Fauci, Walensky, and a Liberal Double-Standard for CriticismRoundup
tags: disability rights, centers for disease control, Anthony Fauci, Rochelle Walensky
Jonathan Zimmerman teaches education and history at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the co-author (with cartoonist Signe Wilkinson) of Free Speech and Why You Should Give a Damn.
Remember when Fox News commentator Lara Logan compared infectious disease chief Dr. Anthony Fauci to Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor who performed medical experiments on concentration camp prisoners? My fellow liberals responded with shock and outrage, and appropriately so. It was a heinous slur against a great public servant and a horrible distortion of history.
But when disability rights groups charged CDC director Rochelle Walensky earlier this month with perpetuating eugenics — a doctrine embraced by the Nazis — we mostly sat on our hands. And that speaks volumes about the state of American politics right now. We don’t judge statements based on their fairness or accuracy; all that matters is who is talking, and whether they’re on our team.
The accusations against Walensky stemmed from an interview she gave on “Good Morning America,” where she noted that more than 75% of people who have died from COVID-19 had “at least four co-morbidities” — that is, four conditions making them “unwell to begin with.” That’s “really encouraging news in the context of omicron,” Walensky added.
Advocates for the disabled pounced on her remarks, claiming that Walensky implied that people with these conditions should die. “Good to know eugenics is now official Biden team policy,” one critic tweeted.
But that’s a twisted interpretation of Walensky’s comments, and also of her career. We’re talking about someone who has devoted her professional life to research about — and care for — people with HIV/AIDS. And she has drawn on that experience to fight the COVID pandemic, as she noted in a ceremony after President Biden appointed her.
“I saw firsthand how the virus ravaged bodies and communities,” Walensky said. She also saw how HIV/AIDS patients — mostly gay men — were “stigmatized and marginalized” by our society, she added. “Now a new virus is ravaging us,” Walensky warned. “It’s striking hardest, once again, at the most vulnerable, the marginalized, the underserved.”
A eugenicist? Please. Eugenics was the pseudo-science of human breeding, developed mainly by white racists in the United States and later institutionalized — with awful precision — by the Nazis. It insisted that social, medical and demographic policies should favor the “strong” — meaning able-bodied straight white Christians — over everyone else.
Walensky has spent her life doing the opposite: that is, helping the least fortunate among us. Of course she wasn’t saying they should just die off. She was “encouraged” by the fact that most Americans aren’t dying of COVID, not by the fact that people with other health problems are more likely to succumb to it.
After her comments came under attack, Walensky tweeted that the CDC was “taking steps to protect those at highest risk,” including people with “chronic health conditions, disabilities, and older adults.” But that wasn’t enough to quell her critics, of course. “The CDC Director admitted to eugenics policy,” science writer Erin Biba tweeted, “and the best she can do in response is nebulous, non-specific ‘taking steps.’”