Golis: Sheltered in place, thinking about what leaders do

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In the good ol’ days — last week — we greeted friends on our daily walks with “Good morning!” and “Hello!” and “How are you?” Often we stopped to chew over the topics of the day.

Now when we venture outside and encounter friends, we mark the distance between us. “More than 6 feet,” we smile, before moving on.

Welcome to circumstances beyond anything we could have imagined.

In these COVID-19 days, we are obliged to connect to loved ones via videoconferencing, while wondering when we will be able to hug them again.

We text with friends and wish we could have dinner together.

We stow food and supplies, while wondering if we are hoarding or merely being prudent.

If we are fortunate, we order deliveries of food, while worrying about the people who are soon to lose their jobs. How will they put food on their tables?

And what will happen to kids whose primary source of nutrition was a school lunch? They may not see another healthy meal until September (or later).

We have arrived at a place that feels like a science fiction movie — a place where streets are empty and where people wear masks and circle each other warily. Before this pandemic is over, more people will die, millions of people will lose their jobs, and trillions of dollars will be spent trying to capture some semblance of what used to be.

Friends who live in New York have never liked the state’s three-term governor, Andrew Cuomo. As the New York Times noted last week: “The people most passionate about politics these days … dislike him because he governs as both a social liberal and a friend of business.“

As happens, Cuomo, a former Cabinet secretary and the son of a former New York governor, also knows how government works.

And as his state confronts the coronavirus, he has emerged among a handful of leaders — Republican Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio is another — who know what to do when trouble comes along. As the Times noted: “Andrew Cuomo is the control freak we need right now.”

Most of all, Cuomo has made and defended the tough choices, and he’s been honest with people about what’s coming and what their families must do to spare themselves from the worst outcomes. He talks about the impacts on his own family, and in doing so, puts a human face on efforts to control the virus.

No one would say President Donald Trump came into office as a friend of government. He becomes only the latest in 50 years of politicians who found success by disparaging government.

When the coronavirus came on the scene, the administration sought to downplay the risks. As recently as a week ago, the president declared, “Everything is under control.”

Two days later, he offered a more sober appraisal. “I knew it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic,” he said.

People vote for candidates for many reasons.

Some vote for candidates because they share an ideology, perhaps even their views on a single issue. Some like Democrat Bernie Sanders because he supports “Medicare for All.” Never mind that the idea would be dead on arrival in Congress.

Others vote for candidates because they share the same dislike for some other group of people. Maybe it’s the candidate who dislikes corporations, or coastal elites, or the candidate who signals that if you don’t like government, he’s your guy.

We live at a time when people hate government and love Social Security, Medicare and first responders — and see no possibility of a contradiction.

Here in Sonoma County voters often fixate on supporting the candidate who is pro-business, or in the alternative, the candidate who is pro-environment.

But they seldom talk about which candidate might bring the intelligence and savvy necessary to make government work for people.

Whether managing a pandemic, responding to catastrophic fires or preventing the squalor of homeless camps, it doesn’t really matter whether a candidate is pro-business or pro-environment.

What matters is his or her capacity to lead — which is best described as the ability to bring people together and generate timely solutions that work. Common sense helps, too.

When a contagion or a catastrophic fire comes along, we need leaders who will tell the truth and who have the skills necessary to save lives and rally Americans to their common purpose.

When we’re no longer sheltering in place, here’s hoping that lesson isn’t forgotten.

Stay healthy, everyone.

Pete Golis is a columnist for The Press Democrat. Email him at

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