Govs Get Their Priorities out in the Re-open

April 24, 2020

They got in line at Peach Tree Battle Barbershop at 7 a.m. For a lot of them, it was the first haircut they'd had in a month and a half. "I certainly don't want to spread it to anyone," customer Matt Maddox said, "so I've got a mask. But I'm not concerned." Others, like Atlanta restaurant owner Hugh Acheson, understands that staying closed will hurt, but argues, "Now is not the time for fine dining." Either way, their governor, Brian Kemp (R), is giving them a choice -- which is more than a lot of Americans can say.

The eyes of the whole country will certainly be on states like Georgia, who flipped the signs to "open" on businesses like salons, tattoo parlors, gyms, bowling alleys, and more for the first time this morning. But that's not to say things are even remotely the same as before. Local officials can't flip a switch and tell people to go back to normal. But what they can do is allow Americans to make those decisions themselves based on how the churches, stores, and restaurants respond. As Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) said earlier this week, "It's one thing for government to say, 'Okay, it's safe to go out. [But] if people don't believe it's safe, they're not going to go."

As Scott Rasmussen and I talked on "Washington Watch" Thursday, "Everybody has a role to play in governing society." He's in New York City, where the virus is still a major concern. But, he said, "When they [do] open up restaurants in our city here, some people will be excited and run right out the door. But many are going to hold back, and they're going to wait for the restaurant owners to demonstrate that it's safe. Maybe the tables aren't quite as close together as they used to be, or maybe some other steps have been taken. And by the way, those restaurant owners are also going to have to convince their employees that it's safe to come back to work... This is going to be a process, where we collectively will learn how to behave in this new environment."

After 40 days in isolation, people are going to take the threat seriously. They're going to be cautious. But, as Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) pointed out, the Founders' model was "Let's trust the people." Of course, that freedom requires accountability. But there's a way to do this that ensures people -- and the economy -- are protected. "It's not a binary choice, that's for sure." That's why the best approach is the one the president has taken. He's given governors the tools, the resources, suggested benchmarks, but in the end, he's made it clear to the states: You know what's best for your community.

Rep. Roger Marshall (R-Kans.), a medical doctor in his own right, has been up close and personal with the virus. He's talked to people who will be scarred for life after their work with patients in the ICU. And he still believes there is a "responsible and safe way to start opening certain parts of the country." What does that look like? "Well," he said, "What we need is more testing availability -- and probably more Personal Protective Equipment as well... And then, we need a community [commitment] to responsibility."

One way to make sure we're doing this right, Dr. Marshall suggests, is to start partnering with the people who know best. "I've been challenging the health care folks in each community to reach out to their own businesses around town. There [are] infectious disease nurses at hospitals, at county health clinics, [who] are some sharp, sharp people. We need to get them involved out in the private sector. [They could be] talking to the local schools and to the local businesses. What does [this] look like going forward?" As he agreed, "This will not be solved at the federal level. It's going to be solved at the local community level now."

At the end of the day, FRC's Ken Blackwell said, "The American people are smart people. We don't hide in the midst of a crisis. We push back intelligently against it." This is not, he reminded listeners, "an either-or." "It's not a public health strategy versus an economic strategy..." We understand all sides and the importance of a measured, consistent approach. "But at the end of the day, it's no accident why we are the most prosperous and the most free democratic constitutional republic in the history of the world. It's because we cherish liberty, and we trust people." And now, more than ever, our leaders need to do both.