In the course of his young political career, Marco Rubio has been a Tea Partier, a Reformicon, and a neoconservative. Now he’s auditioning for the role of MAGA FAN #7 by trying to paint Anthony Fauci as the real villain of the pandemic. His strategy seems to be: Dazzle the Trumpenproletariat so completely that they adopt him as their new king.
It’s adorable. The political equivalent of leaving your husband in hopes of catching the eye of pharma bro Martin Shkreli.
Over the weekend, Rubio paused from tweeting Bible verses in order to suggest . . . well, I don’t want put words Liddle Marco’s mouth. See for yourself:
Of course, being “elite” is really a state of mind. If you went to the University of Pennsylvania and live in a private, oceanside, gated club, you’re not elite. If you went to Harvard and own a tower on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, you’re not elite either. And if you’re a healthy 49-year-old with no risk-factors who jumps to the head of the COVID vaccine line just because you’re a U.S. senator?
That’s not being elite either. The poor guy was tricked into getting the shot. By that awful Fauci guy. Probably.
For guys like Rubio—and Joni Ernst, who also jumped to get the vaccine ahead of front-line healthcare workers after claiming that she thought COVID was NBD and that the real number of deaths from the virus was under 10,000—this is all just kabuki theater. They belong to a party that is populated by people who hate “elites.” So they have to hate “elites,” too. And since the definition of who or what is “elite” is infinitely elastic, Rubio tries to butch up whenever there’s a clear target.
And since Donald Trump hates Anthony Fauci, then Fauci is, ipso facto, an elite. Period, the end.
Nothing else matters.
For instance, Fauci did not “lie” about wearing masks.
At the very beginning of the arrival of the virus, Fauci counseled against wearing masks before spending the next ten months urging people to wear them.
Why this change? In mid-February, there were few cases of COVID-19 in America, and Fauci has said he thought it would be best to save the masks for the first responders and medical professionals dealing with the sick, since masks were, at the time, in very short supply. You can try to lawyer this basic truth seven ways to Sunday if you want, but that’s all it is: lawyerly word games.
And these word games are done in bad faith. Because you’ll notice that there are still people—big, famous, Republican people—who ostentatiously refuse to wear masks in high-risk situations. And Marco Rubio, who is absolutely outraged that Fauci didn’t command every American to go out and buy up N95s in February, has absolutely nothing to say about them.
It’s also bad faith because calling Fauci a liar purposefully ignores how little was known about SARS-Cov-2 in February and March. For instance, remember how much time and energy was spent worrying about dealing with transmission through fomites early in the pandemic? But it turns out that the virus does not spread easily through surface transmission.
In the same vein, our understanding of asymptomatic transmission of COVID has changed as well. As Fauci told the Washington Post in July, “We didn’t realize the extent of asymptotic spread. What happened as the weeks and months came by, two things became clear: one, that there wasn’t a shortage of masks, we had plenty of masks and coverings that you could put on that’s plain cloth…so that took care of that problem. Secondly, we fully realized that there are a lot of people who are asymptomatic who are spreading infection. So it became clear that we absolutely should be wearing masks consistently.”
No matter how Team Red Hat wants to categorize Fauci’s statements, this is not a “lie.” This is changing one’s position based on new information as it becomes available.
Ditto Fauci’s statements on the proper level America needed to obtain to achieve “herd immunity.” In an interview with the New York Times, Fauci acknowledged that he has slowly been adjusting the necessary herd immunity rate upwards, from 60 percent to 70 percent, then to 75 percent, then to “75- to 80-plus percent.”
Fauci noted he changed his projections “partly based on new science, and partly on his gut feeling that the country is finally ready to hear what he really thinks.”
A group of prominent epidemiologists supported Fauci’s position when they told the Times the early range of 60 to 70 percent was almost “undoubtedly too low,” and with the virus becoming more transmissible, “it will take greater herd immunity to stop it.”
Again, contra Rubio, this was not a “lie.” For one, Fauci’s estimate is essentially meaningless—it is an estimate of something that will actually happen, independently, in the real world. We will achieve “herd immunity” when the number of people who have developed antibodies, either through infection or immunization, slows and then stops the spread of the virus in the population. We will find out what it is when we get there, but even that final tally will be a statistical construct based on approximations and surveys. Will the final number for “herd immunity” be 68 percent? Or 72 percent? Or 74.684021 percent?
No one knows and further, it does not matter. To claim that an epidemiologist is “lying” when their ballpark estimate of what it will take to reach herd immunity for a novel coronavirus slides around by a few percentage points is blinkered.
Actually, that’s not true. Because Rubio isn’t doing this because he’s stupid. He’s doing it because he’s an ambitious coward desperate to earn the approval of a deranged man who still has a chokehold on the Republican party.
And it only serves to sow distrust among the segment of the population which already views scientific expertise as a marker of the evil “elites.”
Since the pandemic began, Donald Trump has belted out falsehood after falsehood, downplaying the virus and costing Americans their lives by the hundreds of thousands. For months, Trump claimed the cases were only going up because testing was being increased. He continued to hold superspreader campaign events in states where cases and deaths were surging.
In early February, Trump literally told Bob Woodward he knew how dangerous the virus was, but was downplaying it to the public “in order to reduce panic.” Does Marco Rubio have anything to say about this “lie”?
Of course not. Trying to undercut Fauci is simply a tactic meant to appeal to the most deranged voting bloc of the GOP—the QAnon-friendly conspiracy theorists who bought into the “Plandemic” hoax that suggested Fauci had created the coronavirus as a money-making scheme.
And when Rubio beats up on Fauci, what he’s really doing is signaling that he thinks those people are in charge of his party.
Which, if you squint real hard, might be a public service. Of a sort.