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Other’s opinion: Do we really need pandemic politics?

The Free Press, Mankato, Minn.

It seems the tone of our local, state and national politics on the pandemic will be with us even as COVID-19 wanes. At best, it’s tiresome. At worst, it’s tragic.

Of course the most fringe voices and radical ideas about freedom at all costs and pandemic be damned were amplified by social media and cable television. And rational discussion was quashed by the social bubble social media and cable have created.

It wasn’t always this way. Going back 20 years, to 911, people saw the common threat and the common cause. While there were some conspiracy theorists, they had nowhere the megaphone they have now. Twenty years makes a big difference in the pervasiveness of closed-minded thinking.

So, it’s troubling and sad to see the partisan rancor come out as Gov. Tim Walz lifts almost all COVID-19 restrictions a little more than a year after we were predicting millions of deaths in the United States. So far, we’re only half way there.

Most of the GOP legislative opposition to Walz’s restrictions called for the restrictions to be lifted much earlier.

From Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center: “Gov. Walz’s reopening plan is too weak and too slow. Minnesotans are ready to fully reopen right now. We’re vaccinated in large numbers. Businesses know how to operate safely. People know how to keep themselves and each other healthy. Instead, the governor is asking people to continue to sacrifice when it is completely unwarranted.”

As we said on these pages Sunday, we believe the Walz plan balanced economic health with public health. It wasn’t perfect, but Walz was transparent and took criticism to heart and modified plans at times when appropriate.

We don’t fault Republicans for criticizing the plan, but criticism is most useful on the front end of when decisions are made. On the back end, it just looks like politics and puts a damper on something Minnesotans should be celebrating together.

Said Sen. GOP Majority Leader Paul Gazelka in a statement: “My reaction today is simple: Not good enough and not soon enough. The emergency is over and the mandates need to end.”

“Frankly, not one thing that I recommended was adopted,” Gazelka said though he conceded: “We’re moving in the right direction.”

Both Rosen and Gazelka hit the talking point of lifting restrictions so high school kids can have a normal graduation. Gazelka also said Walz was “ignoring our suggestions and the suggestions of the businesses and medical community to find any compromise- especially on the mask mandate.”

But Walz received praise from Republican-leaning business groups. The Twins said they were “absolutely ecstatic” to expand their capacity limits, and the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association Executive Director Tony Chesak said: “We’re thrilled to fully open for business with minimal restrictions. Please visit your local bars and restaurants — we’ve missed you!”

Walz lamented the continued political posturing over pandemic rules designed to save as many lives as possible, telling his critics they should get a vaccine so they can be alive to vote him out of office next year.

Tone matters in politics. It matters to get things done. Putting out fighting words doesn’t.

Pandemic politics doesn’t offer much of a cure for what ails our Democracy.