By Jeremy Beaman
The second and final presidential debate turned out to be what the first one wasn’t — an actual debate. President Trump and Joe Biden were both relatively disciplined compared to last time around, but that didn’t stop Biden from falling woefully short when asked about one of his major policy vulnerabilities in promoting shutdowns as a method of controlling the coronavirus.
Moderator Kristen Welker did a brilliant job of framing the question, asking Biden whether “the cost of shutdowns, the impact on the economy, the higher rates of hunger, depression, domestic and substance abuse outweighs the risk of exposure” to the coronavirus. That is precisely the question that needs to be asked regarding the merits of shutdowns.
“What I would say is that I’m going to shut down the virus, not the country,” Biden said, which is nice, succinct, and pithy and all, but it’s a ridiculous answer. Will he wave a magic wand, or what?
Biden went on, “It’s [Trump’s] ineptitude that caused the country to have to shut down in large part, why businesses have gone under, why schools are closed, why so many people have lost their living and why they’re concerned.”
Biden has so far been completely unable to defend any cost-benefit analysis in support of shutdowns. Frankly, there isn’t one. The consequences of shutdowns are myriad. Welker pointed to some of them, and Trump did, too. Students who are not in school are suffering learning losses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that more than 1 in 4 adults have considered suicide during the pandemic, an increase over last year. More are suffering from anxiety and depression. Anthony Fauci has pointed out that shutdowns have been harmful for general health. “Bottom line is it is quite disruptive and has deleterious effects on how we handle other diseases,” he said back in September.
Trump should have spent more time negotiating with Nancy Pelosi, Biden said, in order to solve the “real” concerns that Welker laid out. Congress can’t legislate away depression and substance abuse propagated by social isolation. It can provide financial support to people who are struggling financially. That will help, but it is naive to think that a stimulus check is an adequate supplement to all that shutdowns take away. Biden must realize that federal intervention is not the salve for all ills.
Biden acts as if there is a magic wand he would use to command the virus. There is no such thing. In the interim, meaning before there is a cure, policymakers are going to have to discern the public good. They are going to have to weigh the general public interest, which would include the economy and overall health, when they consider how to fight the virus.
Fauci had it right when he told 60 Minutes on Sunday that the country is fatigued with restrictions. It’s not only that people are tired of them or that the country can’t afford to live in a shutdown environment. At this juncture, shutdowns are morally wrong.