On the May 13 episode of the daytime talk show The View, one of the “hot topics” taken up by the panel was Sen. Rand Paul’s questioning of Dr. Anthony Fauci at a Senate committee hearing the day before. During their exchange, Paul had declared that lockdown measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus had become too economically burdensome to be worth continuing, and that Fauci, who has consistently supported such measures, was not the “end-all” or the only voice to whom lawmakers should be listening.
After co-hosts Whoopi Goldberg and Sunny Hostin railed against the Kentucky senator for his lack of deference to government scientists and his apparent indifference to the suffering and death that would result if restrictions were lifted prematurely, their colleague Meghan McCain spoke up to defend Sen. Paul’s basic point:
I got more than a few phone calls from friends that are just absolutely despondent. Out of work, can’t work, can’t go anywhere, can’t do anything, and are really looking down the barrel of being unable to pay their mortgage, being unable to feed themselves…. There are a lot of different ways to die from COVID. We’re seeing suicide spikes in unprecedented numbers…. So I think we’re going to have to come to some kind of middle ground because right now there’s a lot of feelings of hopelessness…. We’re going to be sheltering in place, not just to flatten the curve, but…until there are no deaths in America whatsoever. But at the same time we are going to bankrupt this country and not have enough ink and printers to have enough money to get us out of it.
It was a typical exchange for the show. The View’s center-left view du jour—in this case, that opposition to lockdown measures is mostly the result of right-wing naïveté and hostility to government authority—is ordinarily shared by all but one of the co-hosts, with the only objection to that view almost always coming from a self-described “Never Trump conservative” (usually McCain but sometimes stand-in Ana Navarro). This is especially frustrating when the basis of the objection is obviously true, as it was here. Millions of Americans are indeed suffering terrible economic hardship right now, not only because of the direct costs of the pandemic, such as medical bills or funeral expenses for loved ones who have succumbed to the virus, but also because of involuntary unemployment and loss of income caused by state lockdowns. It is entirely rational for people to resent measures that deprive them of their livelihoods.
But the conclusion that Sen. Paul and Meghan McCain draw from this—that the restrictions should be lifted as soon as possible even if it means the virus begins to sicken and kill more people—is completely wrong. For one thing, the tradeoff between public health and economic vitality implicit in this line of thinking is a false one. COVID-19 deaths are not like traffic fatalities, which we could eliminate only with economically intolerable policies such as a ban on all cars and trucks. As countries from New Zealand to Taiwan have already demonstrated, and as states like Alaska and Vermont are well on their way to demonstrating, the now-familiar toolkit of mask-wearing, physical-distancing, travel restrictions, widespread testing, contact tracing, and isolation of the sick can not only “flatten the curve” but can actually eradicate the virus. Places that have effectively ended transmission have certainly suffered economically, but they have also proven that it can be accomplished without destroying society.