MINOT, N.D. — There is a hubris that is central to left-of-center thinking, and it's the belief that government can solve all of what ails humanity simply by making policy.
This is putting the cart before the horse.
It ignores that, in a democratic sort of society, like the one we live in, policy is driven by consensus. By the time a policy becomes politically feasible, you already have a majority consensus in place behind it.
The question of a mask mandate has become central to our debate over the handling of the COVID-19 outbreak. North Dakota's medical leaders are increasingly outspoken in their agitation for one. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has taken to lecturing North Dakota's and South Dakota's political leaders. At the national level, President-elect Joe Biden has indicated that he'll pressure states to adopt mandates and will even go around governors to local community leaders.
The mistake all of these people are making is assuming that a mask mandate will solve the problem.
They point to other states and other places in the world that have mandates as evidence that they work.
Are those places seeing success because of their mandates?
Or do they have mandates because broad political majorities there already support masking?
We don't need a mandate. We need to persuade North Dakotans to take the virus seriously.
Mike Nowatzki, a spokesman for Gov. Doug Burgum's administration, recently said that "states will only be successful at slowing the spread if individuals exercise personal responsibility," and he's right.
There is little the government can do, short of total shutdowns, that will effectively address the virus if large portions of the public are dissenting.
I've reached a point where I might support a mask mandate if only so that we can stop talking about a mask mandate and turn our focus to other, more fruitful discussions about how to address the pandemic.
Besides, what does enforcement of that mandate look like?
"We need a statewide mask mandate with strict enforcement measures," Bismarck and Burleigh County public health director Renae Moch wrote in the Washington Post.
In early August, a man named David Olson was arrested at a hotel in Fargo for violating a state isolation order after testing positive for COVID-19. Per the police report, after his arrest, he was transported to the Cass County Jail.
The remedy for a COVID-positive person violating quarantine is interaction with law enforcement and transport to a crowded jail?
That's what Moch's "strict enforcement" looks like.
Does it seem like the solution to you?
It's not. The solution is North Dakotans taking the virus seriously.
Nothing will change in our state until that happens.
To comment on this article, visit www.sayanythingblog.com
Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.