By now we’ve all seen the images of maskless partygoers celebrating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Super Bowl win. Many of us cringed with expectations of a new surge in COVID-19 cases as a result.
Loss of life is the biggest fear, and it’s not without merit.
Gov. Ron DeSantis saw the pictures, too.
But instead of giving the images the scorn they deserve, or using them as a cautionary tale to correct bad behavior, he took it as a chance to ding the media … again.
“The media is worried about that,” DeSantis said at a press conference in Venice on Wednesday when asked about precaution-bucking celebrations. Those include spontaneous parties in Ybor City on the night of the Super Bowl and a massive gathering in downtown Tampa Wednesday for a celebratory boat parade.
People were huddled together closely at both. Few were wearing masks. Those who were mostly gave their face coverings the chin diaper treatment, mouth and/or nose still exposed.
The Governor’s comment compared media outrage over the latest example of COVID-be-damned gathering to protests over the summer against police brutality and Democrats celebrating Joe Biden’s presidential victory.
“Obviously, you guys really love that,” DeSantis told reporters. “You don’t care as much if it’s a quote, ‘peaceful protest,’ and then it’s fine. You don’t care as much if they’re celebrating a (Joe) Biden election. You only care about it if it’s people that you don’t like. So I’m a Bucs fan. I’m damn proud of what they did on Sunday.”
With his comments, the Governor served a heaping platter of red meat to his conservative, still Trump-loyal base.
Perhaps the Governor doesn’t realize he could have had it both ways — delivering for his base and taking a global pandemic seriously. Here’s what he could have said.
“Let’s be honest. It’s difficult to expect diehard fans not to spontaneously celebrate after their team wins a major championship. So there probably wasn’t much to be done about people gathering. But the way in which it was done was obviously unsafe,” DeSantis could have said.
He could have added that he hopes the actions don’t prove to have become super-spreaders and he could have promised to have his Department of Health monitor the situation, even if that’s a reactionary solution.
He could have, and should have, condemned the parties in Ybor City and demanded to know why that was allowed to occur, especially in a city that has otherwise been so diligent.
He could have even slipped in a quip or two about how the same level of outrage should have been present when protesters were gathering by the hundreds or thousands to protest police brutality.
He did that last bit, but without the other stuff. Having one argument without the other doesn’t work. And it was a missed opportunity for the Governor to have it both ways — by telling COVID-worried constituents that they can’t have it both ways.
“You can’t feign outrage over these Super Bowl gatherings, but look the other way on protests,” he could have said.
DeSantis often gets an unfair shake on his COVID-19 policies and actions, as I’ve said before.
He was unwavering in his assertion that schools should remain open and that they could do so safely. He was proven right when it turned out they weren’t major spreaders of the virus.
He was mocked when he bucked CDC guidance to provide vaccines to frontline workers and those 75 and older and instead prioritized only health care workers and seniors 65 and older. Now others are following his lead.
Florida’s economy is doing better than expected because he rejected broad shutdowns and hospitals haven’t been overrun.
There is always room for criticism; a coulda, shoulda, woulda lens that always exists in a crisis.
But by maintaining his in-your-face whataboutism, DeSantis holds the door open willingly for excessive lamenting and, perhaps unknowingly, bestows the “Deathsantis” label upon himself.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
And for what? So MAGA hat-wearing supporters can shout, “YEAH, what he said!”
DeSantis, and any other elected leader managing this crisis, has a tough balancing act in trying to ensure a surviving economy while still protecting residents from the throes of a global pandemic. And he’s showing it can be done.
But as has been the case for much of this crisis, DeSantis continues to flub his response not in action, but in communication.
It’s time to stop picking on enemies and start messaging what matters. In this case a simple “celebrate safely” and “we’re looking into that” would have sufficed better than pitching a fit about double standards.