It had barely been announced that the governor and first lady had tested positive for COVID-19 when the snarky voices of social media began bellowing their glee.
"Looks like Governor's Mansion is a more dangerous place to visit tonight than the Donald Trump rally," smirked one AM radio talk host to her thousands of Twitter followers.
An avalanche of posts rained down upon the governor at a time of personal health crisis for himself, his wife and family. Some claimed it was a political stunt or hoax. One observed, "The only public health threat is that douchebag (governor)."
One courageously anonymous poster cackled: "I'll bet they're really on your prayer list." Still another proclaimed, "CORONAVIRUS COULDN'T HAVE HAPPENED TO A NICER PERSON!"
But enough about Virginia.
Governor Ralph Northam and his wife Pamela announced they had tested positive for COVID-19 just two days after Governor Mike Parson and his wife Teresa released the identical news here in Missouri. Interesting symmetry: one Democrat, one Republican.
And one pandemic disease that isn't registered to vote.
Virginia is for haters, to be sure. But while the reaction in Missouri wasn't all warm and fuzzy from those of us who want to vote out Parson, the vibe here tended more toward "karma's a bitch" than those openly pulling for the first couple's demise back east.
Mike and Teresa Parson and Ralph and Pamela Northam deserve concern and compassion. But because they're public people, they get scrutiny, and their misfortune gets plastered against the backdrop of politics. If you're not ready for that, you find a different line of work.
In Parson's case, a picture's worth a thousand words. And there's about a thousand pictures out there of the governor (and in some cases, first lady) smiling — with and without masks — at recent fundraisers with supporters whose loyalty was about to be rewarded with a stick tickling their brain through their nose. That doesn't count showing up at Tiger Woods' golf tournament in Branson.
That computes to about a million words, so I'll use just a handful of mine: Wear your dang mask, governor! And while you're at it, the next time you're advised to institute a dang statewide mask order by the dang national Pandemic Task Force of the very dang narcissist-in-chief before whom you grovel like a dang snowflake, institute the dang statewide mask order.
Dang, governor. WTF?
To avoid copyright infringement, let us state expressly that Parson's most singular national achievement was the coining of that phrase, "dang mask." All rights reserved, including last rites for the 2,063 Missourians who have died from COVID-19 according to Parson's Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) at press time.
This isn't the only news. That number jumped by 69 deaths in one 24-hour period late last week. It may be a lot higher by the time you read this. This is not the China Virus, it's the Missouri Virus now, and yes it matters that it has happened on Parson's watch — and that it's spiraling upward at a time the messaging from the home office in Moscow reads, "We've turned the corner."
Mike and Teresa Parson are special people to their friends, family and admirers. But guess what? So are the other 122,012 Missourians who have been infected by COVID-19, according to DHSS statistics. (Again, we note this is at press time, since the total keeps growing at such an alarming rate).
The Parsons are no more or less important than those other Missourians. But they are different in one respect: It was Parson who was tasked with the job of keeping this from happening to the extent to which it has. That needed to include working around the president of his own party when necessary, like some other Republican governors.
Early on, Parson received widespread praise from fellow Republicans for keeping his cool, unlike those in "Democrat-run" states. Parson also had needed to defend his rear flank from a primary challenge from disgraced ex-Governor Eric Greitens, who lurked wistfully atop his basement steps.
By March 26, the coast was clear politically for Parson, and he looked quite good to the faithful in the Missouri Times.
"Missouri has issued fewer sweeping statewide mandates than other states comparable in size when dealing with the global coronavirus pandemic — but thus far it's in the bottom cluster of states in terms of positive cases, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)," the Times reported.
That sounded much more appealing when the state didn't have hospitals filling dangerously to capacity in Parson's native southwest Missouri — notably Springfield — precisely six months down the road. It was not anticipated on March 26 that on September 26 Missouri would be at the beginning of a span of record-setting hospitalizations.
There was also this:
"Missouri is unique in some regards. While all public districts and charter schools shuttered by March 19, Missouri is the only state that didn't force a closure," the Times reported. "Instead, Gov. Mike Parson left the decision up to local districts."
Those districts universally took it upon themselves to do what the governor didn't have the chops to do: Follow the same path as 49 other states. On the other hand, Missouri was one of only two states requesting a "federal disaster declaration," which initially struck fear into the heart of the virus.
How did that work out?
Parson is fortunate about one thing: Democrats don't know how to fight like Republicans. It is a grand understatement that Ralph Northam will receive far nastier treatment in the hopeful event that both men and their families recover from the virus.
Northam already is a prime target, thanks to his having horrifically indulged in Blackface activities in the past. He also has the misfortune of having the Washington Post as one of his hometown newspapers. Democrat or not, here's how the Post treated his early missteps which, in some ways, resembled those of our Missouri governor:
"Northam stumbles through a crisis that should have made him a rock star," a Post opinion headline proclaimed. It seemed puzzled that Northam's status as the only doctor among the nation's governors hadn't informed him better.
"Northam's medical training uniquely positioned him for confident, assertive and sure-footed leadership of Virginia in the defining crisis of our time," the Post stated. "But his stewardship has been marked by confusion, halting half-measures, questions about whether testing data were fudged to begin a reopening early and a bewildering resistance to providing timely, essential information to an anxious public."
Perhaps the principle of "doctor heal thy constituents in a pandemic" was no more applicable in Virginia than it was, say, in St. Louis County. But I digress.
All of the specifics cited against Northam can also be laid at Parson's doorstep. Parson's non-response didn't even rise to the level of stewardship.
Were Parson a Democrat, he'd be getting blistered unsparingly like Northam. Missouri's terrible COVID-19 response would be State Auditor Nicole Galloway's strongest — and loudest — talking point during her campaign to take Parson's job. We'll see if that happens in the next five weeks.
Meanwhile, Missourians should wish Parson and the first lady a full and speedy recovery: back home in Polk County, where they should be sent packing.
Ray Hartmann founded the Riverfront Times in 1977. Contact him at [email protected] or catch him on Donnybrook at 7 p.m. on Thursdays on the Nine Network and St. Louis In the Know With Ray Hartmann from 9 to 11 p.m. Monday thru Friday on KTRS (550 AM).