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Face masks and freedom clash

Individual freedom — or liberty, as some folks like to call it — is a beautiful thing.

It goes to the very heart of our democracy in that, if you are not breaking the law, you are pretty much free to do as you please.

But, with all beautiful things, there can also be a downside to individual freedom. At least that’s how the governor views it.

From her perspective, when decisions that single citizens make bump into the greater good of the society as a whole, that greater good should trump individual freedom.

Needless to say, there are those who will strongly reject her version of what is that greater good.

Over the last four months of this little virus adventure in which we are all embroiled, you may have heard the governor utter, “Mask up. Mask up.”

She and her health care advisors have concluded doing that is one of the easiest and most powerful strategies to combat the coronavirus, and, now, with a worrisome boost in the number of cases, here is the governor repeating the same mantra.

Only this time with more urgency.

She argues that is a common-sense thing to do. The only problem is she already has all of her common-sense folks on her side, so her plea to others amounts to preaching to the choir.

And the “other side” counters their common-sense tells them that, when their freedom is at risk, they are the ones doing the right thing, and they are not totally convinced the masks even help, anyway.

This is not the first time we have been here.

You might recall the debate in the 1970s, when the battle cry was, “Buckle up. Buckle up.”

The science then indicated that, if you used your seat belt, lives would be saved. Yet, at the outset, there were many who would not comply.

Some worried that using the seat belt would wrinkle their clothes. Still others fretted over being “trapped” in the vehicle after an accident, unable to unbuckle the darn belt. Macho men felt they would be called sissies. Still others complained about Big Brother trying to run their lives, and, if they didn’t want to buckle up, they would not.

At the outset of the seat belt thing, many would not budge. The buckle-up numbers hovered around 20% to 58%, made worse by the fact that the antsy Legislature, worried about offending the “liberty’ crowd, made seat belt violations a secondary offense. That meant that, to get a ticket for not wearing your seat belt, you had to be stopped for some other traffic offense first. The message from lawmakers was unmistakable: “We don’t think this is important enough to truly enforce.”

And it stayed that way for years, until lawmakers got the guts to make the offense a primary offense. And, once the cops dished out a rash of tickets that impacted the points on your record and a hefty boost in insurance rates, it was only then that compliance reached the current 98% plateau in 2009.

That whole journey from 20% to 98% took a whopping 24 years.

Problem for this governor? She doesn’t have 24 years to get mask usage at that level, while, in the interim, who knows how many would die, she would argue.

She is now warning mask-violators that they could face a $500 fine, but no jail time. She has forced the poor greeters at the front door of businesses to enforce the requirement.

One of those persons was allegedly killed trying to do that, and others have been verbally and physically abused, with no end in sight.

“This will save lives,” she repeats and repeats, while probably asking herself, who can oppose saving lives?

While the other side digs in, believing they are right and she is wrong, and neither the twain shall meet.

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