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Pretending Covid never happened

Two administrations that bungled the Covid crisis are going to pretend it never really happened.

There he was again, Dr. Anthony Fauci, this time on CBS. Fauci was asked about prolonged school closures by reporter Tony Dokoupil. He proceeded to misrepresent his own history during the pandemic. He said the mistake was not shutting down fast and hard enough in the initial 15 days to flatten the curve. In fact, Fauci initially opposed travel bans, only to damn them later as not strict enough. He said he opposed prolonged school closures. In fact, he constantly implied that children needed to have their school and social development disrupted by masks and distancing until a pediatric vaccine became available.

Congress has been holding Covid hearings. And in recent weeks we’ve been told that there was no real good evidence behind our social distancing or masking. I want a 2024 election that promises truth and reconciliation about the pandemic response, the worst failure of government in my lifetime.

Instead, we are getting a referendum on the last two presidencies. We are going to litigate January 6 and Hunter Biden’s laptop, Russiagate, inflation, the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan, and Biden’s mental competence. All important, sure. But voters who say they were better off four years ago are thinking of life before the pandemic and treating the period of the most extraordinary government intervention into our lives as a completely exogenous event for which nobody can really be blamed. This is a grievous missed opportunity.

I have my own regrets from the Covid era. My ability to read between the lines, to mistrust government sources, and my loathing of respectable liberal opinion made me an early believer that China was downplaying Covid and that the World Health Organization was deliberately trying not to embarrass China. (This turned out to be correct.) They said that the North American flu season was worse (it wasn’t) and that dangerous anti-Chinese racism was spreading faster than the disease. (Also untrue.)

My problem was that I thought when liberal opinion did a 180 from these wrong positions, it would be closer to the truth. In fact, it was just as wrong, only in the opposite direction. At least, I was early in saying that we should not shut down the Covid skeptics. My initial support for extraordinary measures was premised on the idea of avoiding health-care-system collapse, which had partially occurred in Wuhan and Lombardy, Italy. But that danger had long since passed by May of 2020, and the extraordinary measures continued and were sustained by fresh rationales. New variants. And then finally, as a kind of needless tribute to vaccine science, we would just keep restricting people’s lives, making ruinous childhood-development decisions, because maybe a juvenile vaccine might be developed.

A New York Times review of Fauci’s memoir, On Call, explains why Fauci has a villain status among some citizens this way, “People blame him for their bad pandemic experience, as if he’s a waiter who served them the wrong meal and might be hiding what is going on in the kitchen.”

This is presented as if it were preposterous — of course the pandemic is an act of God — but it has been Fauci’s persistent lying and obfuscation about his agency’s role in funding coronavirus research in Wuhan that makes people think he does have something to hide.

Health officials lied constantly — about whether Covid was airborne, about whether they funded gain-of-function research in foreign labs, about whether vaccines prevented transmission, about the efficacy of surgical masks, about the soundness of recommendations for social distancing, about the need for prolonged school closures. They lied cravenly, not just to protect the high opinion of institutional science and medicine but simply to appease liberal opinion. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, changed her school recommendations after a meeting with the head of a teachers’ union.

Our long-serving public-health officials have lied so obviously and so brazenly that they have fed mistrust in scientific findings that long preceded them. The CDC completely failed. When it had a job to do, it could produce no useful or sound scientific guidance nor communicate it effectively. Its first guidance was an anti-Chinese-racism talking point, demonstrating that the authors and the agency were obsessed with the then-current panic among the liberal press rather than with any scientific finding about the novel disease.

We should be breaking up the institutional monopolization of science-research funding within the federal government into several overlapping and competitive new institutions, and some of those should be manned by the few brave scientists and doctors who spoke truth against groupthink during the pandemic. Almost every key player in the Covid drama disgraced themselves, and they and their successors should be reminded of this disgrace every day. Their model should be the dramatic reforms and reinvigoration of the U.S. military in the decades after Vietnam.

But instead we’re going to have an election in which two administrations that basically bungled this crisis are going to pretend it never really happened.

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