When Gavin Newsom debates Ron DeSantis Thursday night on Fox News, voters might finally hear a serious discussion of an issue that most politicians and journalists have wanted to forget: the disastrous mistakes of the COVID-19 pandemic, says John Tierney in City Journal. Here’s an excerpt.
For voters contemplating the 2024 presidential election, that issue is vital, as Covid was by far the most revealing test of leadership over the past four years — not just for those two Governors, but also for Donald Trump and Joe Biden.
With the possible exception of the Great Depression, no domestic crisis of the past century and a half has been more catastrophic for the nation’s social fabric and economy than the Covid pandemic. The Covid virus was much less deadly than the 1918 Spanish flu virus, but Americans suffered vastly more collateral damage this time due to lockdowns and other unprecedented suspensions of fundamental liberties.
As California’s governor, Newsom was the nation’s most zealous Covid authoritarian. His state was the first to lock down and the last to end its state of emergency. Newsom closed parks, beaches, and playgrounds, along with businesses and schools; he outlawed church gatherings for nearly a year, until the Supreme Court overturned the ban. Researchers at the National Bureau of Economic Research ranked California among the slowest states to recover economically from the crisis and dead last in providing in-school instruction to students during the pandemic.
Early this year, Newsom tried to defend his policies and attack those of DeSantis by claiming that California’s cumulative Covid mortality rate was significantly lower than Florida’s. But this was a false comparison. When properly adjusted for the age of each state’s population (Florida has a higher percentage of vulnerable elderly people), the states’ Covid mortality rates show little or no difference. When further adjusted for each state’s relative prevalence of obesity, diabetes and other risk factors, Florida’s Covid mortality rate is significantly lower than California’s, as a rigorous analysis in the Lancet concluded earlier this year. A research team from six universities calculated that Florida had the 12th-lowest state Covid mortality rate, while California had the 15th-highest.
In an NBC interview in September, Newsom switched tactics, conceding that in retrospect he would have adopted different policies. “I think all of us in terms of our collective wisdom, we’ve evolved,” he said. “We didn’t know what we didn’t know. We’re experts in hindsight. We’re all geniuses now.” But he’s wrong about that, too. Plenty of useful information was available early in the pandemic, but he and most other leaders ignored it. They still haven’t learned from their mistakes, which is why California and the Biden administration continue pushing harmful mask and vaccine policies that have been rejected throughout Europe.
While it’s true that political leaders had to contend with uncertainties and terrible guidance from the public-health establishment, it was their job to consider policies’ overall social costs and benefits, not just the daily Covid case count that obsessed the media and the Centres for Disease Control. Elected officials had a duty to defend citizens’ rights against narrowminded bureaucrats and to lead calmly and rationally, protecting and reassuring Americans instead of panicking them into losing their livelihoods and surrendering their liberties.
Newsom flunked this test of leadership. So did Donald Trump and Joe Biden. As President, Trump initially opposed lockdowns, instinctively (and correctly) concluding that the damage would be too great, but he lacked the discipline to analyse the evidence or control Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx. Birx would later boast of having tricked Trump into locking down by pretending that the lockdowns would last only 15 days, then working to ensure they remained in place long-term. Trump later consulted scientists advocating sound policies, but he neglected to follow their advice. He failed to constrain, much less fire, Fauci and Birx, as he and his advisers feared a potential media firestorm in an election year.
Worth reading in full.