Politico writer John Harris found himself a particularly high horse to climb on Thursday when he accused conservatives of engaging in a smarmy sort of “moral relativism” in their cries to reopen America. Harris said that Republican leaders should at least be honest about the decision they’ve made for their constituents: Namely, that they’ve come to the conclusion that it is acceptable to let people die as a sacrifice to the almighty dollar.
“Like [Colorado governor Jared] Polis, I am willing to accept that some people must die in order to accommodate the return to whatever the post-pandemic version of normal is,” writes Harris. “Perhaps unlike Polis, I have a strong preference that ‘some people’ doesn’t end up including me. I’ll extend the same wish for anyone who happens to be reading this column. The fact that the governor—like his Republican counterpart in Georgia, Brian Kemp, like Nancy Pelosi or Donald Trump—doesn’t know specifically who will die of coronavirus makes their choice of how fast to open less excruciating but no less profound in its moral implications.”
The thing that Harris doesn’t get – the thing that most liberals calling for a prolonged shutdown don’t get – is that the coronavirus isn’t the only killer out there. Starvation kills, for one thing. Poverty kills. Depression and isolation have the capacity to kill. These latter may be indirect killers, but they are no less potent in their ability to take human life. If we keep this economy shut down for another six months (or another year, or another however long it takes to come up with a vaccine), we are condemning people to die – no less certainly than if we held mandatory state-wide raves every day for the next week.
That’s not even getting into the fact that there are killer diseases and health conditions out there that are going untreated because of the coronavirus shutdown. Studies have shown that pediatric visits are down as much as 70% due to the coronavirus precautions. Granted, some of this is undoubtedly due to parents being concerned about bringing their kids into germ-ridden doctors’ offices, but we also can’t ignore the fact that many doctors are refusing to see patients right now for the sake of social distancing. What kinds of conditions are being missed because of these lapsed visits? How many vaccines are children skipping?
When it comes to adults, the same concepts apply. Elective surgeries are being postponed. That doesn’t always mean face lifts and tummy tucks. Even important heart surgeries and cancer treatments are being postponed in many areas. What kind of a health crisis could that lead to given another two or three months? It’s not a stretch to imagine that it could be worse than anything posed by COVID-19.
We’re not saying that any of this is an argument for throwing open the doors of every restaurant and baseball stadium in the country. But we’re just about tired of pro-lockdown enthusiasts pretending that this is a black-and-white choice between life and death. It isn’t that simple. Not by a long shot.