Have a few snowflakes turned Americans into, well, snowflakes?
Matt Bevin, the Republican governor of Kentucky, seems to think so. He lamented school closures in his state on Wednesday — when the wind chill could make it feel as frosty as minus-15 — as evidence that the country had lost its mettle.
“I mean, what happens to America?” he wondered during an interview on Tuesday with 840 WHAS radio in Louisville, where several school districts said they would close in anticipation of a blast of arctic air from the polar vortex, expected to bring life-threatening temperatures to parts of the Midwest and nearby states.
The one-term Republican incumbent, who is up for reelection this year, wasn’t asking about the increased frequency of extreme weather events, which scientists believe is a sign of intensifying climate change. Or about the fate of thousands of homeless Americans whose lives will be at acute risk in the biting cold.
His question was about why everyone couldn’t just toughen up.
“We’re getting soft,” warned Bevin, who loves posting selfies on social media but has also blocked hundreds of his constituents from interacting with his pages because he doesn’t like what they say about him, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal. In case his message wasn’t clear, he repeated: “We’re getting soft.”
The arctic weather was already interrupting air travel and preventing planned deliveries by the U.S. Postal Service, which is associated with the motto, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers.” By early Wednesday morning, the bitter conditions had been blamed for at least for a half-dozen deaths. When the radio host, Terry Meiners, remarked that the governor’s children would keep him up late because they would not have to rise for school in the morning, Bevin complained about the move by the school districts.
“Now we cancel school for cold,” he said.
“It’s deep freeze!” the host replied. “This is serious business.”
Bevin scoffed at the forecasts. “Come on, now,” he said. “I mean, there’s no ice going with it, or any snow.”
The National Weather Service has, in fact, predicted “moderate snow” in the Louisville area, causing “hazardous road conditions” on top of “very cold wind chills.” Whether it is safe to drive and whether students are safe waiting at bus stops are among the decisions weighing on schools, scores of which announced closures this week.
The governor tried to qualify his comments, saying, “I do appreciate it’s better to err on the side of being safe.” But he also said he was “being only slightly facetious.”
Then he doubled down. “But it does concern me a little bit that in America — on this and any number of other fronts — we’re sending messages to our young people that if life is hard, you can curl up in the fetal position somewhere in a warm place and just wait until it stops being hard,” he said.
“And that isn’t reality,” added Bevin, described as “one of the nation’s least popular governors,” with just 38 percent of Kentuckians approving of his job performance, according to polling published in December by independent firm Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy. ″It just isn’t.”
Bevin was swiftly rebuked for his observation.
Jessica Dueñas, Kentucky’s 2019 “Teacher of the Year,” issued a “personal challenge” for the governor in a video posted Tuesday on Twitter. “Please go outside tomorrow,” she told him, “and stand outside for 30 minutes as if you were waiting for the bus, dressed as one of our students would be, because I guarantee you most of our students are not wearing some fancy Patagonia or North Face jackets.”
“How about you give one of our students your jackets, and you stand outside in that cold, since you’re being so ‘hard?’” she said.
Another teacher, Tiffany Dunn, also took to social media to share her indignation, writing, “These elitist comments don’t shock me anymore, but they’re still appalling.”
The Kentucky Education Association, which has clashed with the governor over pension reform, said it supported the decision to keep students at home. “We will always support decisions made for the health & safety of Kentucky’s children,” the teachers' union wrote on Twitter. “Always.”
Adam Edelen, the former state auditor and Democratic candidate for governor, also weighed in, calling the governor’s remarks “dumb and mean.”
The sharpest attack came from within Bevin’s own party. Republican state Rep. Robert Goforth, who is challenging Bevin in the GOP primary in May, knocked the governor for his elite education.
Bevin, who was born in Colorado and grew up in New Hampshire, attended the Gould Academy, a college preparatory school in Bethel, Maine, where annual tuition for boarding students is now $61,350. The school touts its generous financial aid, which benefits 41 percent of families. The governor’s bio on the state’s website describes how “Bevin and his family of eight lived in an old farmhouse, sharing three bedrooms and one bathroom. The humble home stood on a farm where the family raised crops and livestock, instilling in their children a strong work ethic and solid Christian values.”
After college and service in the U.S. Army, he went into investment banking. In a Fox News interview last October with right-wing pundit Mark Levin, Bevin said his family background was “financially humble,” revising Levin’s characterization of “dirt poor.”
Goforth wasn’t the only Republican to find fault with the governor. Doug Stafford, an adviser to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), told Bevin to “hush.”
“It will be 0 degrees with 20-30 mph winds in places in KY tomorrow,” he wrote on Twitter. “Kids have to sit on bus stops and or walk a mile or more in that. No one wants to hear your old man stories about walking uphill both ways in that when you were a kid.”
Disapproval came even from within the governor’s cabinet. Bevin’s own lieutenant governor, Jenean Hampton, liked a tweet expressing hope that the governor’s car would fail to start in the morning, and that he would be “locked out of his house with nowhere to go.” Bevin recently announced that he was dropping Hampton as a running mate for his reelection bid.
Bevin, who hadn’t addressed the blowback by early Wednesday, is no stranger to controversy surrounding his own words.
In August, he was condemned for comparing state workers who opposed his plan to reform public pensions to drowning victims. Speaking on a conservative talk show based in Cincinnati, the governor said, “It’s like saving a drowning victim, Brian. It’s like somebody — they’re fighting you, biting you, pulling you under. You just need to knock them out and drag them to shore. It’s for their own good.”
On Monday, Bevin waded into the controversy du jour, writing an op-ed for the Washington Times on the viral encounter between Catholic students and a tribal elder in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Titled “Maintaining unity in toxic times,” the piece took aim at the “faux outrage expressed by the sanctimonious thought police of the liberal left and their water carriers in the mainstream media.”
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