FARGO — Personal responsibility and the light touch of government died Friday after a courageous eight-month battle against medical science.

The cause of death was a statewide mask mandate issued in North Dakota with the hope of containing a global pandemic.

The news came as a shock to residents, who had become accustomed to politicians like Gov. Doug Burgum uttering empty cliches instead of taking meaningful action against COVID. Recently, Burgum referred to mask mandates as "an obsession of the media."

"But what becomes of the cookie shops?" asked a tearful Tim Helbling, mayor of Mandan, who was said to be broad-sided after the governor preached since March that the best defense against the pandemic was personal responsibility and the light touch of government.

The death announcement was made by Burgum's office late at night via press release and a social media video, which precluded the governor taking questions from the media that might have included, "Why did you wait so long?" and "Did you purposely wait until after an election you were sure to win in a landslide to announce this?"

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The governor, who is rumored to have presidential aspirations, valiantly fought facts and logic for months in an attempt to keep his banalities alive for the sake of burnishing his Trumpian credentials, but in the end his talking points succumbed as more and more human beings who lived in his state did the same.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, also eyeing a 2024 run for president, declined comment on the death of Burgum's inanities, but immediately boarded a plane to New Hampshire to attend a fundraiser.

At various times over the past months, as Burgum desperately tried to keep alive personal responsibility and the light touch of government, he applied several other meaningless phrases. He used heavy doses of holistic approaches, a couple injections of the whole of government and a steady drip of North Dakota Smart. As a last-ditch effort, he force-fed an advertising campaign that funneled taxpayer money to a Republican-owned agency.

None of it was enough, as word salads and tired tropes are no match for the deadly reality of reality.

Reaction from the state's conservative media members was said to be somber. No longer able to regurgitate Burgum's empty words and repeat the phrase "slippery slope," they were scrambling this weekend to replace "Emperor Walz" in their lexicon. Sources say it might take a few days for them to invent new ways to spin North Dakota's superiority over coastal elites in handling COVID since their go-to reasons of freedom and liberty passed away.

"Luckily, conservative radio and TV hosts can continue to spread baseless conspiracy theories about Trump having the election stolen from him. That should mute the impact of this death," one source said. "That should carry them to Jan. 20 when Biden is inaugurated. How they lie to their audience after that is anybody's guess."

Services are pending for personal responsibility and the light touch of government. It's likely, though, their funeral will be an indoor gathering attended by more than 500 people not wearing masks.

Readers can reach Forum columnist Mike McFeely at mmcfeely@forumcomm.com or (701) 451-5655