George Pyle: When telling the truth is too political

(Jeremy Harmon | Tribune file photo) Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox talks about what the state is doing in case of a coronavirus outbreak in Utah during a new conference at the State Capitol on Monday, March 3, 2020. Behind him is Gov. Gary Herbert.

Things have gotten Orwellian indeed when a factual statement contradicting a false statement is ordered withdrawn by a politician because the truth is too “political.”

Last week, the professionals on the Utah coronavirus response team sent out a tweet telling people not to believe something that the president of the United States had just said about that fearful disease and how to act if you might have it.

As if this president ever said anything that we should believe.

And as soon as he saw it, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, head of that task force, ordered the state’s tweet deleted. He said the issue shouldn’t be politicized and that, “The White House has been a tremendous partner in our COVID-19 response.”

That last bit is highly questionable.

As are, more with each passing day, Cox’s qualifications to be elected governor.

Specifically, the president was out there telling people not to panic about the virus. He noted that most cases are mild (probably true) and that a lot of people who have it in their blood will shrug it off, at home or at work (also likely to be true).

But the Utah task force, quite rightly, was worried that people might take the president’s sloppy statement as encouragement for those who might have the coronavirus to just to go work as if nothing were wrong.

If that’s what the president meant — and, often, it’s really hard to tell — then that was a really dumb thing to say. As Cox, the response team and Gov. Gary Herbert all say without quite saying.

The risk is that people who carry the virus but don’t get horribly ill might transmit it to others, others with less robust immune systems, if they go about their normal lives.

We have a president whose core message is to scare people with things that aren’t really scary. Immigrants. Refugees. Most Muslims. The government. The press. So when he tries to shift over to the “Don’t Panic” approach, he grinds his gears pretty badly.

He also could never do a good job of reassuring the population that everything is under control when he has spent the last four years vilifying the people and institutions whose job it is to keep everything under control.

We are learning some big lessons from the coronavirus, beyond the fact that we should really be washing our hands as often as we always said we were.

One is that we must abandon once and for all the idea that a health care system can be anything worthy of the name if it doesn’t serve absolutely everyone. An epidemic such as the coronavirus just makes more obvious the fact that we are only as healthy as our sickest people.

An especially obnoxious argument against Medicaid expansion, or other form of universal health care, has been that we don’t have a big enough system — doctors, nurses, hospitals, emergency rooms, MRI machines — to handle all the new people who would expect care if we expanded access.

This argument makes no attempt to hide the abominable feeling that it would be wrong for people who already have access to suffer any increased waiting times, or have to sit in more crowded waiting rooms, should we achieve First World status with our health care.

The other lesson is that the closer Cox gets to being governor, the less it seems like a good idea.

It’s wasn’t that long ago that the guv lite was a leading #NeverTrumper, a policy wonk whose most important job was getting more people to register and vote (which he did well, unlike the voter-suppression experts in other Republican-led states) and a regular guy who was visiting every town in the state in his campaign to be governor.

Now he’s politicizing the coronavirus fight, fumbling the state’s efforts to care for the homeless and expressing his support for the reelection of the doofus in chief.

Maybe someone should take his temperature.

George Pyle, reading The New York Times at The Rose Establishment.

George Pyle, editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, is stockpiling the essentials. Cat food. Beer. Pop-Tarts.


Twitter, @debatestate