No, Fauci’s Not to Blame for our Tanking Economy

For weeks, I’ve watched elements of the MAGA-right impersonate a weather vane in a tornado, snapping in one direction from another whenever some media-conservative tosses out a stray thought on the health crisis. It’s amazing how many contradictory theories can fit into such a short span of time:

I suppose it’s only natural in the cable-news culture so many political enthusiasts live in, and it certainly doesn’t help that our president is famous for advancing reckless, factually-challenged charges.

But I’ve found one emerging theme to be particularly troublesome, in part because it has risen beyond the limits of right-wing blogs and social media, and worked its way into the talking points of national commentators and even elected officials who serve us in Washington.

I’m talking about the notion that Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (and a key figure in our nation’s COVID-19 response), is either intentionally or indifferently sabotaging the U.S. economy.

I’ve read several theories about Fauci’s supposed motivations. Some have centered around alleged incompetence or callousness, an angle surprisingly taken by two Republican U.S. congressmen in a recent op-ed in the Washington Examiner.

Rep. Andy Biggs (Arizona) and Rep. Ken Buck (Colorado) hammered Fauci for relying on data models (designed to forecast COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths) that have repeatedly been revised downward in recent weeks. The two even questioned Fauci’s moral compass, framing him as apathetic and “tone deaf” to the economic damage caused by the employment of his recommendations.

The two also had harsh words for Dr. Debrah Birx, the Trump administration’s Coronavirus Response Coordinator, who shares Fauci’s recommendations. In reference to the practice of including deceased individuals — whose COVID-19 diagnosis was coupled with an underlying condition — in the death numbers, they wrote that it “almost sounds as if she is trying to boost the fatality rate.”

It should be noted that the methodology they’re objecting to is the same one we’ve long used for recording other virus-related deaths, including the flu. It’s not exactly a controversial process to anyone outside of politics.

“Birx also recently indicated that we should not open up the country yet because there might be a second time around for the virus,” Biggs and Buck added. “Has she considered the economic destruction she is content with wreaking on the nation?”

More colorful theories suggest that Fauci is engaging in a “deep state” political power-play (funded by George Soros or Bill Gates), or of harboring some left-wing, anti-business ideology.

The common threads in all of these arguments are that:

  1. The health crisis is grossly overblown
  2. Fauci and company needlessly drove our economy into a deep ravine, and therefore should be removed
  3. None of this is President Trump’s fault; he’s an innocent victim like the rest of us
  4. We should immediately re-open our economy

Bill Bennett even said earlier today that “this was not and is not a pandemic, but we do have panic and pandemonium as a result of the hype of this.”

I think all of these takes are absurd, and frankly dangerous.

Let’s look at the modeling issue first. These models are published by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx study and use them when advising President Trump and others. Why have these models been revised over the weeks and days? The short answer is that when more data becomes available, and when conditions on the ground change, so do the forecasts.

For a longer answer, the Washington Examiner’s Jay Caruso does a good job of explaining things:

“Data modeling is not an exact science. It can be frustrating when forecast models change. We see it all the time with hurricanes. Having lived in eastern Florida for 14 years, I know all too well what it is like to have the state placed under a state of emergency with mandatory evacuations and witness items such as water fly off the shelves. We’d then watch as the potentially dangerous hurricane changed course and headed out to the depths of the Atlantic Ocean.

The COVID-19 forecasts operate under the same set of rules. Public health models provide possible scenarios designed to inform policy decisions but can change over time…

…The notion that data modeling is static or that updating estimates based on new information means the original estimates were ‘wrong’ is nonsensical, and using it to question someone’s motives and advance a political agenda as it relates to the economic situation is dangerous.”

It would be interesting to hear from the naysayers on which models — if not those from the University of Washington — we should have paid attention to, and which ones we should be paying attention to now. Are there better models out there? Better sources of data? Better studies? Do these “critics” even know or care?

Or do they think we should have been blowing off the models altogether, and just sort of winged our containment and mitigation responses to a highly contagious, deadly virus that no one on this planet had been exposed to until just a few month ago? And do they think that because the numbers have been revised downward, what we’ve been doing in regard to extreme social distancing has had nothing (or virtually nothing) to do with it?

How about all of the other countries who’ve employed similar strategies, and reported demonstrated success? Are they doing it wrong too?

Hey, maybe Bill Bennett knows something that the top disease-control experts in the world don’t.

In regard to the idea that Fauci and company just don’t care about our country’s deep economic suffering (and the societal and emotional toll it’s taking on so many), let’s say — purely for the sake of a completely ridiculous argument — that they don’t. Let’s say they couldn’t care less about anyone’s paychecks, or their business, or their financial investments…

What would be the relevance of such sentiment? Fauci didn’t shut anything down. He doesn’t have dictatorial powers. He’s a medical expert who offers advice in his area of expertise. He’s not an economist, nor does he pretend to be. He’s not an elected representative, nor does he have the power to enact public policy.

His job, in regard to the coronavirus crisis, is to make informed recommendations and field questions on public health concerns. That’s it.  Economic considerations are neither his wheelhouse nor his responsibility, and that’s how it should be.

Those who believe that we should throw caution to the wind and “open the economy” right now should stop wasting time smearing the character of respected physicians. Instead, they should start directing their complaints at those who we elect to enact public policies. I’m talking about Trump. I’m talking about state governors who actually have quite a bit more power than Trump does in a crisis like this. Those are the people we hire to surround themselves with good information and advice, consider different points of view, and determine the best course of action. It’s their job to find the proper balance of public health and economic revival, not Fauci’s.

But if you’re intent on buying into this narrative that Trump and the rest of these folks are just hapless victims, who were duped by a couple of physicians into bludgeoning the U.S. economy for no real reason, what’s your recourse? It seems to me that an elected leader so breathtakingly stupid couldn’t possibly be fit to serve another term in office. Heck, maybe they should even be impeached for gross negligence.

But none of the people attacking Fauci would ever propose this, and the reason is obvious. They need a convenient villain to take the political heat — that comes from a devastated economy — off of Trump (and by extension, the GOP). And for now, that villain will be Dr. Anthony Fauci, arguably the highest-profile member of the coronavirus response team — a guy who the press loves, and who’s known for publicly contradicting Trump’s sometimes careless rhetoric with facts. (In fact, that perceived “upstaging” had already put Fauci on the bad side of Trump fans, and reportedly Trump himself).

I for one hope Dr. Fauci sticks it out, and keeps offering his honest views and expertise, regardless of the partisan trash being tossed at him. Right now, our country needs wise men… not sacrificial lambs.