Dr. Anthony Fauci is a model civil servant, simply telling the truth about infectious diseases as best he can, most recently of course about our covid-19 pandemic. Yet he is constantly being sniped at by Republicans, today by Rep. Jim (“Gym”) Jordan (R-Ohio). Rep. Jordon grilled Dr. Fauci, asking him when Americans will get their freedom back. He wants to take his mask off! If he can’t, his freedom is being violated!
Freedom. In the immortal words of Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Jordan seems to think that freedom means doing anything you want whenever you want, damn the consequences. Of course most of us spend much of our day abiding by various rules that limit his definition of “freedom.”
For example, you put on your seat belt before driving your car. You avoid driving through red lights and stop signs. Most likely you buy an auto insurance policy before driving your car so if you are at fault in an accident, the victim can at least be compensated. Laws are constraints on unrestrained freedom that we agree are reasonable and must be obeyed. Of course, you are free to violate the law, but you face the likelihood of paying a penalty if you do. We have the freedom to do things that aren’t against the law whenever we want without worry that we’ll be arrested for it. Well, unless you are a black driver and a cop pulls you over for having an air freshener blocking your rearview mirror, and you end up dead when he freaks out and supposedly mistakes his pistol for a taser.
Most likely Jordan is free to walk outside of the Capitol and if he is not within six feet of another human doff his mask. He is also free to resign from Congress. Staying home all the time, he’s free to live mask free inside of his house.
But Congress, like state and local governments, have its laws and rules too, rules you agree to as a condition of winning office. In most communities, public health officials, mayors or governors are allowed to make people wear masks as public safety measures. Obviously, some of them like Governor Ron DeSantis agree with Jordan’s idea of freedom. In many cases, this freedom to walk around maskless allows someone to pass on covid-19. This inconveniently takes away their freedom to be free of covid-19. It’s for this reason that I generally wear a mask outdoors, but certainly anytime I’m around people other than my wife.
Freedom of course is not free. It’s not free for the person who inadvertently acquired covid-19, and someone exercising their idea of freedom might cost someone their life. Are you free if dead? Well, you are free of the disease, but true freedom requires being alive as a precondition. If you are dead, you aren’t controlling anything, except perhaps how well the grass grows above your plot.
During the smoking wars, we nonsmokers thought it was perfectly reasonable that we should not have to breathe in toxins of nearby smokers. It took decades to change the law and smokers grudgingly gave up their freedom. I remember a time about forty years ago when I didn’t have this freedom. In the office nearby workers smoked openly even though I asked them not to. I came home reeking of tobacco.
So far I haven’t gotten lung cancer, so I am probably safe. But if I had spent all forty years of my career forced to breathe in secondhand smoke, I might very well have lung cancer. The law eventually came to my rescue.
For the most part, masking requirements are settled law too. The right officials can require you to wear masks in many situations, but only for the duration of the pandemic. When the public health emergency goes away, or dies to the point where it is a very minor risk, that’s when you get your freedom to go unmasked back again. So the best thing Jordan can do to get his freedom back as quickly as possible is to wear his damned mask!
You would think you wouldn’t have to tell this to a lawmaker. By definition, a lawmaker should at least understand what laws are and why they are necessary. Rep. Jordan though is hardly alone, or hardly the only one. Republicans you see claim the right to define freedom selectively: they’re free to do something when they decide they want to.
The law doesn’t work that way. That’s the very definition of the law. Any law is a real or potential restraint on someone’s freedom. Otherwise there would be no reason for having laws in the first place. Rather than have a government, we’d just have anarchy.
The correct response to Rep. Jordan was exactly what Rep. Maxine Waters told Jordan at the end of his tirade: ”Your time expired, sir. You need to respect the chair and shut your mouth.”