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Virus cannot be a partisan matter

The OBSERVER had two stories that flashed across my screen recently; 1. The number of deaths from COVID was up as was the number of infections in Chautauqua County and 2. The Republicans in the County Legislature blocked an attempt to introduce “best practices” lifestyles in the county. A best practices lifestyle means getting vaccinated, wearing masks and social distancing I presume.

I suppose we’ll have to wait and see — when historians revisit the pandemic some years in the future (if there are any historians left in our universities) — just how the deaths from COVID came out from a partisan political perspective. But the news every night tells us that the preponderance of beds in hospitals devoted to COVID patients are occupied by persons that have not been vaccinated. The Republican Party — led by a “conman from New York” — not my words, but those of the former New York City mayor — took the position early on that no one could tell them what to do. It was their constitutional right to refuse. So many refused to be vaccinated.

So the only logical conclusion is that Republicans, if they are following the party’s line, are dying from COVID more often than independents and Democrats. Will history bear this out?

Bainbridge Colby is buried in the Bemus Point Cemetery. Never heard of Bainbridge Colby? Colby was a brilliant lawyer with outstanding credentials including having served as Mark Twain’s lawyer early in his career. He was President Woodrow Wilson’s last secretary of state.

His appointment as secretary of state was opposed by the New York City newspapers because he “had no diplomatic experience” and his political affiliations had gone from Republican (McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt) to Progressive (Teddy Roosevelt) to Democrat (Wilson). But he was a Wilson loyalist, and Wilson chose him.

On Aug. 26, eight days after ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, Colby issued the official proclamation guaranteeing women the right to vote. It thus had become a part of the Constitution of the United States. So for all the women voting Republican reading this, if it were not for a Democrat who married an Ahlstrand from Jamestown and died in Bemus Point, well maybe the Constitution that you wave high overhead as your banner of freedom, as you choose not to get shots endangering yourself, your kids, and others might not even have included your right to vote.

At the time of his death in 1950, Colby was the last surviving member of Wilson’s cabinet. My late father-in-law, Richard Evans, was a funeral director in Bemus who served at the time of the funeral burying Mr. Colby.

Dick Evans was the captain of the Republicans’ team in the county for many years. He was the last chair of the County Board of Supervisors. Would he have refused to serve the Colby family at the time of their sorrow because Colby was a Democrat? Would any Republican refuse — at the time of death and sorrow — to bury a Democrat?

This is a terrible idea. But so is the refusal to wear a mask, make your kid wear a mask, get vaccinated, or follow any other of the civil decencies that this horrible pandemic has brought about because it’s your Constitutional right. It’s as gross for citizens to be anti-citizens in this way as it would have been for 18 year olds to refuse to serve our Country when World War II broke out; or, in the ridiculous sense above, for a Republican funeral director to refuse to bury a Democrat.

Hopefully one or two members of the County Legislature will read this and start to behave like adults, not children. My boy Bill — from a prior column — refused to get shots because his “ma said he didn’t need no shots.” When Bill carried the thought forward on the baseball diamond and played catcher without wearing a mask. Well, the ball didn’t know Bill’s mother and hit him in the nose. Last I knew his nose still pointed toward third base.

Anti-vaxxers and maskers, you don’t want historians to count you. Grow up — your life may depend on it.

Douglas Neckers is Distinguished research professor (emeritus), founder of the Center for Photochemical Sciences, and former chair of the board of the Robert H. Jackson Center. He’s a Chautauqua County native.

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