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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Asa Biden needed

by John Brummett | July 21, 2021 at 3:05 a.m.

As Arkansas draws national attention as a backwater where a virus thrives among irresponsibly unvaccinated people, the state needs a leader falling somewhere between Asa Hutchinson and Joe Biden.

Alas, politicians tend to be even more imperfect than normal people.

With one of the nation's lowest vaccination rates and the very highest per capita outbreak of covid cases, the state's best hope for the inspiration to do better lies north of Hutchinson's casual caution and south of Biden's indelicate urgency.

The solution would be farther north than south, closer to Biden's indelicate urgency.

As Hutchinson's state threatens to become to the virus and vaccinations in 2021 what it was to school integration in 1957--meaning a symbol of backwardness inflicting humiliation on itself--the mild-mannered and pragmatic governor continues to pause, collect his thoughts and say once again, for the umpteenth time, that the state's virus numbers are troublingly high and the hospital loads untenably heavy. He explains, again, as ever, that the only answer is the personal responsibility to get vaccinated.

He explains well what he can't do. The Legislature, meeting in the interim, hamstrung the ability he had a year ago to declare an emergency and exert executive authority.

He might try this year to see what he could get away with, but the Legislature is still officially in session--having declined to adjourn sine die--and could, and probably would, bring itself back to Little Rock to stymie him.

Some actions like mask and vaccine mandates are strictly forbidden by new laws, not just to the governor but to colleges, schools and businesses.

It turns out that right-wing legislators long professing small government and local control actually prefer a centralized government if they get to be the overlords.

The people of Arkansas probably wouldn't tolerate any mandates, law prohibition or no. There is far more anger, resentment and suspicion than reason out there.

Those dynamics have long festered in our culture, but it must have been Donald Trump who stoked them to this dysfunctional level.

That leaves only Hutchinson's ability to lead the great unvaccinated to a harmless needle with a credible sense of urgency wrapped in persuasiveness.

And that's not his thing.

I can't imagine him pounding a table, pointing a finger or getting so revved up in passion that he overstated something to the point of having to walk it back the next day.

Hutchinson has in recent days gone around the state holding town-hall meetings for vaccine encouragement that amounted merely to his checking the boxes of nominal outreach. He preached mostly to the choir and inspired a couple of people to get shots. That's two more than would have submitted to vaccinations otherwise. And that's good for those two people, though not remotely a difference-maker for public health broadly.

The concept of "walking back" indelicate overstatement brings us to the gabby president, who sometimes lets his commendable empathy get blended ill-advisedly with his misplaced confidence in his ability to say profound and dramatic things.

Biden said Friday that Facebook was killing people. He said Monday he didn't mean Facebook was killing people, but that maybe a dozen prolific right-wing posters on Facebook were killing people by spreading conspiratorial mythology about vaccine danger.

That aside, Biden at least gets credit for using the bully pulpit of his office to call out social media companies for allowing lies about vaccinations and to challenge them to stop letting their platforms get abused to the detriment of public health.

By the example of his activity in Arkansas, Hutchinson, if president, might merely be calling on malicious spreaders of false information to consider engaging in the personal responsibility of maybe not doing that.

Biden needs to avoid saying that a social media company is killing anybody. Hutchinson needs to say something with a bit of inflection.

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

Print Headline: Needed: Asa Biden

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