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Separating Art from Artist in Vaccine Policy Criticism

I sent an email to a colleague this week and included a wry joke. After re-reading the email seven times in my sent folder, I decided to send a follow up to clarify my dry humor was, in fact, humor and apologized for the miscommunication that can happen with text-based messaging.

He wrote back that he had interpreted it as humor and even found it funny, or at least he was now the one humoring me, but this was not the first time this has happened to me nor will it be the last. It can be incredibly difficult to correctly understand the meaning behind what is read rather than spoken.

But sometimes it’s not that hard. The Chronicle editorial on Thursday took a position on Governor Ron DeSantis’ executive order to bar businesses from requiring proof of vaccinations, but the way the editorial was written felt less like a criticism of the policy and more like an indictment of the governor.

The message of this column is going to be that this type of editorialization against the person rather than the policy is to be expected from a newspaper that sees issues and institutions as the people who comprise them rather than as mission-driven entities. It is further proof of what this publication has referred to as the difference between culturists and structuralists.

A few things need to be established to frame this argument. The first is the recognition that the Chronicle piece is an editorial appearing in the opinion section. It is meant to take a strong position. Our critique is not that it is wrong that the column was critical, but rather that it portrays itself as being against a policy but in actuality positions itself against a person.

Take the first line as an example, “it appears Gov. Ron DeSantis subscribes to Republican principles against government overreach only when it benefits his political agenda.” This is followed by other lines like, “this is just another political posturing move by a governor who seems more interested in getting headlines than in dealing with issues.”

The second line feels particularly off-message and vindictive. The headline above the editorial reminds readers that the topic is vaccine passports. These lines, however, are focused much more on the person of who DeSantis is rather than the policy in question.

In the past, the Concurrent has raised the concept of being a culturist or a structuralist. The main difference between the two is that culturists put their trust in individual people who operate within organizations and structuralists put their trust in the mission of the institutions themselves.

Our assertion is the Chronicle is an excellent hometown newspaper, but its editorial section is comprised of culturists and the Concurrent gives a structuralist stance. Since we live in a county that is primarily of Republican affiliation with a conservative ideological lean, the distinction between culturist and structuralist better describes differences in approach to governing than traditional political labels.

This editorial revealed how public affairs looks from the perspective of a culturist. I don’t believe the Chronicle is being intentionally malicious toward DeSantis personally, but rather that it is nearly impossible for people who believe in a culturist approach to separate what can be generically called art from artist, or in this case, policy from person. The two are indistinguishable to the culturist.

This becomes a problem when trying to argue a point. Even if someone were to agree with the Chronicle’s stance on the executive order, which is an overreach, the reader may find reasons to disagree with the position if they support the governor, which was over two-thirds of the county (67.27%) in 2018, because of how this is written.

Lastly, Gov. DeSantis gets the same criticism some of our local politicians do, which is that he and the others are too combative with the press. Weathering attacks is part of public life, the politicians know that when stepping into the spotlight, but it is editorials like these that transcend criticism of policy into commentary on the person that puts politicians on the defensive.

This isn’t helpful for the elected official, for the paper and certainly least helpful to the reader trying to stay informed. The Chronicle has every right to be critical in its editorials on its opinion pages, but just like my emails which can be misinterpreted, it should go to great lengths to be sure there isn’t an underlying message peering through the guise of the topic discussed.


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