Big Tent Ideas

Experts Disgraced Themselves By Prioritizing Woke Politics Over Public Health

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James P. Pinkerton Former Fox News Contributor
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COVID-19 has taken more than 98,000 American lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a tragic tally. And yet, so far it rates as a relatively mild contagion, along the lines of the 1968 flu virus, which killed 100,000 in the United States, or the 1957-1958 virus, which killed 116,000. In both of those earlier epidemics, of course, the population of the nation was much smaller.

The level of wokeness has been, well, bubonic. Some of that ostentatious political correctness was evident in February, when public health officials, led by the president of the “Woke Health Organization,” told us that the real danger from coronavirus was an upsurge in racism and xenophobia, against Asians or anyone else. Thus the initial dubbing of the malady as the “Wuhan virus” — in keeping with past practice, focusing on a bug’s geographic origins — was quickly canceled.

Here at American Renewal, I published a piece headlined, “How Wokeness Endangers Public Health.” As I put it, “The coronavirus will hopefully not be the worst pandemic, but it’s surely shaping up to be wokest pandemic.” At the time, I had no idea as to the lethality of the virus — and only an inkling as to the extremity of the wokeness.

In that piece, I quoted Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, who spoke for the new PC orthodoxy when she declared, “fighting coronavirus with travel bans is a mistake.” In other words, the most basic idea of public health — separating the pathogen from its potential targets — was not to be considered, because it violated the borderless ideology of John Lennon’s utopian ode, “Imagine.”

Now, four months later, many in the public health establishment are back to fighting racism, as they imagine it. To them, that’s a much higher priority than fighting the virus.

On June 4, Politico — not exactly a hotbed of right-wingers — noted the new emphasis, headlining its story, “Suddenly, Public Health Officials Say Social Justice Matters More Than Social Distance.” As the article put it, the new party line is “confounding to many who spent the spring strictly isolated on the advice of health officials, only to hear that the need might not be so absolute after all.”

And yes, that reminds me — as you might recall as well — that in between the preoccupation with the “r” word, racism, there was the preoccupation of the “l” word, lockdown. Yes, from February to late May, Big Public Health had a prescription for the rest of us: put the economy in a coma. (RELATED: One Nation, Under Lockdown, Divided By Pandemic)

In fairness to the lockdowners, we might recall that in February and March, nobody really knew the impact of the virus; so one could argue that a temporary lockdown was a good idea, just so we could take stock of the situation. We are, after all, still figuring out how to handle epidemics in the era of globalized travel and supply chains.

Moreover, we should allow for the simple reality that even the best-intentioned will make mistakes; thus we can perhaps contextualize what we can now recognize as disastrous public-health decisions.

For instance, it took a while to figure out that shutting down the jobs of working people wasn’t such a good idea, when few of them were jeopardized by the virus. At the same time, moving COVID-19 carriers out of hospitals and into nursing homes was a really bad idea — because the elderly were, and are, highly jeopardized. That’s why 80% of COVID-19 deaths have been among those 65 and older.

Okay, we’re still learning. And so after a few weeks, we should have learned: We should have changed our policies and resolved to turn the COVID crisis into a teachable moment — a case study in what not to do.

Yet as we all know, the public-health authorities and the politicians who have listened to them chose to dig in their heels, sticking with an obviously catastrophic lockdown policy. Why? Perhaps because the “experts” were stubbornly attached to their mental paradigm. Or perhaps because they just don’t care much about what happens to Middle America — and maybe they even take delight in sticking it to those who might be “racist.”

In fact, lockdown was the public-health party-line until the May 25 death of George Floyd. Then, as protesters — joined, of course, by rioters and looters — filled the streets, the health “experts” cheered them on, lockdown be damned.

Indeed, that Politico article quoted the same Nuzzo, of the well-funded Bloomberg School, saying, “In this moment the public health risks of not protesting to demand an end to systemic racism greatly exceed the harms of the virus.” (RELATED: The Left Exploits The Trauma Of Racism)

Others in the public health apparat are making similar points. For instance, Osagie K. Obasogie, a bioethicist at the University of California at Berkeley, wrote that the real public-health problem is the “police violence pandemic.”

For perspective on that claim, we might note that in 2019, 235 black Americans were shot to death by the police, as well as 769 of other races. Even those death totals, put together, do not qualify as a “pandemic.” (For further perspective, we might note in 2018, the latest year for which data are available, 7,407 black people were murdered, as part of 14,123 Americans overall.)

Out of such situational advocacy, and shoddy scholarship, comes the reputational ruin of the public-health profession.

Surveying this intellectual wreckage, George Packer, writing for The Atlantic — neither he, nor his magazine, being conservative — was moved to declare “Public-health experts, caught between their science and their politics, are trying to talk around this harsh fact, and in doing so they’re destroying their own hard-won authority.”

To be sure, not every public-health expert outed himself, herself or they-self as a PC wokester. Indeed, the profession might yet clean up its act and thereby recover from its current spate self-destruction. Let’s hope so, because honest public health is, after all, a life-saving subject.

Yet in the meantime, the economic and psychic damage done to the nation by this gross professional misconduct has been staggering. Yes, the woke is upon us — and it isn’t funny.

James P. Pinkerton, a former White House domestic policy aide to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, has been a Fox News contributor since 1996. 

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