By Bryn Lauer
Political parties define themselves with blanket statements. For Democrats, these statements are often paired with increased government, whereas Republicans will not let you leave a conversation without having the government sworn away as one of society’s most imminent threats. It pains me to see both parties try to apply their political philosophies over a wide array of subjects, expecting an outcome that holds true to their idealized worlds. There is a disconnect between philosophizing about the world and living in it, and it is much more sound to evaluate issues along the lines of relativism, where context is so vital and complex that general beliefs hardly touch the surface. This has been especially true with the onslaught of the coronavirus. Captives to their laissez-faire, liberty reigns beliefs, certain Republican voices have used this pandemic to supplant their political agendas by crying foul to every move of expansion the government makes. As an officer for the College Republicans, this may come as a surprise, but I cannot watch idly as self-righteous members of the GOP preach from their soapboxes in a moment where their policies do more harm than good.
One truth, in particular, cannot be ignored. At first, conservatives downplayed the virus. Rush Limbaugh, a regular on Fox, made the claim that the media was hyping the virus for more than it was, citing it to be no worse than a common flu. Sean Hannity, who at first downplayed the virus and then later changed course, implied that Democrats were making the virus a political smear against the President. Tomi Lahren claimed that she was more concerned with stepping on a “used heroin needle” than contracting it. Hell, even our President himself claimed the virus was a hoax in late February at a South Carolina rally. Save for Tucker Carlson, who saw the threat of the virus for what it was in February, the amount of faith that conservatives have put into their President, and subsequently the government they swear against, has caused them to discredit facts that don’t align with their worldview.
Granted, some liberal outlets and even the CDC were not adamant early on about the dangers of the virus, but nonetheless, the focus on its politicization was immediate and shortsighted. Most people are accustomed to living cozily in America where we are privileged beyond our needs, and watching helplessly as an external threat brings the country to its knees in a matter of weeks should be a wake-up call—but political beliefs get in the way. For certain Republicans, it was easier to ignore the virus than it was to forfeit—even temporarily—the idea that our beloved country, the touted unstoppable superpower with modern technology and vast swaths of wealth, is vulnerable and unequipped for a crisis. Considering the military relayed information to the Trump Administration in 2017 that we lacked a pandemic response plan, the lack of preventative action was a harsh sting. The Department of Health and Human Services ran a simulation last year and found, similarly, we were never prepared to handle a pandemic. Rather than use government for its intentions, their services were blatantly ignored. Our country is mortal and has many flaws that cannot necessarily be blamed on the size of our government. Size will never matter unless we first focus on government effectiveness, and until this is achieved, we must realize that we will never truly be secure in our country.
Conservatives love the idea that people reap what they sow, dismissing poverty and racial inequality as the fault of individuals in an otherwise well-functioning society. In the case of the virus, however, no one deserves infection nor brings it on willingly. The only ones who do are those who ignore social distancing efforts. It is frightening to think conservatives will forgo the potential of saving their fellow American’s life for the sake of putting oneself first to the likes of Ayn Rand’s rational self-interest. Forget collectivism versus individualism; someone who fails to stay quarantined in these times has the potential to harm and kill other people. Yet conservative media is pushing back against prolonged social distancing efforts. The uncomfortable truth is that government-mandated social distancing is necessary for saving lives, even if it means we must give up our liberties for a period of time. Looking at the facts, San Francisco, which began a shelter-in-place order on March 17th, is experiencing half the rate of infections as the rest of California. What’s more, the decline in cases appeared nine days after the order, consistent with the anticipated delay. New York City is finding social distancing to be working so well that the projected numbers of cases have been lowered, even if they still are the hotspot in the country. Austria, Denmark, and the Czech Republic, all of which implemented some of the earliest and strictest lockdowns in Europe, are looking to reopen certain businesses and ease travel restrictions throughout mid-April.
Rather than resolve the incompatibility of conservative belief and government mandates, conservatives are sticking with what they know. They especially falter when the economy is at stake, watching as GOP lawmakers approve billions in stimulus even as the market tanks. Trump has claimed on Twitter and in public hearings that social distancing is more harmful than stalling the economy. Dennis Prager remarked, “…That attitude, that the only value is saving a life … it leads to cowardice.” Candace Owens claims that there should be no end to freedom when you are scared, calling those who social distance people who live in a “media reality.” Owens does not realize that her right to freedom might be the end of another’s life. Of course, there will be no economy to save if all of our workers are in the ICU, suffering from the long-term health consequences associated with respiratory illnesses, or dead. The burden on the economy will be devastating, but the healthcare system may altogether collapse, exacerbating the time we must wait to reenter the markets. Easing on social distancing orders overwhelms hospitals and prevents people from treatment by life-saving ventilators and equipment they would otherwise receive. It is not even a guarantee that people will want to go outside and engage with businesses, even if there are no governmental consequences.
Government and the private sector will be more intricately intertwined for the rest of the year, and conservatives need to embrace this. Rather than fight it, they ought to stand guard for the welfare of the free market. We do not want a similar outcome as experienced during and after the previous SARS and MERS outbreaks, where pharmaceuticals, lacking incentives, failed to release new drugs despite the outpouring of public information from private labs. There was no market to invest in, no long-term assistance from any governments, and entrepreneurs lost interest. Today, legislation such as the proposed Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act threatens to leverage price controls and taxes on pharmaceutical companies that, in 2018, devoted $80 billion to research. We are at a critical moment, where companies in the private sector ranging from well-established businesses, such as Amazon to 3D printing companies, are stepping up by pioneering dozens of potential vaccines and life-saving equipment. Rather than belittle the government for stifling pharmaceutical growth, conservatives ought to do the unthinkable and lobby for government incentives for the broadening of innovation. We cannot let the private sector be burdened with taxes and overbearing controls, at least not long-term. We can use the government for our advantage while holding it accountable at the same time. For instance, the plight of conservatives and others who have exposed federal regulations that have slowed private drug companies and doctors from studying cures has led to a faster clearance process over these past months. Since 2004, laboratories have needed to request permission from the FDA for diagnostic tests and medical treatments, but now laboratories can use tests without clearance. This is a step in the right direction, but conservatives have to be careful in how they proceed this year with the relationship between the public and private sectors.
Government intervention is necessary in this global crisis, but we need a smart government. The fight between slashing governmental services and shoveling taxpayer dollars into every nook and cranny has been a distraction against a more prominent issue that is clearer than ever before. The systems that have been put in place to protect us from a pandemic such as this have vastly underperformed. Money is not always an indication of performance; if we are paying for services, we might as well get our money’s worth. Had the government taken the warning signs of the military and DHHS seriously, perhaps so many would not have been lost. If the CDC and FDA were better managed—not funded, as they are bloated enough—maybe we would have more test kits and equipment. Had the government mandated a lockdown early on, we might already be on a downward trend and ready to open again for business. If we had not outsourced our manufacturers to foreign countries, we would not be so reliant on the courtesy of others.
In the meantime, the stimulus checks, paid family leave, and bailouts, are quick fixes. The sooner we can get out of this, the sooner the free market can get to work. But if left to our own devices, we will never get there, which will invoke further government intervention down the line. Conservatives, do not be afraid to call out your leaders. When Trump promises that every American can get tested if they want, and when that does not happen, say so. When Candace Owens claims that hospitals report inflated COVID-19 deaths for the purposes of funding, call her out. As right-wing groups such as those in Idaho begin to hold public meetings in direct defiance of social distancing, get mad. We do this so that no American is disregarded, so that nurses and doctors like my father do not have to watch any more people die who could have otherwise been saved. Don’t fall prey to party loyalty, the world is so much more than that. When all goes back to normal, end the bickering over the quantity of our government, and focus instead on its quality. And remember, we can do hard things.