Our hearts go out to folks in Louisiana who have been battered again by a deadly hurricane. Hurricane Ida was one of the most powerful storms to hit the region in memory. Earlier this week, more than a million people were without electricity and the outages could last for weeks. At least one person died. The property damage will be in the billions.
By most accounts, Louisianans in the path of the awful storm obeyed mandatory evacuation orders issued by local and state government agencies. People getting out of the way of the storm almost certainly saved countless lives.
Terrebonne Parish in extreme southern Louisiana was one place where residents weren’t given a choice: Leave your homes, leave most of your belongings and get the heck out.
“Terrebonne Parish is as prepared for the impacts of this storm as we can be,” said the top official in the parish. “Nevertheless, given the projected strength and storm surge of Hurricane Ida, we must ask residents to evacuate for their safety. We will continue to monitor the situation during the storm and provide critical information concerning developments that impact the parish and public safety during the storm.”
As of this writing, a curfew remains in effect in Terrebonne and residents are barred from returning to their homes. In neighboring Lafourche Parish, the sheriff was imploring evacuees not to return home. In a statement, the sheriff’s office said “deputies have been deployed in full force today responding to emergencies, searching for those who need help, and helping clear roads. Curfew remains in effect and will be STRICTLY enforced.”
So, a deadly, destructive hurricane comes crashing ashore in one of the most politically conservative states in the country and the government there tells people that in order to save lives they must abandon their homes and cannot return under threat of police action.
This must surely count as an impressive example of people under stress and facing great danger exercising a remarkable level of individual responsibility. People in Louisiana, no doubt many preferring to stay put and ride out a huge storm, chose instead to protect themselves and opted not to put more stress on law enforcement and disaster responders.
Meanwhile, the government, in order to control a deadly virus that has claimed 640,000 American lives — nearly six times the population of Terrebonne Parish, La., — has encouraged — not mandated, but encouraged — our fellow Americans to avail themselves of life-saving vaccine. In Louisiana barely 41 percent of the population has been vaccinated.
We know that the vast majority of those rejecting the vaccine live in areas where the former president of the United States commanded a majority. These folks are almost all conservatives, self-styled rugged individuals who claim to be smart enough to take care of themselves and who embrace the old Reagan era mantra of “personal responsibility.”
Frankly, that is a crock and in fact the opposite is true. Republicans have become the party of personal irresponsibility.
As the writer David Litt noted recently: “In this new, topsy-turvy definition of individual liberty, some Americans are free to put their neighbors at risk, while other Americans are barred by the government from trying to keep their own employees, customers and even children safe. Deciding whether to get the vaccine or remain unvaccinated is technically still a choice — but the Republican Party is doing everything it can to make choosing the latter easier than choosing the former.”
Almost all of the unvaccinated say it’s a matter of their personal choice to ignore a free, safe and lifesaving medicine. Their excuses for refusing to protect themselves and the rest of us vary, but essentially it comes down to: “You can’t make me.”
Appeals to common sense don’t work because common sense requires critical thinking. Some of these people would rather take a livestock dewormer, gag down vast amounts of vitamin D or spray themselves with chlorine than accept a proven treatment. In Mississippi, a state run wild with COVID-19 hospitalizations, the vast majority among unvaccinated people, the health department has been warning against the use of the horse medicine, ivermectin, because people who have ingested it have suffered “rash, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, neurological disorders and potentially severe hepatitis requiring hospitalization.”
You can almost hear the conversation at the breakfast table. “Hey, Helen, let’s try some of this horse paste for our COVID-19. I read about it on the Internet. Gotta be better than some vaccine developed by a bunch of silly old scientists.”
If people in Louisiana can follow a directive to flee from a deadly storm, we all ought to be able to reason our way to the use of a medicine that only does one thing: saves lives.
Here’s some personal responsibility for you:
l Quit listening to bloviating television talk show hosts and politicians bent on division about science and medicine. Take personal responsibility for seeking out honest, factual information about COVID-19 and vaccines.
l Stop placing your own personal interests in the way of kids going back to school and health care workers returning to something approaching normal. You simply can’t argue with the numbers: More than 98 percent of people currently sick enough to be in the hospital with COVID-19 are not vaccinated. You may be ignorant enough to kill yourself in some misbegotten pursuit of your own personal freedom, but you are also selfishly ignoring your personal responsibility to the rest of society.
l Embrace real citizenship. The world is not arrayed against you. Bill Gates isn’t trying to track you with some tiny little chip in a vaccine dose. Quit playing the victim card. Your rights aren’t being trampled. Your freedom isn’t at risk. It’s all a con by a lot of people who preach responsibility but live with little or no consideration for their fellow citizens. Selfish, uncaring nitwittery is really unbecoming.
The real victims here are the people dying every day from a disease that we can only end by getting more people vaccinated. You got a better idea? Let’s hear it.
If not, I got some horse dewormer to sell you.
Johnson served as press secretary and chief of staff to the late former Idaho Gov. Cecil D. Andrus. He lives in Manzanita, Ore.