Few states were less prepared for the Covid-19 crisis than Mississippi. As The New York Times recently reported, "The current coronavirus spike has hit the South hard, but a combination of poverty and politics made Mississippi uniquely unprepared to handle what is now the worst coronavirus outbreak in the nation."
The article added that the Magnolia State has fewer active physicians per capita than any other and thousands fewer nurses. What's more, five rural hospitals have closed in the past decade, and 35 more are at imminent risk of closing, thanks in part to Mississippi Republicans' refusal to embrace Medicaid expansion through the Affordable Care Act.
About a month ago, the state's Republican governor, Tate Reeves, tried to explain his state's public health difficulties by saying Mississippi residents are "less scared" of Covid-19 than people in other states because they believe in "eternal life." Yesterday, the governor sat down with CNN's Jake Tapper, who pressed Reeves for additional answers.
It did not go well.
According to the network transcript, it was early on in the interview when the governor argued, "[T]he question here is not about what we do in Mississippi. It's what [President Joe Biden] is trying to impose upon the American worker."
As a rule, when a governor suggests developments in his own state during a pandemic aren't paramount, it's a bad sign.
Soon after, the host reminded Reeves, "Mississippi this week became the state with the worst number of coronavirus deaths per capita. In fact, if Mississippi were its own country, you would be second in the world, only to Peru, in terms of deaths per capita. That's a horrible, horrible, heartbreaking statistic."
Tapper added, "So, with all due respect, governor, your way is failing. Are you going to try to change anything to change this horrible statistic from what you're doing already?" Reeves' initially responded this way:
'Well, obviously, in Mississippi, our legislature is a part-time legislature. Sometimes, I wonder if in America if our Congress was part-time, we wouldn't be in a better position.'
In other words, presented with evidence of failure, the GOP governor's first thought was to suggest the United States would be better off with less governing.
As for the question itself — what is Reeves prepared to do differently? — the governor largely ignored the question and said fatalities are a "lagging indicator" amidst improving infection rates.
That's true, but those fatalities are nevertheless real, and while case numbers have slipped from their peak in the state, Mississippi is still struggling with awful conditions.
And so, Tapper asked the obvious follow-up question: "Are you going to change anything?" Reeves didn't answer that either, insisting only that Mississippi believes in "personal responsibility."
Tapper tried to summarize the problem:
'[W]hat President Biden is trying to do is save lives. Now, you can think that policy or it's unconstitutional, and that's fine. We can have that discussion. We already have. But he's trying to save lives. I'm saying to you, your way is not working. And whether you say it's a lagging indicator or whatever your argument is, Mississippi now has, if it were its own country, the second worst per capita death rate in the world, behind only Peru. And I'm saying, are you going to try to do anything to change that? And I'm not hearing an answer.'
And while Reeves certainly said many words, none of them constituted a meaningful answer — because there was no meaningful answer to give. It was a case study in post-policy politics: The governor, pressed for answers about a public health catastrophe, appeared wholly uninterested in governing solutions.
He pointed to unhelpful excuses; he tried to change the subject; and he accused Tapper of refusing to demand answers from Democratic governors in states like West Virginia — which has a Republican governor.
Pressed for answers on what, specifically, he intends to do, the Mississippian effectively said he doesn't intend to do much except stick with the status quo and wait for conditions to improve.
Reeves' constituents, who are already struggling, won't benefit from his passivity.