The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

It’s Time for Conservatives to Take the New Coronavirus Outbreak Seriously

A waitress takes the temperature of customers as they arrive to eat at a restaurant during Phase 2 of reopening amid the coronavirus outbreak in New York, N.Y., June 27, 2020. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

After today, this annus horribilis has just five more months.

My reader who is the director of medical research for a top-ten hospital, who has been weighing in on the pandemic and his assessment of the best ways to respond — see here, here, here, here and here  — is getting frustrated with some of his fellow conservatives. This director didn’t want to be quoted by name, lest his assessments cause headaches for his institution.

“Conservatives, we need to talk,” he begins. “I know you’re tired of masks; tired of the restrictions on going to bars, going to the gym, going to church. We’re all tired of it. You’re worried about whether your business will survive more months of restrictions. And above all, you’re furious at the double standards exhibited by Democratic politicians and their media allies; when they invoke holy ‘Science!’ to take away your liberty and then turn around and say ‘nothing to worry about here’ when crowds of thousands gather in cities protesting and rioting.”

This research director is also irritated with his fellow scientists, “especially the ones who are eager to curry the favor of TV producers and Sunday-show pundits, and of governors and mayors, and so will tailor their conclusions to meet the narrative and talking points of the day.”

But he sees what he characterizes as a growing number of people on the right, even “people associated with establishment organizations and otherwise thoughtful and sensible commentary” who are “reacting to the Left’s effort to turn the pandemic into a political weapon by swinging to the opposite extreme.”

His latest message is so impassioned, clear, and succinct that I’m just going to quote it at length:

I’m talking about people who argue that the lower coronavirus death rates in Florida and Georgia compared to New York and New Jersey prove that this virus is nothing worse than a bad flu year. I’m talking about people who say that we should open up football stadiums in the fall. But most of all, I’m talking about the people who feel that if they wear a mask when they go out shopping or take their kids to the zoo, they’re letting take your pick — CNN, or Nancy Pelosi, or the CDC know-it-alls — win.

Friends, this is the same kind of “Resistance” cosplay that the Left has been preoccupied with since November 2016. And just like pink hats won’t make the Bad Orange Man go away, all this shouting and conspiracy-mongering from the right isn’t going to make the coronavirus go away. We’re stuck with it, it’s not our fault, and we’re going to be stuck with it for months to come (if not years), including the entire rest of the election season. There is not going to be a miracle cure or vaccine that comes in to save the day and bring everything back to normal.

Even though deaths are down (thank heavens!), and there’s no second wave of cases in New York, Philadelphia, and other metro areas where thousands died, we are still in a very serious public-health crisis. I look at the situation in Texas as a pretty decent proxy for the states now facing the brunt of the pandemic. It’s true that we’re not hearing the kinds of stories we heard in the first wave: fear that there won’t be enough ventilators, convention centers being converted to makeshift hospitals, and medical centers running out of masks and sanitizer. But other stuff that makes me and other hospital people very worried is still going on. The number of COVID patients in the hospitals there is climbing. The average age of patients now is lower so they’re less likely to need hospital care, but the surge in the number of cases is more than making up for that.

If we’re not to the point where we’re running out of hospital beds this time, why are we still worried? Because when hospitals and clinics are preoccupied with coronavirus, they can’t deliver routine care. When the pandemic was at its peak here in [a large city], we had to put off important procedures like heart surgery and chemotherapy because we had to save beds for COVID patients, and without a doubt, some people died as a result.

Gripe all you want about Fauci and Cuomo and Whitmer and all the weenies at CNN; I’ll be there with you. But we all need to continue acting responsibly while the coronavirus is still around. Wear a mask (properly!) when you’re at the store or in any other enclosed public space. Wash your hands frequently. Stay home if you feel sick and get tested if you have symptoms. And don’t cheerlead for the radio talkers who are trying to whip up this new Resistance.

Simply be responsible. Don’t do it for the [expletive] governor — do it for your uncle with a heart condition, do it for the sports star who beat cancer, and do it for the nice old ladies at church.

If people on the right turn into paragons of responsibility for the next four weeks, we can flatten the curve again, and that will make people a lot more comfortable about reopening schools and moving away from draconian government-imposed lockdowns. And that, in turn, will be the key to moving on to other issues (like the chaos in Democrat-dominated cities) and winning this election.

It will probably not surprise you that I concur with what this medical-research director says. The only note that I would add is that I suspect many people interpreted the double standard from the media and leadership on the protests — in New York, San Francisco, and Orlando, contact tracers didn’t even ask those testing positive whether they had attended a protest — as a de facto “all clear” sign. I suspect a lot of people watched the crowds and concluded, “If the pandemic were really that bad, elected officials wouldn’t have been afraid to tell George Floyd protesters that they’re doing something reckless and should all go home.” (Come on, people. Never underestimate the cowardice of elected officials!)

Unfortunately, the pandemic is that bad, and the protests may have contributed at least somewhat to the spread of the virus.

We could scream about hypocrisy and people who don’t live up to their own rules. In fact, we have — governors who require masks but don’t wear them or ban large gatherings and then attend them, etc. This phenomenon stretches way beyond the coronavirus: self-described socialists who own three houses, self-described feminists with abuses revealed by #MeToo, left-of-center magazines with nearly entirely white editorial staffs that tear into the Republican Party for insufficient diversity in its ranks, elected officials who fight for a $15/hour wage have unpaid interns — but I think the upshot of all this is that a lot of people see others not living up to their own rules and conclude that the rules are a joke and don’t matter.

But in a pandemic with a contagious virus, the rules matter a lot!

Cooking Rice

Over on the home page, a look at 20 things you probably didn’t know about Susan Rice — and Benghazi isn’t one of them, because you almost certainly already know about that. This is one of those pieces where in a week or so it’s going to look prescient and important . . . or quickly forgotten.

If, as laid out yesterday, Joe Biden instinctively surrounds himself with familiar faces he already knows and trusts, then I think Rice is the most likely selection. She would be an unorthodox pick in many ways. She’s never run for office before. She’s got the baggage of Benghazi and the uglier chapters of Obama’s foreign policy. Her Democratic colleagues have found her brusque and combative to the point of being disrespectful in the past. But she was indisputably loyal to Barack Obama, and I suspect Biden wants someone who will be as loyal to him as he believes he was to Obama. She would make an effective attack dog on the trail and allow Biden to play the role of the sunny, optimistic, uniting figure. If Biden wins, she could easily settle in to playing bad cop to Biden’s good cop. [Insert “Kamala Harris would make the best bad cop” joke here.] And of course, Rice checks the boxes of being an African-American woman with national-security experience.

She would be terrible for the country, but she makes a lot of sense for Biden. And hey, almost all of the polls say he’s up by a country mile, both nationally and in the key swing states. He doesn’t need to worry about flipping a particular state or demographic. He can pick whomever he genuinely thinks is the best pick, and not worry about the political fallout.

ADDENDUM: You can make the case that Henry Olsen — veteran of the right-of-center think-tank world and Washington Post columnist — is one of the president’s most useful defenders. He’s logical and reasoned. He gives Trump the benefit of the doubt, no matter what goes wrong for him or the administration. He opposed impeachment, and later argued that it impeded Trump’s response to the pandemic. He disdains the “Never Trump” faction.

But Olsen is livid over the president’s suggesting, in a tweet, that the November election should be postponed, and is spitting hot fire over it:

President Trump’s tweet Thursday morning suggesting that the November election should be delayed is more than reckless and irresponsible. It is the single most anti-democratic statement any sitting president has ever made. It should be immediately, forcefully and vocally repudiated by every conservative and Republican.

I do not write these words lightly. I have generally supported the Trump administration’s policies. Everyone has disagreements even with leaders of their own party, but I remain what I was before Trump was even a candidate — a conservative Republican with populist leanings. Were this election solely a matter of Trump’s platform vs. former vice president Joe Biden’s, I would enthusiastically back the Trump agenda.

But Trump’s tweet jumps the shark in so many ways that it is impossible to ignore. Such a statement should be unthinkable (in fact, I assumed it was unthinkable, which is why I strongly criticized Biden in April when he claimed without evidence that Trump would try to delay the election).

Ever get the feeling that President Trump’s supporters want him to win in November more than he himself does?

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