In a 1992 Wall Street Journal column, former Democratic senator and presidential nominee George McGovern described his tenure in the private sector after he left Washington, D.C. for good. With his earnings from public speaking tours and lectures, McGovern acquired the leasehold on Connecticut’s Stratford Inn. It had been a longtime dream of his to break into the hospitality industry.
However, he faced a litany of federal, state and local red-tape rules, which cost him time, money, and energy. His venture would go on to fail during a severe recession. But McGovern took a risk, put his skin on the line, and was — ultimately — better off for it. By actually engaging with the public policy and regulations for which he had once advocated, McGovern learned an important lesson:
In retrospect, I wish I had known more about the hazards and difficulties of such a business, especially during a recession of the kind that hit New England just as I was acquiring the inn’s 43-year leasehold. I also wish that during the years I was in public office, I had had this firsthand experience about the difficulties business people face every day. That knowledge would have made me a better U.S. senator and a more understanding presidential contender.
McGovern’s candidness and skepticism then might come as a surprise now. It’s difficult — almost impossible — to imagine a politician in 2020 becoming as self-aware as McGovern when he failed in the private sector, and got a healthy dose of his own medicine.
On Sunday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that he will place neighborhoods whose COVID infection rates have stayed over 3 percent for seven consecutive days into a second lockdown. Nine recovering zip codes would face the consequences of this draconian policy, pending Governor Andrew Cuomo’s approval. Non-essential businesses would be forced to close. All outdoor dining would shut down. One-hundred public and 200 private schools would stop in-classroom learning, forcing parents to adjust schedules on a dime.
“This is out of an abundance of caution,” de Blasio said. “The plan is to rewind in these nine zip codes, to go back to address the problem by using the tools that we know work.”
Would de Blasio rethink this strategy — with all its dubious tools — if he were the person who had to face the consequences of a second lockdown, not Syed Hossain? If Cuomo’s mother resided in a nursing home, would he send COVID positive patients into that very same facility? (To this day, Cuomo still refuses to accept the responsibility for the nursing home scandal.)
Long after the pandemic has passed and Trump has left the White House, politicians as feckless and partisan as de Blasio or Cuomo will continue to ignore that which is not seen. As long as they receive their paycheck, toe the party line, and virtue signal, they will have jobs. But I hope — albeit naively — that there are still government leaders who are self-aware like George McGovern, the failed entrepreneur.