Feature 03.18.2020 11 minutes

No, It’s not “Better Safe than Sorry”

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Don’t let the Left use your panic for their gain.

This corona hysteria has run its course. Should we acknowledge the global pandemic? Absolutely. Should we exercise severe precautions? Yes: those who can afford the costs should do so as best we can. But let us not pretend the hysteria surrounding the virus isn’t a thoroughly political phenomenon, another siren call from an exhausted and story-starved media on the brink of a hotly contested election.

In response to the thousand-decibel hysteria, let us step back and take stock. Let us keep a clear head about the virus, let us remember that much of the coverage is directed at political targets, and let us drop this “better safe than sorry” nonsense.

Corona by the Numbers

Is the virus bad? Yes. Are we about to begin killing women and children and burning their remains because they’ve turned into zombies? No. Does the media want you to believe the Andromeda strain has been released? Maybe.

For a snapshot of the hysteria, consider a few recent headlines featured in a quick google search:

150 million Americans could get coronavirus: US projection”

One slide in a leaked presentation for US hospitals reveals that they’re preparing for millions of hospitalizations as the outbreak unfolds”

Gov. DeWine: 100,000 believed to have coronavirus in Ohio, number projected to double every six days”

Here’s the problem. Take a second look at all those headlines beyond the heart-stopping first glance. The 150 million number is a worse-case scenario, amounting to about 46% of the United States population. Contrast that with the best-case scenario: 70 million, or about 21% of the United States population.

There’s more. Read to the bottom of the article, and you’ll find the death rate may amount to something around 1%. Could you imagine a headline that instead read, “1% of Americans may die from coronavirus in the worst-case scenario”? Of course not.

The second headline: “US Hospitals are preparing for millions.” The relevant projection is that 96 million will be hospitalized, with an estimated 480,000 deaths. Put more plainly, the hospitals are predicting that about 29% of the United States population could be hospitalized as a result of the virus, and 0.15% of the United States population could die from it—or about 0.5% of those hospitalized by the virus could result in death.

The third headline claims 100,000 unreported cases in Ohio. That projection is derived from 5 confirmed cases in Ohio, and no deaths reported.

Seeing a trend? The media is little concerned with actual results and completely consumed with the very worst possible projected results.

If you want to get beyond the panic, you’ll need to look at the numbers and find the sources that are providing the raw data. Start by considering this article to see how numbers are adjusted in competing models given different starting assumptions. Then take a look at this statistical graph, updated live based upon raw data from the CDC and elsewhere. Even this article can be helpful in breaking down the demographics of what we know in China and Italy.

Active Political Targets

People love to pretend that humanitarian crises are a breeding ground for apolitical kumbaya. This is laughable. We’re months away from a national election, and there are massive political stakes on both sides of the aisle.

For the Democratic Party, nothing could be more welcome than the chance to distract from a nomination process that has been a total and complete nightmare. At present the radical socialist Bernie Sanders still refuses to back out of the race. Biden, the current front-runner, seems regrettably to be suffering from some sort of mental illness—unable to remember what state he is in, calling for Trump’s re-election, and routinely insulting attendees at his rallies.

This pandemic is the perfect opportunity to turn heads away from all that. Biden and Sanders have been more than eager to claim they would have handled the virus better than Trump. Let us forget that, mere weeks ago, Biden thought Trump’s travel ban against China was xenophobic. And as the once-booming Trump economy tanks, you can practically hear the left-wing press gloating just behind their faux concern.

But the Republican Party stands to gain from this too. Why not take the opportunity of a foreign virus to pound a few more nails into the coffin of globalism? Siphon billions of dollars in coronavirus response to solidify border security, and ensure the European Union is reminded of their glaring failures to contain the virus. Germany’s projection of a 70% infection rate is leaps and bounds greater than America’s worst-case 46%, and as for Italy—let us send our prayers. It’s almost a tailor-made RNC talking point: “We saved our economy, saved our borders, and saved the U.K. from the E.U.”

Meanwhile, anyone who wants to see America in chaos is delighted. From fake news about a national lockdown, to an apparent cyber attack on the Department of Health and Human Services, to a disinformation campaign by foreign entities to sow fear inside the United States: there are vultures circling above, waiting to prey on our fears.

Drop the Idiom

But even more destructive than political cynicism is the overuse of this unfortunately quite sincere idiom: “It’s better safe than sorry.”

The best thing about Trump’s ascendancy in the GOP has been his immunity to Democrat posturing. But when it comes to the coronavirus, Democrats finally have their rhetorical ace in the hole.

They invoke every deepest, darkest, dankest thing we can imagine to stoke America’s fears. And then, if whatever we imagine doesn’t happen, they expect us all to take a deep breath and thank God it didn’t happen…but then, of course, they’ll follow up with a quick shrug and a comforting, “But it could have happened. Better safe than sorry.” It’s a posture of total fear accompanied by no accountability.

This puts Trump in a dangerous position. As long as a few rogue states (e.g. California or New York) can push radical containment policies, the far Left can cast their radical policies as “Better safe than sorry.” Then they’ll turn around and tell the United States, “See? We’ve taken containment seriously. Trump is just calling this whole problem a hoax.”

Or, better yet, what if that worst really does come to pass? Then the Dems are the political saviors who “knew all along.” Now they’re free to push radical policies and they can only be right…because, well, they only had our best interests in mind. That’s exactly how NY Governor Andrew Cuomo played his hissy fit against Trump: if the president doesn’t take full and total control of the distribution of respirators and ventilators, instead of allowing state governors to manage it, Trump—said Cuomo—is putting the whole nation at risk.

If your only means to a peaceful existence is through total and absolute government control, sacrificing moral considerations for political efficiency and turning political tyrants into prophetic messiahs, you have done well to establish the religion of hysteria.

If we want to neutralize this threat, we must be willing to look at the raw data. We must remember that politics is as dirty a game as it has ever been. And we must stop letting the Left dictate the terms of our surrender.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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