By John L. Micek
For the Pittsburgh Current
We thought long and hard about calling your attention to the latest histrionics by state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler. Initially, we were going to err on the side of ignoring the western Pa. lawmaker for much the same reason that you never feed a raccoon — they just keep coming back for more.
But the deranged jeremiad that Metcalfe delivered at the start of Tuesday’s session of the House Environmental Resources & Energy Committee is an object lesson in the way the fight over mask-wearing has been weaponized by some on the right, even as COViD-19 infections and deaths continue to rise nationwide.
Claiming he’d “uncloaked the hypocrisy” of mask-wearing, Metcalfe, an Army veteran, fell back on his military experience to frame out the early stages of his argument:
“Many of us who served in our military forces trained for nuclear, biological and chemical warfare. During training exercises, we were required to put on our protective masks and we were not allowed to remove them until we were told,” he declaimed. “Those who serve and those of us who served in the military gave up some of our rights to defend yours, gave up some of our freedom to protect yours!”
Then it was straight to crazytown.
“Many who are advocating that citizens be required to wear masks are from the ‘my body, my choice crowd’ who support abortion on demand,” he said. “They support terminating the lives of the unborn as a choice, even though the life they are destroying is created by God with a unique and distinct genetic body that is different from the individual choosing life or death.”
Which is an irrelevant digression. Metcalfe may not agree, but the constitutionally protected right to abortion is healthcare for millions of women nationwide.
But it is a way to gin up the culture war juices of the GOP’s Trumpiest wing, where wearing a mask is seen as a confession of weakness, rather than a necessary step in protecting public health. The benefits of wearing a mask are not in dispute — no matter how Metcalfe and his fellow death cultists try to play it.
For good measure, Metcalfe went on to throw in some anti-government rhetoric, arguing that neither the Bipartisan Management Committee, which unanimously approved the mask guidance, nor any other government agency, had the right to mandate mask use. And he went on to say that mask-wearing would be optional in his committee.
“Your body, your choice!” he crowed, being as wrong as one man can possibly be. And to prove that we’ll use a military metaphor that even Metcalfe, the self-professed patriot, should be able to understand.
In ancient Sparta, there was no greater sin than dropping your shield. Losing your sword, or your breastplate, was shameful and worthy of punishment.
But the shield? The shield protected the whole line.
That’s because the Spartans marched in a phalanx formation, creating an unbreakable wall with their shields. And every soldier depended on the man next to him for protection. So if you dropped your shield, you were executed for betraying and failing your fellow citizens, the author Stephen Pressfield observed, citing the ancient historian Plutarch.
So if Metcalfe and his fellow mask-deniers are really the pantomime patriots they play on TV, they’d willingly put on masks for the same reason they put on biohazard suits during their military days.
Because even if masks only work a little bit, they still protect you — and they protect your fellow citizens, making the inconvenience and sacrifice all worthwhile, as Pressfield so elegantly wrote, and we repeat here.
Real patriots protect the whole line. Anything else is just self-centered noise.
John L. Micek is the editor of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star where this story first appeared.