Commentary

It takes leadership get people to choose the common good

August 23, 2021 8:00 am

Gov. Kim Reynolds and Sen. Joni Ernst worked the grill Wednesday at the Iowa State Fair Pork Tent. (Photo by Katie Akin / Iowa Capital Dispatch)

During Mass on Sunday morning at the Iowa State Fair, Father Ed Hurley paused in his homily to issue a warning: He said he usually tried not to talk about politics.

That’s often a sign that what comes next is going to make some people mad.

“I think we’ve gone overboard with this personal freedom business,” he told the congregation of about 200 fairgoers who were perched on wooden folding chairs at one end of Pioneer Hall.

He was talking about the heated controversy over COVID-19 vaccination, something that mystified him. He went on:  While freedom is important, we live in a society. And that means we have to consider the common good.

You can always count on retired priests to just put it out there.

Afterward, as people filed out past glass cases of antique toys, several mentioned a feeling of nostalgia when they heard that phrase: The common good.

“I haven’t heard that for about 20 years,” one person remarked.

I’ve been hearing that phrase a lot more frequently in the media over the past few weeks, as the delta variant of COVID-19 has shattered the fragile feeling of normalcy that many of us enjoyed this summer. Cases of the coronavirus are rising, hospitals are filling up, and the vaccine remains the best way for each of us to protect ourselves, loved ones and our communities.

Most Americans still believe in the common good and believe it has priority over personal freedom. In a new national poll published Sunday by USA Today, 61% said the common good was more important than personal liberty,” when it comes to vaccine mandates, while 39% said personal liberty was more important.

Mask mandates had even more support, with 72% in the USA Today/Ipsos poll calling them “a matter of health and safety.” Only 28% said mask mandates were an infringement on personal liberty.

Where we’re not hearing about the common good is from our leaders here in Iowa.

Gov. Kim Reynolds and Sen. Joni Ernst were at the State Fair flipping pork chops when they were asked about the federal government authorizing vaccine booster shots. Both emphasized personal choice instead of using the opportunity to explain to Iowans why getting vaccinated serves the common good.

“I would say that, if the science shows that that’s something that’s helpful, then that is a person’s personal prerogative on whether they want to get the booster shot or not,” Ernst said.

“I completely concur with that,” Reynolds added. “It will be their decision.”

Ernst and Reynolds are both vaccinated and both have encouraged Iowans to do likewise. Unfortunately, both have also decided to make the politically expedient choice to validate others’ right to be selfish or ignorant.

People can, of course, make a personal decision to choose the common good over their personal freedom. Americans have done this many times over history, even choosing to fight and die for their country. It’s not always clear to everyone what it means to act in the common good, however. That’s why we need leaders: People who will help define the common good and persuade everyone to work for it.

When the people in power don’t have the conviction or courage to lead, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s in our collective best interests. When elected officials try to pretend all choices are equally valid to avoid offending anyone, that’s not leadership. It’s pandering, and it’s hurting our state.

Iowans like nostalgia. We flock to the State Fair for old-timey entertainment:  livestock shows, hog calling contests, blue ribbons for baking and gigantic pumpkins. It’s time to hark back to a time when we used our personal freedom to choose what’s best for everyone.

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Kathie Obradovich
Kathie Obradovich

Editor Kathie Obradovich has been covering Iowa government and politics for more than 30 years, most recently as political columnist and opinion editor for the Des Moines Register. She previously covered the Iowa Statehouse for 10 years for newspapers in Davenport, Waterloo, Sioux City, Mason City and Muscatine. She is a leading voice on Iowa politics and makes regular appearances on state, national and international news programs. She has led national-award-winning coverage of the Iowa Caucuses and the Register’s Iowa Poll.

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