One morning as we spoke after catching a horse that had gotten loose, a neighbor in Connecticut told me he was going to have to get his house re-roofed.

There was one local fellow who was universally known and liked, and I said I figured he’d do the work. But no, my neighbor said, he was getting a different contractor. “He’s kind of an [uncomplimentary word ending with ‘hole’], but he’s the best roofer around.” The well-liked fellow, I was told, was nice but not especially competent.

I’ve remembered that conversation as this year’s presidential campaign has unrolled. We ended up with the candidates we have through a ridiculous mechanism I discussed in this space a few weeks ago. Our choice is between a full-on jerk who never misses an opportunity to be nasty and an amiable dunce, a career simpleton. But is niceness the measure one ought to use?

Let’s think. Despite his being a louse, Donald Trump has had a successful presidency. A largely collapsed economy came roaring back, and it was steered in a direction that especially benefited women and minorities. I think, (and I believe that an examination of facts supports me here) that this is because Trump was content to be guided by some very intelligent people who let him take the credit for their work. Yes, he is an attention whore. That’s why last week, after his running mate had a masterful debate, Trump was on the air within hours singing his own praises. To Trump, the focus must always be on Trump. Always.

That’s not much of a recommendation, is it?

So let’s turn our gaze – sorry, Mr. President – to Joe Biden, whose next accomplishment will be his first. Yes, he did manage to graduate from Syracuse Law School, barely in the top 90 percent of his class (76 out of 85, and he lied about it), and no doubt that but for the public fisc he would have had a modest career as a storefront lawyer in Pennsylvania or Delaware. But he found politics, the career of choice for talentless would-be celebrities. He managed to spend a total of 42 years as Senator from Delaware and Vice President with no accomplishments to show for it (except an amassed personal fortune of $9 million; let that tell you what it will). Indeed, he has run for president before and each time was bounced out of the race because of his personal dishonesty. (Not that Trump is a model of probity, because he isn’t. Then again, Biden isn’t particularly nice, either, when you look at his record.) He was nominated this time on the basis of one resume item he didn’t have to fake: He isn’t Bernie Sanders.

But for this year’s pandemic the outcome of the election wouldn’t be in doubt. Still, there is a pandemic this year, and the Democrats and their supporters (many of them blow-dried news readers) want to sell us the idea that it’s all Trump’s fault. Which it is, if you employ the kind of reasoning that leads you to conclude that the destruction of the World Trade Center was Rudy Giuliani’s fault.

SARS-CoV-2 arrived here early in the year from China. There is evidence – we cannot yet say, and may never be able to say conclusively – that its release was deliberate. There is no denying that China did nothing to prevent its spread around the world. And China certainly benefited from it.

Ah, but Trump reacted to the threat poorly, we are told. That’s true, and in a vacuum that would be damning. But we don’t live in a vacuum, and even a cursory examination illustrates that nobody got it right. Nobody. No country in the world did much better than we did. Some did far worse.

Consider: In mid-January, the World Health Organization assured the world that SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that brings us COVID-19 – could not be spread from human to human. On Jan. 30, the WHO changed course, now saying the virus was “of international concern.” The next day, Trump ordered a halt to travel between China and the U.S. The day after that, Biden condemned the move: “We need to lead the way with science — not Donald Trump’s record of hysteria, xenophobia, and fear-mongering,” Biden said. Remember that quote, especially the “science” part. (At the end of February, the WHO was still saying that travel restrictions were not necessary.)

What else was Biden’s party of science up to? On Feb. 7, New York City Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot was saying that there was really nothing to fear: “We’re telling New Yorkers, go about your lives, take the subway, go out, enjoy life.” All through February and March, New York Mayor Bill DiBlasio said there wasn’t really, much to fear, it was “like the common cold.” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who if he is remembered for anything will be memorialized in song and story for the massacre of the elderly, said in early March that “what we’re really trying to do here is avoid the massive disruption of closing everything down for two weeks.” On Feb. 24, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi encouraged people to come out and have fun in San Francisco’s Chinatown. “That’s what we’re trying to do today is to say everything is fine here,” Pelosi said.

The governors of New York, and New Jersey, both Democrats, effectively created coronavirus death camps for old people. We can hope that like everyone else those governors simply got it wrong. Democrat-controlled northeastern states – New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut – are the top four states in COVID-19 deaths per capita nationally. Trump was over-reacting and sewing panic, the Democrats said until they didn’t anymore: In misleading Biden ads, Trump was wrongly accused of downplaying the pandemic and calling it a “hoax.”

(Were you to say that Trump shouldn’t have appeared at the COVID-19 news conferences at all, I would heartily agree with you. As noted, Trump demands all the attention, all the time, which is disgusting.)

The goal, the public health scientists said, was to “flatten the curve” to avoid hospitals being overwhelmed. Under Trump, the country succeeded at that.

Biden has proposed that “science” be our guide. Fair enough. Which science? The WHO’s science? The science that said in February and March that it does no good to wear masks, or the later science that says we must wear masks? The strict epidemiological science that tells us the only way to be rid of this thing is to stay out of contact with each other pretty much forever, or the social and medical sciences that tell us that we’re losing more lives to drugs, alcohol, suicide, and undiagnosed diseases brought on by our isolation than to the virus? Biden doesn’t say. But he pledges to follow some science.

The election is about three weeks away and as usual we get to pick the lesser of evils. The question boils down to this: Do you want the grandfatherly failure, or the nasty, self-regarding guy who can actually fix the roof?

If response to COVID-19 is your measure, remember that nobody got it right, but the Democrats’ policies led to the deaths of more people.

Editor’s note: Dennis E. Powell’s column appears every Wednesday in The Athens NEWS. You can reach him at

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