The Ventilators in the Federal Stockpile Belong to the Feds


During the last round of presidential sparring contests with the press–err, I mean press conferences–the media was treated to a tailor-made smorgasbord for their unremitting hatred of the president. First, they were told that the president’s much-maligned son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was coordinating the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster response to the coronavirus outbreak here in the United States. Heads almost exploded when Kushner took the podium and began briefing the press.

Second, the media became apoplectic when Jared Kushner informed the country that state governments were not entitled to simply lay claim to the limited number of ventilators that the federal government had stockpiled. Kushner made the cardinal sin of referring to the federal stockpile as “ours.” I suppose it’s too heteronormative…or something.

Needless to say, Kushner’s (proper) use of the possessive pronoun “ours” really sent the professional commentariat into a rage–so much so they continued carping on about Kushner’s (again, appropriate) use of the word the next day with the president. For his part, the president gave a bad answer: he attempted to deflect the controversy back on the media by saying that Kushner meant the country when he said “ours.”

Of course, those few of us in the media who still have our cognitive functions relatively intact are fully aware what Kushner was communicating to the world. He was telling panicky state governors (notably those of high-population Blue States, like New York and California) that there is a limited number of ventilators available to the federal government. During a respiratory illness pandemic, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, these limited resources will be rationed until the federal government can get a read on the whole situation affecting the entire country, not just New York or California. Just because state leaders, like Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, spent the last several years gutting the programs in their states that could have responded to this pandemic does not mean they get to overcompensate by depriving the rest of the country of much-needed ventilators.

What audiences were seeing in this exchange between Trump, his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and the media was the age-old American battle of federal versus states’ rights.

Ordinarily, state leaders are more than happy to exert their independence–especially when there is a president in the White House they are politically at odds with (remember former Arizona Governor Jan Brewer loved serving as a political foil to former President Barack Obama when he was in office). Yet, when there is a major crisis that requires the kind of resources–such as ventilators–that those governors have spent years refusing to stockpile (because they had other spending “priorities”), those same governors who flouted federal authority now attempt to blame the feds for their failings.

I’m no fan of the federal government. I generally believe that a decentralized networked approach to governance in a continental superstate, such as the United States, is the best approach in this complex world. Therefore, I usually favor states’ rights. At the same time, though, if you make the bed you must lie in it. What’s more, the federal government is allowed to stockpile resources deemed critical to US national security. In fact, most Americans have come to expect their government to acquire and hold onto critical materials just for these times of crisis (think of the national strategic petroleum reserve–it might be insufficient for today’s needs, but it is good that we have it).

Thus, the materials stockpiled by the federal government, is a federal government property. Only federal authorities get to decide what to do with those resources and the federal authorities must balance the short-term needs of a particular state with the longer-term requirements of the country. You might say that, since the federal government simply redistributes your hard-earned tax dollars, it cannot own anything, let alone deprive you of that which they have bought and reserved in your name.

But you would be wrong.

While I think the national stockpile of ventilators will need to be tapped and handed off to those cities and states most affected by this disease, the idea that the states afflicted with the COVID-19 outbreak are entitled to it–especially when the leaders of those states are so clearly trying to mitigate the damage that the lack of ventilators will do to their own political image–is absurd. Americans everywhere should not only hold their presidents and congressional leaders (of both parties) accountable for any failings during this crisis. They should also, more importantly, hold their state and local leaders accountable for their (many) failures.

We really have entered Clown World, though, where this has become such a point of contention during a national health and economic crisis that the Trump administration felt the need to change the Health and Human Services website to better comport with Jared Kushner’s statement on this matter. Personally, I file this under the tab of “Who Cares?” during a crisis like this. Still, it’s taken up quite a bit of oxygen in the press and should be addressed which I now have.

©2020, The Weichert Report. All Rights Reserved.

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