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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Resolve to do better

by John Brummett | January 13, 2022 at 2:54 a.m.

We can only wait and see if Gov. Asa Hutchinson's get-off-my-back omicron policy is right.

A commentator criticizing him ought to have something better. I don't quite.

I'd mandate vaccines and masks if we were talking simply about health policy. But I'd have to weigh open defiance and civil unrest.

I'd consider the chess moves. When the local yahoo sheriff crowed that he was not going to enforce the communist mandate, would I move the State Police as a rook or bishop into Small Town, Arkansas, for an inter-agency showdown? Or would I not make the opening move at all in a logical calculation of destructive conflict and likely actual ineffectiveness?

I'd mandate sheltering in place if we were talking simply about health policy, doing so maybe two weeks at a time in hopes that omicron soon fades. But I'd have to weigh not only open defiance and civil unrest, but severe economic distress, both for those with businesses and those staffing those businesses.

Sometimes governor is not all it's cracked up to be: 2020-early 2022, for example.

Allow me to reduce the governor's position to its most unfiltered version, albeit using my terms and phrasing and not his: We are lucky that this variant, surely dire for some people and stressful to our health-treatment system, is not as lethal as preceding variants. Most people, particularly those vaccinated, will handle it with varying degrees of tolerable discomfort.

Meanwhile, we can't easily survive economically another commercial shutdown. And our kids need to receive regular in-person educations because virtual learning is hit-and-miss at best.

Our case numbers in Arkansas are not the worst in the country, but 15th highest or so among states per 100,000 over the last seven days. That's nothing to brag about, but it's less than so-called progressive states like New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

The Legislature has limited state government's authority to do much, anyway. And the people, by and large, want to trudge through.

So, darnit, it's the same old, same old, as people have been advised time and time again: Get vaccinated. Wear a mask. Treat this as a new normal and act sensibly. And join in a moment of prayer that this thing goes away in two or three weeks as it did in South Africa and that a nastier variant doesn't come along behind it.

So, in the face of that gubernatorial reasoning, a reporter asked Hutchinson on Tuesday a fair question.

The reporter observed that the governor, a mask advocate, was photographed over the weekend unmasked amid a throng of unmasked students at a Bentonville basketball game. What about that? Huh? Huh?

The governor said get off his back. Not in those precise words, but essentially.

He said the photograph captured a happy 30-second occasion involving his grandson; that we can't stop living, and that we needn't rush to be so judgmental.

I can more easily cut Hutchinson slack on strict policy than on not wearing a mask in that place and circumstance. But I can well identify with what he's saying.

My photograph was on the Voices page the other day. I was speaking at a baton-passing ceremony marking the imminent demolition of my high school. I was passing a baton to a sixth-grader who would attend the new school on the site.

A woman wrote to say the young girl and other adults in the photograph wore masks and to ask why I didn't. She said I ought to be at least as considerate of others as they were of me.

This was the thing: Every speaker at the outdoor ceremony wore masks, and all of us slipped off the masks during the time we spoke. My job after speaking was to hand the baton to the sixth-grade girl.

I should have returned the mask to my face before turning to hand the baton to the student. But I didn't. I put the mask back on only after the baton exchange and walked several steps away as the student spoke.

I could say get off my back. I could say the governor's moment was 30 seconds, but mine two seconds.

I'd could say that maybe the school district shouldn't have commemorated the school in the first place or looked ceremoniously and symbolically to the children's future.

But I choose to say none of that. Instead I sent a reply email saying I'd do better.

And I will. So, why don't all of y'all?

The governor slipped up. I slipped up, I guess. We are all imperfect.

Why can't we come together not only in blunder, but in resolving to do better, with chips off our shoulders, needles in our upper arms and masks on our faces when out in public places, at least for now?

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.

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