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People are saying no one should behave in a politically partisan way during a time of such national urgency.

In that spirit, I wish to relate the bipartisanship by which a liberal Democratic governor of New York and a conservative Republican governor of Arkansas--both generally praised for their coronavirus leadership--said the same thing Sunday.

Their accents were different. The tones and styles varied a bit. New York's Andrew Cuomo was a tad blunt. Arkansas' Asa Hutchinson was a smidgen circumspect. But the substance was identical.

They cited the failure of the Trump administration thus far in leveraging the consolidated resources of the federal government to secure personal protective equipment for health-care providers as coronavirus numbers rise and supplies run low.

Cuomo and Hutchinson related the same scenario: The federal government stockpiled these supplies--face masks, surgical gowns, gloves, goggles and ventilators. Their states were allotted a small percentage of their requests from that stockpile. The federal government wanted to hold on to items for future flexibility. States were told they were on their own for additional supplies. And now, with those supplies low, they find themselves competing with each other, and with nations across the globe, in a wild-west international market in which prices are apt to be raised--which is to say gouged scandalously--at the port.

Cuomo and Hutchinson called for the federal government either to become the international shopper for these goods or for the president to use his defense declaration power to mobilize domestic industries to make the items, or both.

That is not a partisan matter. This is not a Republican failing. The criticism is not a Democratic talking point. Equipping doctors and nurses safely to do their lifesaving jobs is supported by both party persuasions.

The failing is simply that of the Trump administration. It also is that of the president's ego personally.

He tweeted Sunday that governors "shouldn't be blaming the federal government for their own shortcomings. We are there to back you up should you fail."

Their shortcomings? Back them up?

From Lincoln to FDR to ... that?

Cuomo, sometimes a fiery partisan, seemed more to cajole than criticize on Sunday. He praised some Trump administration actions. He mainly pleaded for the federal government to take over medical supply management because that's the only way to prevent him from denying Florida or Illinois if he takes care of his own state, or vice versa.

In the meantime, Cuomo said New York was buying sewing machines to get supplies made in state and that he had been in touch with members of the state's apparel industry about producing the needed supplies.

Hutchinson said Arkansas was looking into its own domestic manufacture, although plants could not be expected to retrofit overnight and some couldn't simply stop making what they were under contract to make. He said the Arkansas ability to self-manufacture probably would be limited.

But governors say that simply won't cut it. This is the time if there ever was one, they say, for mass-production and procurement in tons.

Through it all, front-line health-care providers morally require protective equipment. Through it all, it's a moral outrage that anyone in a position of authority and responsibility would let them down.

Here in Arkansas, Hutchinson's nephew, state Senate president pro tempore Jim Hendren, took to Twitter himself Sunday afternoon to be less circumspect than Hutchinson and blunter than Cuomo.

Here is what Hendren had to say: "This is failure of the worst kind. It's like telling states to go procure F-15s and battleships for self-defense. This is a national crisis. The full power of the USA should be leveraged to solve this problem. Not 50 individual states left to compete with each other."

Vice President Mike Pence, whose difficult job is to stare adoringly from behind Trump as Trump speaks, tried to explain Sunday that our nation relies on federalism, by which authority and responsibility devolve from the central government to the 50 states.

It's a fine concept, except when it isn't.

Social Security and Medicare are central-government programs. They could only work that way. We don't tell the states to deliver those programs differently in competition with each other and that the federal government will be there as a backup for their shortcomings.

It must be that way also for a contagious novel virus that can kill and that travels across state lines with the speed of a cough.

"You guys handle it out there in the states while I stand here and talk on TV and tell these reporters that they are fake news" ... that's not a plan.

The failing here is deadly serious, and partisanship should not be abided--cannot be and must not be--this time.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 03/24/2020


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