As great crises in the two-plus centuries of American history go, COVID-19 doesn’t find us at a particularly amiable juncture of our political life.
I mean, sure, we weren’t a happy lot during the Iranian hostage crisis, but we didn’t have John Chancellor wondering whether President Carter should be calling it the Iranian hostage crisis or wondering if he was putting too much inflection upon the word “ayatollah.”
World War I was far from universally popular but even then, you didn’t see a whole lot of people chanting the phrase “Hell No, Woodrow” to protest President Wilson, and not just because “hell no” hadn’t entered the vernacular yet. We knew enough to come together even if we may be grumbling underneath.
Meanwhile, things are testy enough in the days of coronavirus that we now have on-air fights between Obama appointees on MSNBC. If you need entertainment while you sit in your PJs at home, that’s great news, but the fact that it doesn’t even take a conservative and a liberal to spark a live meltdown on TV these days is disconcerting.
Into the squared circle of daytime punditry on Wednesday stepped former Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Craig Fugate and former acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Andy Slavitt.
Two minor functionaries enter, only one will leave with their earpiece! Which one will it be?
Actually, it was Slavitt, since Fugate decided he didn’t “have time to listen to bulls—.”
Here’s the video, which we must warn you contains graphic language. Viewer discretion is advised.
Fugate sort of comes out the winner in terms of the ideological games here, inasmuch as he was advocating for a federalist response as opposed to a federalized one, but neither man really looked great in this minor-league grumble-fest.
“I’ve always believed the best way the federal government can support governors is to get out of their way, get them funding, use [the Centers for Disease Control] to give guidance,” Fugate told host Katy Tur.
“As we’re running out of stuff, I’m asking the question, why are we not looking at idle capabilities now and governors go contract for that resource? Why wait for the federal government to do it?”
Slavitt, meanwhile, wanted a more centralized approach to things. The implicit part of his argument was a gambit you’ve heard a lot these past few weeks: If you don’t listen to him and only him, people will die.
“So it’s a hard thing for people to grasp, but the number of cases we have right now and even those tragic figures you just read are going to seem minuscule in a week,” Slavitt said — vouchsafing that while we peons may not be able to grasp it, don’t worry, he can.
“So with all due respect to your other guest, there’s not a governor in the country that’s waiting for the federal government right now. They are all acting. What they need is coordination because we have, believe it or not, we have masks, we have a lot of these things. Guess where they are? They’re sitting in the supply chain, people are profiteering off of them or they’re going to places where people are hoarding them,” he continued. “Now that happens in a crisis.”
Oh, that wascally free market! If only there was some wizard at the top to stick his magic wand into this whole mess and direct those resources.
“It’s only by someone looking through the entire system and seeing where those needs are, that you can say, ‘stop hoarding them all in Texas, we need them in New York right now while we build manufacturing capability and put them in Texas,'” he continued. “So what your other guest is suggesting here is not helpful. We need a great partnership between the federal and state government.”
Fugate apparently had better things to do.
“I don’t have time to listen to bulls—, people,” he responded as he took off his earpiece and microphone and left.
“Craig, you want to sit down and respond to this?” Tur said.
“I guess Craig has left,” she added. “Andy, he doesn’t agree with you at all.”
What gave you that impression, Katy?
Later, Fugate socially distanced himself from his career as a talking head via a resignation tweet — a statement which may have been supererogatory under the circumstances, since you usually don’t get invited back after that kind of hot mess.
Dear @MSNBC , @KatyTurNBC At the point I’m not helping, time to step back. Never was good at the talking head thing anyway. This is too critical of a time to let emotions get in the way. My apologies to you and your audience.
— Craig (@WCraigFugate) March 19, 2020
This was as necessary as me preemptively taking my name out of the running to be the next head coach of the Denver Broncos.
In fairness, the answer to the question posed probably lies in between what Fugate and Slavitt were proposing. (Although I tend to side more with Fugate.)
Federalism is great and, given the disparity between various jurisdictions in a geographically massive nation, allows for a more localized response to the COVID crisis. That said, a bit more coordination wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing in the case of a pandemic, something it’s clear no nation was prepared for.
I’m kind of wasting my breath, however, because this segment proved nothing thanks to the two personalities they decided to pit against one another.
Fugate was huffy, Slavitt was sneeringly condescending and neither came across as men I would trust in a national emergency — or even like men who seemed to acknowledge we were in one.
The fact both of these men were Obama appointees gave it a unique angle. It’s funny, albeit in a sad way. This is who we are. Even Obama appointees can’t have civil disagreements anymore without one rage-quitting a low-stakes daytime MSNBC interview and letting fly with an unbleeped expletive.
At least we can’t say it’s not entertaining, but under the circumstances, I’d hope for a bit more than entertainment.
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