Legislative oversight hearing on COVID was shameful

The focus should be on fixing problems, not exploiting them

THOMAS PAYNE wrote, in The American Crisis (1776), that “These are the times that try men’s souls.” Although he  wrote those words during the American Revolution, he may have been talking about Massachusetts during the Age of COVID.

I think that we can all agree that we are living in unprecedented times, and that we are being bombarded, on a daily basis, with information about the coronavirus, how it spreads, safety protocols, newly discovered variants, and different reopening strategies; while our elected officials are trying to figure out the best ways to get as many vaccine shots – for which the supply is extremely limited – into people’s arms, as quickly as possible, while making sure that the most vulnerable members of our population are placed at the head of the line.

But I am a Massachusetts snob. I think that we do things in Massachusetts better and smarter than people from other parts of the country.  And to some extent that is true.  Our governor, Charlie Baker, working – up until now – hand-in-hand with the Legislature has been doing a wonderful job of keeping us all safe – at least as safe as possible – and to protect us from an uncontrolled pandemic that seems to be raging unchecked in some other parts of the country.  It is that cooperative spirit that has allowed us to “innovate on the fly” and try some unconventional solutions to the problems created or exacerbated by the pandemic.

What I saw on display at the last legislative oversight hearing a couple weeks ago was not a legislative body exercising its constitutional oversight authority over the executive branch, but rather a group of elected officials trying to exploit a perceived vulnerability for their own political gain.

I tried to log on to the Commonwealth’s vaccine registration website several times about three weeks ago, only to be frustrated by the system crashing.  But I am also old enough to know that computers are like your children in that they never do what you want them to do, when you want them to do it.  What the crashed website said to me was try again when more vaccines are delivered to Massachusetts and the website has been reconfigured to handle the increased traffic.  In the end, if I get inoculated a week later than I wanted to, that does not seem like a big problem.

The following Thursday morning, I dutifully logged on to the Commonwealth’s vaccine appointment system a couple of minutes before 8a.m., and although I do not particularly feel like driving all the way to Foxborough, I selected that site, clicked on the first available appoint slot, and made an appointment for my wife to receive her vaccine.  She received her appointment confirmation email at 8:11 a.m.  I then logged back into the website again, and made an appointment at Gillette Stadium for my vaccination, the day after my wife’s appointment, and received my appointment confirmation email at 8:16 a.m.

I was lucky.  I was in the right place at the right time.  If I had been placed in a virtual waiting room and was told that my wait time was estimated at 25,000 minutes, I would have realized that the system was having difficulties and I would try again later.  I do not expect anything to work flawlessly.  The issue here is not the hiccups in the computerized registration system, which are frustrating, but a finite amount of vaccine and a large number of people who need it.  But that is the role of government, isn’t it?  To help manage the allocation of scarce resources, without panic, violence, or undue delay.

What at I saw on display at that legislative hearing was shameful. Throughout his tenure in office, Baker has focused on collaborative problem solving on the assumption that there are no Democrat ideas and there are no Republican ideas.  There are simply good ideas and not so good ideas.  The lawmakers at the hearing, sensing a possible opportunity to advance their political career over some perceived misstep by the Baker administration in formulating a solution to one of the most complex and far-reaching problems of the last century, is the height of hypocrisy.

Meet the Author

Paul DeBole

Assistant professor of political science, Lasell University
When I was a young man, I would occasionally complain about what my parents made for dinner.  My father would look at me quite seriously and say, “if dinner was not prepared according to your high standards, you are always free to make dinner for the family yourself.”  His point was that it is quite easy to criticize someone else’s decision and work, but quite a different thing to take the responsibility to get things done, given the constraints of time and available resources.  Demanding an apology, while grandstanding, when one has already been freely given, is counterproductive and distracts us all from the real problem.

Paul DeBole is an associate professor at Laselle University in Newton.