Ditch the ‘Doom’: It’s Time for Optimism about a COVID Recovery

A man rests at a closed store in Chinatown in New York, March 25, 2021. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

The quarterback is injured. Disaster struck, and now the back-up is injured too. Enter the plucky third-stringer. On the menu today: fearmongering masquerading as wonkish COVID policy, the confession of Sidney Powell,  and Democrats’ finally stopping their steal attempt in Iowa’s second congressional district.

Wonkish Fearmongering

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the Biden administration, has an odd message for Americans at an odd time. As of Monday, case and hospitalization numbers have seen small bumps over the last week or so. The seven-day average for deaths, too, has seen a slight uptick of around 3 percent. This prompted Dr. Walensky to express her pessimism at a recent press conference:

I’m going to pause here, I’m going to lose the script, and I’m going to reflect on the recurring feeling I have of impending doom.  We have so much to look forward to, so much promise and potential of where we are, and so much reason for hope, but right now I’m scared. I know what it’s like as a physician to stand in that patient room, gowned, gloved, masked, shielded, and to be the last person to touch someone else’s loved one because their loved one couldn’t be there.

Walensky went on to implore Americans “to just please hold on a little while longer” and to warn that the United States’ trajectory has long looked like those of Germany, Italy, and France, which have all seen a “consistent and worrying spike” in recent weeks.

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Meanwhile, Nancy Benac and Zeke Miller at the Associated Press write the following about the Biden administration’s COVID press conferences:

President Joe Biden stays away. The core players stick to their expertise. Data rules.

If the Trump briefings made for more stirring television, the Biden ones are designed to showcase the science-based side of the crisis, with a tone based more on facts than flourish.

They described Walensky’s worries thusly:

. . . Walensky diverted from her script about a recent uptick in hospitalizations and deaths to confess that “right now I’m scared.” Her voice thick with emotion, Walensky said she had a recurring feeling of “impending doom” even though she noted many reasons for hope.

She laid out her fears that the country was headed for a “fourth surge” of the virus if people aren’t more careful, her words commanding headlines and overshadowing the president’s own announcement later in the day about new efforts to expand vaccination programs.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki thought well enough of Benac and Miller’s piece to share it like a press release:

These behaviors exemplify everything wrong with the respective responses of both our public-health officials and the press to the pandemic. There was nothing “wonky” about Walensky’s presentation, or about her admitting to her recurring feelings of “impending doom.” Obviously, there’s nothing to celebrate about any uptick in cases or deaths, but it’s hardly true that the United States is headed for dire straits. The virus becomes less dangerous each and every day as more and more Americans are vaccinated, and the larger trends are so encouraging, these increases can hardly be considered a sign of a surge. Here’s what the CDC data on deaths actually looks like over the long term.

Moreover, there’s a big difference between the U.S. and the trio of European countries Walensky names: More people are fully vaccinated here than have received a first dose in any of the three countries to which Walensky tries to make a 1:1 comparison. Twice as many Americans have received at least one dose as have Germans, Italians, or Frenchmen. It’s difficult to see how Walensky’s comparison is a responsible, evidence-based one, and not an attempt to scare Americans into compliance with even ill-thought-out restrictions.

That’s where the press comes in. From the beginning of the pandemic onward, most in the media have treated any optimism or restriction-lifting as careless and any pessimism as responsible and “wonky.” Which is why Ron DeSantis is still being bashed while Walensky gets lavished with praise for her obviously faulty presentation. It’s an incentive structure that’s entirely out of whack. I wrote this back in December:

The objective of our leadership class during the pandemic should not be to scare Americans into complying with ill-considered regulations, but to devise ones that they will be willing, and even eager, to follow. To favor the former strategy over the latter is to betray a lack of faith in the American people that not only is odious, but has real-world consequences.

Unfortunately, neither the Biden administration nor the press has heeded my advice.

Ding, Dong, the Kraken Is Dead

The Kraken was released this winter, much to the delight of huckster lawyer Sidney Powell. Much to her chagrin, it enters this spring as harpoon-riddled calamari. 

Last week, Powell and her legal team filed a motion to dismiss Dominion Voting Systems’ defamation lawsuit against her. They don’t argue that Powell was telling the truth when she alleged that Dominion, Hugo Chavez, and Joe Biden were in league with a global communist crime syndicate intent on stealing the 2020 presidential election from President Donald Trump. No, now that it’s her that’s been put on the defensive, Powell won’t even argue that she believed her claims to be true at the times she was making them. 

With the money she fraudulently obtained from the Trump supporters she claimed to be fighting for in the bank, Powell is reticent to give away any of it to one of the victims of her lies. In the brief, she contends that “no reasonable person would conclude” that her contentions were “truly statements of fact.” In other words, no one should have taken her seriously — and that’s not coming from CNN, or her conservative critics; That’s coming from Powell herself. The filing even tries to use Powell’s wildly irresponsible rhetoric to her advantage:

Plaintiffs themselves characterize the statements at issue as “wild accusations” and “outlandish claims.” Id. at ¶¶ 2, 60, 97, 111. They are repeatedly labelled “inherently improbable” and even “impossible.” Id. at ¶¶ 110, 111, 114, 116 and 185. Such characterizations of the allegedly defamatory statements further support Defendants’ position that reasonable people would not accept such statements as fact but view them only as claims that await testing by the courts through the adversary process.

And yet, many people — both generally reasonable and unreasonable — did believe the charges Powell laid at the feet of Dominion, among other boogeymen. For the elites who boosted Powell, the incentives were obvious. Many Republicans’ most desperate desire was for Donald Trump to win reelection, and they would reward those who told them that he had. For those laymen without the time to investigate every claim made in the political sphere, it was motivated reasoning and the irresponsibility of trusted voices such as Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley and allied media outlets that led them astray. All of it added up to a vicious feedback loop.

Powell is pleading not guilty to the legal charges against her. Our judicial system may or may not come to the same conclusion. But her filing amounts to more of a confession than an exoneration, and it cements her ultimate legacy as that of an unpatriotic grifter. The damage she’s done to the country and the conservative movement is incalculable. Hopefully we can discard the Kraken’s rotting corpse.

Steal, Stopped

Democrat Rita Hart has finally dropped her bid to replace Mariannette Miller-Meeks as the congressional representative from Iowa’s second district. Miller-Meeks was declared the winner after bipartisan recount and certification processes showed her up by six votes. Hart hoped that the Democratic House majority would overturn the results, but she’s finally thrown in the towel. Ungracious to the end, Hart chalked her loss up to a “toxic campaign of political disinformation” while insisting that Iowans had been “silenced.”

I have my doubts that Hart’s embarrassing post-election efforts will serve her well should she seek a rematch in 2022.

ADDENDUM: Check out National Review‘s excellent editorial on the irresponsible Biden infrastructure plan.

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