OK, so everybody knows that Phil Scott is a Nice Guy (copyright pending)… but is he really?
His performance throughout the pandemic has varied from creditable (the first 15 months) to misguided (the Delta variant), but there’s been one constant throughout: a lack of human connection.
I don’t recall him ever expressing sympathy or empathy for those felled by Covid. I don’t recall him ever saying the name of a Covid victim or visiting a grieving family. I don’t recall him ever visiting a hospital or long-term care facility to express support to patients, family and staff. I don’t recall any visits to schools or day care facilities whose staffs are overtaxed by the pandemic workload. For that matter, I can’t recall him ever admitting that he badly underestimated the Delta variant. Which he did.
It’s not at all what a Nice Guy would do.
So why is that? Is he a lot less of a N.G. than everyone thought? Is it a pure political calculation? Does he think that if he acknowledges the human toll of the pandemic in any way, it would undercut his message of Getting Back to Normal?
Well, it can’t be politics, because you know how quick he is to criticize others for “playing politics.” He couldn’t possibly be doing the same.
I have to think political considerations are keeping Scott from showing any weakness or, well, simple humanity about the terrible toll of the pandemic. After all, if he was seen in an ICU it might remind people that life is far from returning to normal. It might make them less likely to go out to eat or attend a concert or even go to the goddamn grocery store. And the wheels of commerce have got to keep on a-grindin’.
A few days ago, the Vermont Tourism Twitter account burped out this little gem:
Hey, c’mon in! Bring your credit cards! Vermont is wide open for business! That is, as long as you’re a paying customer. Because even as Vermont Tourism is pursuing a “no limits” policy, top state officials are warning the rest of us to be very careful about holiday get-togethers. Talk it out. Get vaccinated. Get tested shortly before a visit. Keep gatherings on the small side. All gatherings are, in Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine’s words, “a little bit risky.” But not winter sports, I guess?
It’s pure commercialism. Concern for the bottom line above all else. Ski tourists can do whatever the hell they want, but the rest of us ought to think twice about celebrating a family Thanksgiving?
Now, consider Scott spokesperson Jason Maulucci, who took time out of his busy Thursday to tweet about a national poll that ranked Scott as the most popular governor on the very day that Vermont recorded its 400th known Covid fatality. Meanwhile, he didn’t tweet about that unfortunate milestone. (The Governor’s official Twitter account was silent on that day.) Tone-deaf much?
Phil Scott has built up a great deal of political capital. He’s still riding high according to that Maulucci-approved national poll (I will point out that 12 of the top 14 governors in that survey were Republicans, which might lead one to question its impartiality). But if Scott keeps this up, his Nice Guy, moderate, caring image is going to start eroding away.
If I were his handlers, I’d do away with the Covid denialism. I’d schedule a few gubernatorial visits to places hit hard by the pandemic. I’d have him acknowledge Covid victims at every weekly briefing. Maybe even start each Tuesday presser by reading the names of those who have died. I’d schedule an event with people who have lost loved ones to the pandemic.
And I’d encourage him to admit he was wrong about Delta.
It wouldn’t make him look weak. It’d make him look like a human being. It’d make him look like a governor who cares about the people he serves and isn’t afraid to show it.
In purely political terms, it’d go a long way to keeping him in the driver’s seat for 2022 and beyond. He’s still there for now, but every day he goes on with this Mr. Roboto routine he slips another inch or two out of his seat.