One of the Most Striking Failures of Leadership in a Tableau of National Dysfunction

The Washington Post Editorial Board Would Like the Governor of Georgia to Know That You’re the Top, You’re the Colosseum, You’re the Top, You’re the Louvre Museum

The Board writes,

THROUGHOUT THE state of Georgia, corporate and civic leaders have moved to make mask-wearing mandatory as the pandemic has surged this month. Now, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp has undercut all of them at one stroke.

Mr. Kemp’s paramount job is to keep Georgians safe; instead, he will be remembered mainly for the lives he endangered. On Wednesday, he countermanded existing mandatory mask orders in at least 15 cities and counties, including big ones reeling from the coronavirus such as Atlanta, Augusta and Savannah.

His intervention is one of the most striking failures of leadership in a tableau of national dysfunction in fighting the pandemic. It stands as an example, among many others, of confused, counterproductive and callous acts by officials who were empowered to take decisive action to thwart the coronavirus’s spread, and refused to do so.

It’s not that Mr. Kemp is heedless of the critical role masks can play in fighting infections; to the contrary, he advised Georgians that covering their faces in public is the right thing to do. But, for reasons that look cravenly political, he has subverted his own advice by refusing to issue a statewide mandate. And with this week’s order he doubled down by undoing the efforts of more courageous leaders at the local level, then tripled down by suing Atlanta’s mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms (D), and the Atlanta City Council for sticking with the mask decree, which comports with the universal recommendations of public health experts.

The governor argues that mask-wearing edicts are unenforceable. That’s true to some degree of many rules, orders and laws. But in the time of covid-19, the question is not whether every mask miscreant can or should be brought to justice. The question is whether citizens are told, without hemming and hawing by their elected leaders, that masks save lives, and that the refusal to wear them in public is unacceptable, antisocial and dangerous. To do less is to give the public a message: “Hey, no big deal.”

Sadly, it is a big deal, as at least half the states have recognized by ordering people to cover their faces in public. They include Georgia’s neighbor Alabama, whose Republican governor, Kay Ivey, said, “Folks, the numbers just do not lie.” They also don’t lie in Georgia, where current hospitalizations due to covid-19 have spiked to more than 2,800, the highest level yet, and existing critical-care capacity is nearly exhausted.

An increasing number of major corporations and retailers have decreed that un-masked customers will not be welcome on their premises. They include Walmart, Target, CVS, Kohl’s, Kroger and others, which together have thousands of outlets across Georgia. Now, owing to their governor’s spinelessness, Georgians must wear masks when they shop in major outlets, but not when they enter state or local government facilities.

The rest of the world shakes its head in pity and wonderment at America’s ineptitude. Along with President Trump, who has bungled and actively undercut nearly every federal effort to address the pandemic, Mr. Kemp is a prime example of how foot-dragging and fecklessness ceded the upper hand to the pandemic.