of Cobb in the Republican red suburbs of Atlanta.
Elected and appointed local government officials in these counties, following the examples set by their governors, not only seem eager to use their “executive” power to declare “emergencies,” but are quick to supplement and expand such decrees as soon as panicked citizens cry that “not enough” is being done to shelter them from harm.
When it comes to meeting an “emergency” with government mandates, it seems “we are all blue” in 21st Century America.
Bob Barr (@BobBarr) represented Georgia in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He currently serves as president and CEO of the Law Enforcement Education Foundation