BOSTON (CBS) – “I don’t make a decision based on being popular,” says Boston Mayor Marty Walsh in a notably positive Boston Globe profile of his leadership during the coronavirus crisis.
That isn’t always the case, for Walsh or any other elective officeholder. By definition, it’s their job to keep the public happy. And the realities of re-election are always top of mind.
But the pandemic has forced Walsh to make a string of decisions that, in normal times, he’d aggressively avoid: cancelling the St. Patrick’s Day parade and the Boston Marathon, closing the schools, cancelling construction and, perhaps the most onerous call of all for a Boston mayor, essentially shutting down the bars.
He’s had plenty of equally miserable company. The last thing on earth Gov. Charlie Baker wanted to do was wipe out the rainy day fund and immobilize the state’s booming economy on the brink of the economically critical tourist season. But he has. Somerville, a mecca for small businesses and restaurants, is especially devastated by the shutdowns; yet Mayor Joe Curtatone was one of the earliest advocates for them.
In normal times, decisions that cripple business, smother free choice, and make cold beer less accessible would be politically suicidal for local pols. It wasn’t so long ago that advocates for a Massachusetts seat belt law were mercilessly roasted.
But here and in other states, governors and mayors who’ve made the tough calls have been mostly rewarded with sky-high approval ratings.
Meanwhile, President Trump has pursued a very different strategy of evasion, denial and self-serving spin. (Remember his resistance to letting a virus-stricken cruise ship come ashore because “I like the numbers [of infected people] being where they are. I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault”? That was just one month ago.)
As the full scope of Trump’s weakness and malfeasance have sunk in, his “rally ‘round the flag” bump has vanished and his poll numbers are trending downward.
Politicians everywhere tend to run scared of making moves that might anger large numbers of voters or risk tanking the economy. It will be interesting on November 4 to compare the electoral verdict on Trump with public approval of the likes of Walsh, Baker and Curtatone. Perhaps, if the crisis is over by then, public admiration for pols who made the tough calls and contempt for those who didn’t will have faded.
But I doubt it. Sometimes the situation calls for setting popularity aside and being willing to take the heat for it. You know – leadership.
And the Trump credo – “I don’t take responsibility at all” – is the antithesis of that.