Tom Nelson: Ron Johnson, Dr. Strangelove and the coronavirus

Tom Nelson: Ron Johnson, Dr. Strangelove and the coronavirus

“Right now, all people are hearing about are the deaths. I’m sure the deaths are horrific, but the flip side of this is the vast majority of people who get coronavirus do survive.”

Comments like these are found all over the internet; they are not helpful and insult those who are working around the clock — like staff of Outagamie County — to limit the spread of COVID-19. But this comment is not from a chat-room conspirator or fringe skeptic. This is from the mouth of U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson.

Anyone who’s seen Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film, "Dr. Strangelove," remembers the scene where an unhinged military chief — General Buck Turgidson — counsels the president in favor of a preemptive nuclear strike. Turgidson’s argument echoes Sen. Johnson’s indifference:

“Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than 10 to 20 million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks.”

It’s great cinema, but as real-world policy, it’s insane.

In just over a week, Wisconsin went from two reported cases of coronavirus to more than 100. That’s sobering, but it represents only the beginning. We’re at an inflection point that can mean the difference between outbreak and pandemic.

And yet, since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, Johnson and members of his party have attempted to spin the threat as anything but a health emergency. Indeed, the president has tried to distract us with dismissive comments and inane tweets. Someone should tell him the coronavirus doesn’t follow him on Twitter.

In Outagamie County, we took immediate action. We reduced operations to essential services, and we are scrupulously following CDC guidelines. Johnson may not be on the ball, but local government is. Last week, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and I co-facilitated a statewide call with local officials — those on the front lines fighting COVID-19 daily. It was clear what our communities need: test kits, greater capacity for our health systems, federal resources and support from our state and federal legislators.

Sen. Johnson needs to catch up to the science, take this problem seriously and limit cameo appearances; lest someone mistake him for General Turgidson.

Tom Nelson is the county executive for Outagamie County.

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