Don’t Be a Pence

Thursday, April 30th, 2020

It’s been several weeks since I wrote about how we should all wear a mask when going out in public. Hopefully by this point, you’re on board. Just in case you still need convincing, this article from the Atlantic lays things out with wonderful clarity. Put simply, your mask helps me, my mask helps you, and when enough people wear masks, the spread of COVID-19 is drastically reduced.

Wearing a mask is a simple and effective action we can all take to help move the world back to something closer to normal. Frankly, if I see someone’s nose and mouth out in public right now, I consider them rude and selfish. Wearing a mask should be viewed as an act of patriotism, as taking part in a collective effort akin to rationing or buying bonds during wartime. Refusing to wear a mask isn’t brave, it’s practically treasonous.

Nevertheless, there are still many people who have yet to see the light. Most egregious among them is Vice President Mike Pence, who toured the Mayo Clinic on Tuesday with his maw on full display. This occurred despite an established policy that all visitors must mask up.

It’s disappointing that the medical experts at the Mayo even allowed Pence to enter the premises. Even more cravenly, their Twitter account first tweeted confirmation that Pence had been informed of the policy before his arrival, then later deleted the tweet. At this point, no one’s coming out of this looking good. But hey, just to be fair, let’s see how Pence defended his actions:

“As vice president of the United States, I’m tested for the coronavirus on a regular basis, and everyone who is around me is tested for the coronavirus,” he told reporters, saying he is following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

“And since I don’t have the coronavirus, I thought it’d be a good opportunity for me to be here, to be able to speak to these researchers, these incredible health care personnel, and look them in the eye and say ‘thank you.’ “

No test is going to be perfect, and even if the results are extremely reliable, they’re also sure to be a lagging indicator. At the very least, despite what he’s saying, it’s impossible for Pence to be certain he doesn’t have the virus. When interacting with frontline medical workers, staff, and sick patients, it’s inexcusable to fail to exercise caution and follow policy, no matter how recently he received an all-clear test.

Even if Pence actually could be certain there was no chance he’d spread the virus, his decision not to wear a mask was also a failure of leadership. Good leaders know how to lead by example. In 1969, Fred Rogers shared a foot bath with a black man to promote racial equality at a time when swimming pools in America were often still segregated. To teach the world that HIV couldn’t be transmitted by touch, Princess Diana shook the hand of an AIDS patient on television. But Mike Pence? He shrank from the opportunity to set a good example.

Hang on, though. Let’s re-read part of that feeble defense:

I thought it’d be a good opportunity for me to…look them in the eye and say ‘thank you.’ “

Does Mike Pence not know the difference between a mask and a blindfold?


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