Is Northam Up to the COVID-19 Challenge?

By Peter Galuszka

Governor Ralph Northam has approached the COVID-19 pandemic  with a light touch that has drawn criticism for doing too little too late.

He has declared a state of emergency, banned gatherings of more than 100 people and closed schools until well into April. But he’s also not closed restaurants and businesses or done much to make sure that Virginian’s health workers have enough testing kits and respirators and personal protective equipment, such as masks and hazardous material suits.

Consequently, health workers have been slicing up bandanas or reusing face masks against manufacturers’ warnings to protect themselves from the deadly virus.

The Washington Post has compared the responses of regional leaders in an article this morning. Larry Hogan, Maryland’s Republican governor, got high marks for his pro-active, can-do attitude that saw him taking tougher policies earlier on. The Post gave Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser a little below Hogan in her response.

But, the Post reported, “If you’ve got Maryland and D.C. shutting down, but we aren’t, that cuts down tremendously on what Mayor Bowser and Governor Hogan are trying to do,” said Libby Garvey, a Democrat and board chair of Arlington County.

A Northam spokesman said that the lighter approach is appropriate because it doesn’t strangle Virginia’s economy and the state is more rural and spread out than Maryland or Washington.

Even so, it seems strange that Northam, a Democrat, isn’t more aggressive because he is a physician specializing in pediatrics and neurology. If anyone should, he ought to know how to get things done when it comes to health. So, it seemed especially jarring on March 20 when an administration spokesman complained that the state Department of Health was only getting 5% to 10%  percent of critically-important medical equipment, such as ventilators that it had ordered.

What makes this situation troublesome is that Donald Trump has shown himself to be totally incompetent at leading the federal government in the pandemic, despite the efforts of the health care professionals on his team. His nearly daily television broadcasts are filled with his vanity, narcissism and pointless bombast as he makes inaccurate statements that his team has to correct as fast as he goes off the air.

Such incompetence means that state and local leaders have to pick up the slack. A shining example is New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose on-the-ball performance has drawn national praise.

This isn’t the first time Northam has come up short on health issues. A little more than a year ago, he got into serious political trouble when he gave a clumsy response to an interviewer about what the proper medical procedure should be if a woman is giving birth to a severely deformed child.

It wasn’t clear if he was advocating an abortion or letting a newly-born child die. As a medical expert, he should have given a clear answer regardless of whether one disagrees with it or not.

Northam says that Virginia will be struggling through the pandemic for months, not just weeks. But he fails to give a more detailed timeline only stirring more fear and uncertainty.

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12 responses to “Is Northam Up to the COVID-19 Challenge?”

  1. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Ralph is doing fine. I’d shut up and back him. In fact, I kinda have. Lots of people want to play politics with this, and it sickens my stomach. (No fever though, I keep checking….)

  2. sbostian Avatar

    It is rare that I agree with Northam. However, in this case I agree that something short of total lockdown in order to keep the state economy protected is entirely appropriate. Competing with other governments to keep or exceed totalitarian parity is not a strategy which reflects prudent, holistic decision making.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    Northam is actually taking the route the “slow down and don’t wreck the economy” some folks are advocating.

    Some say he’s being timid and indecisive while others support his “steady as it goes” approach.

    I guess you could call him the Un-Cuomo eh?

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      Thankfully, he doesn’t yet face the same problems as Cuomo. We’re only a week or so behind. I dread the “stay in place” order but it may be next, and will be the final nail in the economic coffin.

  4. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Don’t ever tell me to “shut up.” I really don’t need your guidance on how to behave.

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      You and Kerry in the other post are cut from the same piece of cloth. Think about it. Think hard.

  5. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Piss off

  6. sherlockj Avatar

    I just want the Governor to change his leadership style a bit regardless of what decisions he makes.
    He and Dr. Carey in their daily press conference take every opportunity to refer to each problem as a national problem. For example, when asked about respirators and about PPE for front line medical personnel, they reply that it is a national problem and that they are looking forward to deliveries from the National Stockpile.
    They do not discuss what they are doing to ensure the prioritized distribution of the respirators and PPE that already exist in Virginia. They certainly don’t talk about the Virginia Stockpile, because “we” never built one.
    So my criticism is not about individual decisions but about leadership style. Say “we” were not prepared but are working night and day to address each problem. Then give the details of what “we” are doing in Virginia. That leadership style is easily adopted, and I strongly recommend it.

    1. Absolutely! It’s one thing to blame the feds (they deserve it, though pointing fingers is a waste of time and perceived as such) — it’s another not to exercise reassuring, highly visible, transparent leadership over those things he can control, pushing to fix what he can and pressure others who need the pressure. Compared to Northam, Larry Hogan next door in MD is a highly visible contrast in the DC urban area, and Mayor Bowser is doing a decent job also, as Robert McCartney says today here:

    2. djrippert Avatar

      Capt Sherlock – I don’t know whether you grew up in Virginia or how long you have lived here. Maybe a long time – I don’t know. Northam’s “leadership style” is easy for me to understand. He is a Virginia elitist who hold his constituency in contempt. Go to any upscale cocktail party among Virginia’s elite and you’ll meet dozens just like him. His leadership style is embedded in his elitist DNA.

  7. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    As much as I despise Northam, I’m reluctant to criticize specifics of what he has done and not done. I share the concern that he seems to be focused on national issues instead of Virginia ones. But I don’t have all the facts and there are few bright lines.

  8. djrippert Avatar


    Good article. On the Trump front – I’ll agree that his administration’s management of the health side of the Coronavirus equation was far from adequate. However, his administration’s management of the fiscal fallout has been on point.

    As far as Northam – well that’s another story. He’s just another example of Virginia’s plantation elite. He lied when he said he didn’t know his Eastern Shore plantation owning ancestors owned slaves. He lied when he said he wasn’t the man in blackface on his personal yearbook page. He lied when he said he didn’t know who the woman in klan robes in that picture was. He lied when he said he didn’t know why they claimed his nickname was Coonman. He lied when he claimed he never saw that yearbook picture. Even when he’s not lying he’s too arrogant to admit a mistake. His commentary on keeping a baby comfortable while the doctors and parents decide what to do was certainly a possible reference to infanticide. But did he clarify? Of course not. Royalty does not clarify or apologize to commoners.

    Northam is typical of the Virginia politician from the lineage of the Byrd Machine. His father was one of the constitutional officers who typified that malignant and racist machine. His grandfather was a judge on the Eastern Shore. Northam is to the political manner born. And those plantation elitists who are to the manner born do not waste their valuable energy communicating with the “little people” who they lord over. Hence the, “We’re prepared. Trust me.” stance. I’m only surprised Northam didn’t add, “You little people are too stupid to understand anyway.”

    I don’t trust Ralph Northam or any other member of Virginia’s plantation elite. Nor should anyone. Northam has proven his arrogance and willingness to deceive. Why in God’s name would anybody trust him now?

    Even the Washington Post can’t stomach tax raising, virtue signaling Democratic Ralph Northam. This morning they ran a piece rating the local leaders on their Coronavirus actions.

    1) Republican Larry Hogan, Governor of Maryland
    2) Democrat Muriel Bowser, Mayor of DC
    3) Democrat Ralph Northam, Governor of Virginia

    When the Washington Post criticizes a Democrat you can be assured that the Democrat in question deserves criticism.

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