Empower Wisconsin | March 20, 2020
By Eric O’Keefe
As the deadly COVID-19 pandemic sweeps through the country, we face an existential threat. That threat is tyrannical government. In Wisconsin especially, we risk the loss of our right to govern ourselves.
On March 17, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers signed Emergency Order 5 to ban mass gatherings of 10 or more people. The order elaborates:
“Mass gathering” is any planned or spontaneous, public or private event or convening that will bring together or is likely to bring together 10 or more people in a single room or single confined space at the same time.
There is more: Gatherings of fewer than 10 people in the same room “must preserve social distancing of 6 feet between people.”
It is now illegal in Wisconsin to have a traditional funeral or wedding. It also is illegal to hug a grieving relative. Will I commit a crime if my 89-year-old mother, who lives alone, visits and I give her a hug in my own house?
This seizure of power by the government is more deadly to America than any virus.
If you suppose Gov. Evers is more farsighted than you, consider this: While this pandemic was sweeping around the world last month, he pushed to spend $250 million of a projected budget surplus on the public schools. Now there will be no surplus, and he has ordered those schools closed.
Gov. Evers has no special access to information about this pandemic. He panicked and suspended our liberties without warning after private organizations and citizens had already adopted extreme measures to protect themselves. His belated attention on the pandemic is no excuse for suspending our right to run our own lives. We are being treated like the subjects of the tyrannical government of China.
Do not suppose that I take COVID-19 lightly. I have read about the darkest projections of its course. My family absorbed the available data days ago and began practicing social distancing. The dictates of Gov. Evers do nothing to add to our protection. Instead they have seized from all of us our authority to conduct our lives.
There are “no solutions; only tradeoffs,” as Thomas Sowell wrote long ago. But Governor Evers’ dictates will impair our ability to survive the pandemic. This is happening in ways invisible to him, as his approach prevents people from making their own decisions about how to survive the loss of their businesses, their jobs, or beloved relatives. We are social beings. We need others to survive, and we need the freedom to associate with others in order to be fully alive.
Governor Evers has reacted to the stresses of the day by exercising the authority of an autocrat. His approach is wrong for Wisconsin and wrong for America. We retain the right to react to the virus, as the same free people we were before his dictates.
Patrick Henry asked on the eve of the American Revolution:
“Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God!”
Our ancestors answered this existential question with the greatest political transformation in all of history. In the face of possible death, they chose liberty.
What will we do?
Eric O’Keefe is a political activist and part-time investor from Wisconsin who serves as president of the Empower Wisconsin Foundation. He currently chairs the board of Citizens for Self-Governance, and serves on the board of directors of the Institute for Free Speech, COS Action and the Wisconsin Club for Growth, among others. Eric was co-founder of U.S. Term Limits and later president of Americans for Limited Terms in the 1990s. The last 20 years Eric has encouraged donors and activists to develop state-based political organizations to develop policy, conduct litigation, and deliver messages in order to make government representative.