FARGO — For a man who touts "personal responsibility" as a mantra, Gov. Doug Burgum doesn't appear to have any.
It is his personal responsibility to make decisions that are best for his constituents, the people of North Dakota.
It is his personal responsibility to put the good of the people above party politics, in this case the dominant Republican Party of North Dakota.
It is his personal responsibility to stop spouting cliches like "personal responsibility," "holistic approach" and "the light touch of government" and start taking action to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
It is his personal responsibility to start listening to medical experts instead of ignorant political leaders.
It is his personal responsibility to stop being personally irresponsible.
There is zero chance of any of this happening, of course, because Burgum is a Republican in North Dakota and being a Republican in North Dakota means you have to shrug off a global pandemic instead of treating it like a public health crisis.
Burgum is smarter than this, but he lacks the courage of his convictions. His leadership during the pandemic started strong enough, but has wilted into the partisan hackery and gobbledygook meant to mollify a base of screeching clods who equate a government mandate to wear a mask with an assault on liberty.
Meanwhile, COVID is burning through North Dakota at a higher per-capita rate than almost anywhere in the country and shows no sign of abating. It's a runaway train, with hospital administrators and health experts sounding the alarm.
Yet the governor fiddles, afraid to issue a statewide mask mandate while tossing daily word salads of trendy-sounding phrases.
Burgum has become North Dakota's slicker version of South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a Trump-sniffing COVID denier with eyes on a bigger prize. Noem wants to be president someday. Burgum's hopes aren't as clear.
A man of vast personal wealth who will coast to re-election in November, Burgum could declare a statewide mask mandate and abide by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines with little political blowback. He'll still be rich and still be governor.
Much of the public would abide, some would not and make a stink about it, and life would be made safer for many North Dakotans.
Instead Burgum makes it up as he goes along, losing state health officers and credibility. The state continues to set records for active cases and hospitalizations. Deaths are up. Hospital beds are in short supply. Health experts are blasting the state's approach.
North Dakota is making national news, just not in the way Burgum would prefer.
Burgum has tried the "personal responsibility" angle for seven months now. North Dakota Smart isn't working. The next logical step for a deep thinker like Burgum would be a mask mandate as one small step in trying to curb the virus.
Nobody believes everybody will wear a mask and respect COVID protocols. But if some do, perhaps even half, North Dakota would be in a better place.
That, however, would take personal responsibility by the governor. As with courage, he's shown no indication he has any.
Readers can reach columnist Mike McFeely at (701) 451-5655