Thursday, May 21, 2020


Laura Curran, the chief executive of Nassau County, New York, may have made a monkey out of herself while explaining how things would go in the post-COVID environment now that the county was reopening its tennis courts. Social media turned her into a national laughingstock as footage of her press conference went everywhere from Anaheim to Yazoo City.

Ms. Curran, who is probably interviewing new speechwriters right about now, provoked more than a few uncomfortable chuckles while offering advice on the proper way to handle tennis balls. It was almost certainly unintended and, as humor goes, kind of juvenile. But her repeated references to bringing your own from home, how to handle them on the courts and how to tell them apart from other people’s had the predictable effect as her remarks went on, her discomfort mounting by the minute.

Eventually even she acknowledged her linguistic faux pas, admitting she was about to blush from embarrassment. Everyone can make a mistake like that — and it’s not the kind of thing that automatically ends a promising political career. If she’s smart about it, she can make lemons out of lemonade and use the notoriety the whole business has brought to turn herself into a national figure.

Things like this can make a career as well as break it. Remember how effectively Bill Clinton used the bad press he got from his keynote address at the 1988 Democratic National Convention. The speech went on so long that by the time he got to the phrase “in conclusion,” the audience cheered. But it got him on “The Tonight Show” and other national programs and set him up nicely for his presidential run four years later.

We sympathize with Ms. Curran’s discomfort over having uttered phrases like “You can kick someone else’s balls; you just can’t touch them.” What we fail to understand is why her presser was necessary at all.

COVID-19 is, admittedly, a scary thing. It came seemingly out of nowhere — although it now seems clear the biological research lab in Wuhan, China, is the likely source — is fatal in some cases, and as yet has no cure, vaccine or standard protocol for treating it.

The politicians managing the public policy aspects of the pandemic, the epidemiologists making predictions about how it spreads and how far it might go, and the doctors and nurses treating it are making it up as they go along. We hope they’re making informed decisions as well as the correct ones.

As we now know, they’re not. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s order to send infected patients to nursing homes full of people now believed to be among the most vulnerable instead of sending them to the hospital ship Comfort or to the emergency medical facilities at Manhattan’s Jacob Javits Convention Center constructed in near-record time by the Army Corps of Engineers — both of which remained nearly empty throughout the worst days of the crisis — probably contributed more to the number of deaths from COVID-19 than any other decision made by a political leader.

Which brings us back to Laura Curran. Does she really believe people are so stupid they need the county executive to tell them how to handle tennis balls on public courts? How much “Nannystating” is the public willing to tolerate before they decide enough is enough and stop listening to the government.

Ms. Curran’s guidelines, by the way, conflict with the latest update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has just announced it appears finally that COVID-19 is mainly spread by close contact between persons and “does not spread easily in other ways.”

That means you’re not going to get it by touching a shopping cart, you’re not going to get it by handing a tip to the pizza delivery man at your front door, and you’re not going to get it by picking up someone’s else’s tennis ball and tossing it back to them on the next court.

We shouldn’t be laughing at Ms. Curran so much as we should be giving serious thought to the level of intrusion in our conduct of our everyday lives her tennis ball guidelines represent. Common sense measures like repeatedly washing your hands, not touching your face and not getting in the face of other people — which, incidentally, President Trump recommended — was probably the best way to handle things as it became clear something unusual was going on. We don’t need the government, in the person of Ms. Curran or anyone else, micromanaging our lives or even trying to the extent she did at her now-infamous press conference. Americans are a free and self-governing people. It’s time the politicians who lead our federal, state and local governments remembered to treat us as such.

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