Looking for heroes as diligently as searching for failures – The Journal Record

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Andrew C. Spiropoulos

As we left the arena after the Thunder game that was canceled due to the coronavirus, I remarked to my disappointed son that, perhaps on the bright side, he would remember this night for the rest of his life. What emotions these future memories spark in us, of course, will depend on how events unfold over the next several months. I think most of us would prefer to live in less interesting times.

We can be sure of one thing, though. We will be inundated with stories and conversation about how our governments have failed us in this crisis. Indeed, we have already heard accounts of missed opportunities to test the sick during the early onset of the disease or to develop a vaccine before the epidemic enveloped China.

I have no doubt that our public servants have made many mistakes in dealing with this situation – just as I am positive they will err in dealing with future challenges. They blunder because, like the rest of us, they are imperfect human beings who are charged with making difficult and life-altering decisions under conditions of radical uncertainty. We should remember that while one official may fail to perceive the nature or gravity of the situation, a brilliant researcher at a government agency will discover the key to an effective vaccine while colleagues in another government office will spot a crucial pattern in the course of infection that no one else recognized. Without human imperfection, there can be no heroes. We need to look for them as diligently as we search for the failures.

It is also likely we will lament the always complex and sometimes inefficient nature of a political system with multiple layers of authority. Many look at the seemingly swift and decisive action undertaken by other nations’ more centralized regimes and wish we could dispense with federalism. We should remember that our patchwork quilt of different state and local responses to the epidemic provides, just as the laboratory does for scientists seeking a vaccine, the precious capacity to experiment with different approaches to solving different aspects of the crisis. Our national officials have long experience in communicating with their state counterparts and coordinating responses when necessary.

Finally, it is important to keep in mind that the United States is blessed with abundant social capital that enables our people, despite our great size and differences, to successfully manage even the most challenging problems. Other national governments struggle to control both their institutions and people, issuing edicts that will force them to do what the government believes is necessary to stop the spread of the virus. In America, on the other hand, our private institutions, including our enormous and vibrant nonprofit sector, independently act to creatively and effectively deal with crises. As with federalism, but on an even larger scale, the sheer variety of their responses will generate good ideas that will be passed on to others.

Our families demonstrate the same initiative and ingenuity. No one has to tell us what to do – we read and talk to each other about the threat and, before a moment has passed, we’ve come up with a plan and cleaned the stores out of what we need to make it happen. While I dread what is about to come, there’s part of me that’s eager to find out what extraordinary things we’ll do to respond.

Andrew Spiropoulos is the Robert S. Kerr, Sr. Professor of Constitutional Law at Oklahoma City University and the Milton Friedman Distinguished Fellow at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and should not be attributed to either institution.