Luke Letlow, Rest in Peace

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Luke Letlow campaigning for Congress (Screengrab via YouTube)

Luke Letlow, a congressman-elect from Louisiana’s fifth district, passed away yesterday at the age of 41. He leaves behind a wife and two young children.

Sadly, the ghouls among us are already trying to use this tragedy to smear Letlow in the name of their political religion. Aaron Rupar of Vox and Molly Jong-Fast of The Daily Beast — both of whom are popular among a certain crowd and paid by their respective employers for their vindictiveness — each quote-tweeted a 13-second clip of Letlow speaking about the pandemic in October. Rupar captioned his “Congressman-elect Letlow, 41, just died of Covid. A tragedy.” Jong-Fast was less subtle, remarking of Letlow “he died of coronavirus yesterday at 41 years old.” Both shared the quality of implying one or both of the following:

A. Letlow died because of his own carelessness.

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B. He deserved to die because he was a coronavirus “truther.”

This implication not only speaks to Rupar and Jong-Fast’s character — or rather lack thereof — but also to their intellectual dishonesty. Here’s what Letlow actually said in the clip:

While we’ve been cautious, and I think at both the state and federal level, I think we’ve taken numerous precautions with COVID-19, we’re now at a place if we do not open our economy we’re in real danger.

There’s nothing radical or dangerous about this sentiment — nothing to suggest that Letlow is a “truther” who believes that the virus is a hoax or just a “bad flu.” He didn’t say anything to discourage people from wearing masks or taking other precautions. He merely expressed his opinion (a popular one) that shutting down the economy has serious consequences. That’s all. That’s the sin for which Rupar and Jong-Fast are vilifying the late congressman-elect.

Regardless of the extent of his lockdown skepticism, though, the fact that he ultimately died of the virus doesn’t mean that he was wrong to suggest that the economy needs to be opened up. Pandemic-related policies are about balancing efforts to mitigate the virus with safeguarding people’s physical, emotional, spiritual, and financial health. Moreover, some of the places that have relied upon the strictest possible measures (New York, New Jersey, and California, for example) have been some of the hardest hit by the virus. There is no panacea, lockdowns included. That Letlow succumbed to this horrific disease is not proof that he was wrong about his (rather mild) public policy prescription.

I had never heard of Luke Letlow before yesterday evening, and I don’t profess to know his story or life. A cursory glance at his campaign website suggests that Letlow was a pretty standard Republican, and his tweets are all about meeting his would-be constituents or are just platitudes about creating economic opportunity or being unapologetically pro-life. I see nothing about opposing the use of masks or “stopping the steal.” He was just a man, doing his best. May he rest in peace, and may his family find comfort.



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