Politics & Policy

House Conservatives Who Attacked Dr. Fauci Should Know Better

Dr. Anthony Fauci attends the daily coronavirus task force briefing at the White House, April 13, 2020. (Leah Millis/Reuters)
It’s shameful to take one comment out of context and suggest that he doesn’t care about unemployed Americans.

Congressmen Andy Biggs (R., Ariz.) and Ken Buck (R., Colo.) are so callous, they think — I’m quoting them here — “just 20,000 fatalities” from the coronavirus is no big deal.

Now, it is atrocious of me to say such a thing. After all, it’s not true. And I know it’s not true. Yet, to intimate that it is true, I have plucked their words, written in a recent Washington Examiner op-ed, and quoted them completely out of context.

Now, rest assured, I have done this only to make a point. In reality, I am quite confident that these two gentlemen believe every COVID-19 death is one death too many. I’m sure they are horrified by the thought of 20,000 fatalities in one place, over a short period of time. But if I were doing this for real, if I were distorting their statements for political reasons, with a motive to make you believe they just don’t care, I’d be the worst kind of demagogue.

Here’s the problem: In their op-ed, Representatives Biggs and Buck did it for real . . . to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious-disease adviser on President Trump’s coronavirus task force.

The point of the Biggs/Buck op-ed was to portray Dr. Fauci as if he were a callous, bean-counting bureaucrat, devoid of human compassion for COVID-19 victims.

Let me quote them at length, so you don’t think I’m misrepresenting them:

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recently said, “It’s inconvenient from a societal standpoint, from an economic standpoint to go through this.” It is interesting sometimes that a brief comment can reveal the heart and mind — and in this instance, a special degree of tone deafness.

Of course, the word on which the lawmakers seize is “inconvenient.”

As we’ve all heard over the past month, Dr. Fauci has worked long hours through seven-day weeks trying to save American lives. He also has made countless statements in scores of interviews and White House Task Force press conferences. Consistently, he has been a model of empathy. Again and again, he has agonized over the excruciating choice that government officials have no choice but to make: The choice between the well-being of (a) those sick from, dying of, and vulnerable to a potentially lethal infectious disease, and (b) those whose financial, emotional, and physical well-being are being shattered by the shutdown. It has worn on him, like it would wear on any of us. Like it would wear on Andy Biggs and Ken Buck.

Yet, in their op-ed, these congressmen risibly mined from Fauci’s voluminous body of written and oral presentations a single invocation of the word “inconvenient” to describe the effects of social-distancing and business restrictions. It shows, they say, that the 79-year-old doctor, who has dedicated his life to healing, is insensitive to human suffering. “For Fauci,” they harrumph, “is it merely a societal or economic inconvenience that about 17 million workers are unemployed because of the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic?”

In the moment, was Fauci’s use of “inconvenient” an understatement? Okay, sure, but c’mon. He clearly said it to conform to White House messaging: The restrictions are necessary even though there are significant costs; but the administration believes those costs will be temporary and does not want to alarm the country by suggesting that they are ruinous.

Biggs and Buck need to man up.

Fauci’s job is public health, with a focus on infectious disease. It is to be expected that he is predisposed to emphasize the risks of a pandemic, from which over 20,000 Americans have died. If the congressmen believe that this is the wrong emphasis, and that the president is getting too much input from the doctors and not enough from economists, then their problem is with the president, not the doctors.

Biggs and Buck posit, “The economic calamity lies largely with the origination of policies resulting from Fauci’s recommendations.” Really? Who, after hearing from the experts, adopted the policies? Is it now known as the Fauci administration?

In their craven essay, the congressmen note recently revised models that forecast “just 20,000 fatalities in the [United Kingdom].” Of course, they are not really suggesting that “just 20,000 deaths” are trivial. “Just” was an unfortunate choice of words. Their point, plainly, was that 20,000 fatalities, while tragic, paled in comparison to the 510,000 deaths projected by an earlier model.

In context, they were showing how much they care about lost lives. Wouldn’t it be shameful to take them out of context and suggest otherwise? Wouldn’t it be disgraceful to imply that, because they phrased something poorly in the heat of the moment, there is something lacking in their character? Especially when we know the opposite is the case?

Wouldn’t you agree, congressmen?

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