BOSTON (CBS) – This was the warning from the federal government last Friday about the growing coronavirus pandemic.
“A pandemic will last 18 months or longer and include multiple waves of illness.”
– U.S. Government COVID-19 Response Plan
In the long, sordid history of political “leaders” prioritizing their own narrow self-interest over the public’s well-being, the tsunami of lies and amoral spin from the right about the coronavirus crisis deserves a special chapter. Maybe even its own volume.
Atop the list is President Trump, abruptly modeling relatively sober behavior in the past few days as events (and, presumably, cratering internal poll numbers) have made a farce of his longstanding pandemic denial. (As you peruse this list of his atrociously ignorant statements, consider how his only constructive early action – the January 31 ban on most non-citizens who had been in China entering the US – fit neatly into his trademark paranoia about foreigners.)
Then there’s the Trump Super Pac also known as Fox News prime time, where – with the notable exception of Tucker Carlson, who set aside his usual jingoism and reckless polemics to argue for taking COVID-19 seriously – the White House’s “don’t-worry-be-happy” baby talk was aggressively parroted. But now that the dear leader has changed his spin, so too have the useful idiots on Fox. (Link to the appalling documentation here; sorry about these links, hope you’re not reading them at mealtime.)
And how about the formerly serious person known as Newt Gingrich, who tweeted: “A reporter asked me today why conservatives were initially so skeptical of the threat of the coronavirus. I tried to explain that one of the dangerous consequences of having a totally dishonest left wing news media was that most Americans discounted their hysteria as phony.”
After decades of opportunistic demonization of the press, typically sparked by accurate criticism of the politician doing the demonizing (a bi-partisan reaction, by the way, from Lyndon Johnson blaming the media for anti-Vietnam War sentiment to Bill Clinton lying about adultery to Barack Obama going after media figures for talking to valid whistleblowers), this garbage from Gingrich was briefly in contention for most “totally dishonest” virus-era rhetoric.
Until I read Wednesday morning’s appalling bid for primacy by the worst op-ed columnist in America, Holman Jenkins Jr. of the Wall Street Journal.
You may recall Jr. as the rocket scientist who asserted that the Market Basket rebellion of 2014 was going to “destroy” the noticeably-thriving supermarket chain, and urged workers faced with a choice between a benevolent boss or a cost-slashing hedge-fund owner to “roll with the change.”
But that was a profile in wisdom compared with Jr.’s vile submission Wednesday, headlined “Questioning the Clampdown.”
“The cost to Americans of the economic shutdown is vast,” he writes. “What are they getting for their money? Essentially less excess demand for respiratory ventilators and other emergency care than can currently be supplied.”
The fact that this means vulnerable seniors might live instead of die is lost on Jr. After all, while “some number of respiratory deaths will be avoided,” keep in mind they will really just be “delayed since we all die.” And after all, “we’ll be spending a lot more than we’ve ever been willing to spend before to avoid flu deaths.”
More: “Italy is the test case for being a day late and dollar short in voluntary social distancing—the steps people can take to reduce their risk of contracting and spreading the disease. But Italy may also be the first to emerge from the tunnel, with everyone having had their chance to get sick, and the country being able to get back to work.”
Unmentioned: more than 2,500 Italians have perished so far. Collateral damage, in Jr.’s moral universe.
But those of you at any age who deal with less-than-perfect health will be delighted by Jr.’s contention that your continued existence may just not be cost-effective.
“Understandably, politicians believe faith in government requires avoiding Italy-like scenes. But turned on its head here is the 50-year-old “QALY” revolution: the idea of measuring the burden of disease and benefit of health care based on “quality-adjusted life year,” typically valued at $50,000 to $150,000. In the present instance, the cost isn’t just medical intervention (e.g., ventilator use) but the cost of an economywide shutdown to limit the number of candidates for ventilation at any one time. I don’t know what the figure is, but the QALY value we are placing on avoiding Italy-like deaths is surely a high multiple of any figure previously considered realistic.”
Let that last line marinate. Consider that editors at one of the world’s leading newspapers published it.
Better still, use its completely amoral premise as a yardstick for judging opinion journalists and politicians.