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Memo To Dems: Stop Taking These Maskless Pictures

It’s simple. Don’t make others do shit you don’t do.
February 7, 2022
Memo To Dems: Stop Taking These Maskless Pictures
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 14: California Gov. Gavin Newsom waves to supporters after speaking to union workers and volunteers on election day at the IBEW Local 6 union hall on September 14, 2021 in San Francisco, California. Californians are heading to the polls to cast their ballots in the California recall election of Gov. Gavin Newsom. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)


Subject: Mask Protocols
To: Democratic Politicians and Staff
From: Humans Who Are Not Obsessed With the Mask Wars

Over the past two weeks, several Democratic politicians have found themselves in the Twitter barrel as a result of photographs featuring their maskless (gasp!) faces in situations where either a) officials from their party had instituted a mandate on masks or b) the plebeians who surrounded them were unable to show their pearly whites due to the stringent social covenant in their environs.

This is horrible optics—and thus bad politics! Because whether we like it or not optics is politics.   Since some of you don’t seem to understand why these pictures in particular are so bad, let me lay it out for you:

1) It gives off an air of elitism—as if the rules apply only to regular Joes, not to the glorious statesmen and women who stoop to mingle with them.

2) It undermines the fundamental message politicians should be promoting in regard to masking: that it is part of a communal sacrifice to protect the vulnerable and the front-line workers who are bearing the brunt of the pandemic.

3) It plays right into the hands of the opposition party, which has centered its entire brand on performative populism in an attempt to wrestle away cross-pressured voters who may have liberal economic views but bristle at progressive social pieties.

Now, on point #3 I already know what many of you are going to say. It goes something like this:

But the deplorables are making this attack in bad faith. They are sociopaths who have the blood of tens of thousands of unvaccinated on their hands. We shouldn’t listen to people who completely “reject the social compact and discard the welfare of others including their own loved ones.”

I hear you! We agree! They are the worst!

So I guess that prompts the question: Why are you making this so easy on them?

It seems to me that rage at the devil-may-care right has blinded some progressives to reality. It’s created a bubble where giving an inch on the COVID rules is some kind of defeat in an imaginary battle of righteousness. In this bubble wearing masks just isn’t that a big of a deal and the rules don’t have to be defended on the merits because anyone complaining about them must ipso facto be in league with the anti-vaxxers and the shirtless freaks screaming at school boards about Toni Morrison’s sex life and thus should be ignored.

But here’s the problem, only about 3 in 10 Americans seem to be in this bubble with you. There are a lot of people who aren’t soldiers in the COVID Crusade and for them wearing a mask might not be a big deal but it is certainly a big annoyance. They are “vaxxed and done.” They are tired of their kids carrying the burden for a virus that is exceedingly unlikely to harm them. They are working long days in service jobs and tired of having to be the front-line mask cops.

These people have been happy to do the right thing for two years now. But they recognize that what they’ve been doing is a sacrifice in service of the greater good. It’s not part of some blind, unquestioned loyalty to a political tribe.

So they rightly bristle when their leaders give the appearance of thinking themselves too important to make that sacrifice alongside everyone else. Can you blame them when they start to mock and mistrust the politicians who continue to mandate rules that they themselves don’t follow?

Some Democrats out in the provinces seem to get this. Just today New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy ended the mask mandate in schools. (The Garden State will now leave masking decisions up to the school districts, unlike Virginia, where Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s executive order overrides school districts in forbidding mask requirements for kids.) Colorado Governor Jared Polis has talked about making sure burdensome mask rules match the science.

This is the way.

It’s not to throw in with the callous schmucks who have proven they don’t give one whit about life or death. It’s to call them out for going along with the vaccine lies that have caused so much unnecessary suffering.

And then to demonstrate to voters that unlike your opponents you do care about them. That, when necessary, you will stand side by side with them in sacrifice. And that, when science or prudence indicates that some of those sacrifices can be ended, you will advocate to make that happen.

How do you do that in the context of a political campaign?

Well, in short, take some advice from Winston Wolf:

Don’t {make people} Do Shit Unless.

Unless what?

Unless you are going to do it first.

So yeah, if you are in a room full of people—especially kids—and they are being forced to wear masks, you should wear one too. And if the COVID rates in the area or the air circulation in the room or your desire to look pretty for a picture doesn’t require you to do so, then make sure everyone else knows they can make the same choice you are. Because we are all in this together.

Tim Miller

Tim Miller is The Bulwark’s writer-at-large and the author of the best-selling book Why We Did It: A Travelogue from the Republican Road to Hell. He was previously political director for Republican Voters Against Trump and communications director for Jeb Bush 2016.