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Douglas Andrews / Jul. 8, 2020

Fauci's Outsized Influence

The diminutive doctor is all-powerful but doesn't seem to see the big picture.

Time was when we all knew who the most powerful man in the world was — the man whose mere presence commanded both attention and respect, and whose easiest utterance caused tyrants to tremble and nations to quake.

Through no fault of his own, however, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell lost that title a few months back — to Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Think about it: A few upbeat or downcast words from the media darling of the Trump administration’s Coronavirus Task Force can move the markets – most notably the jobs market for millions of American workers. And if his words can work their will on Wall Street, they can certainly affect presidential politics. Indeed, they have, whether intentionally or not. The American people are sick of this coronavirus, and they’re not blaming Tony Fauci for it; they’re blaming Donald Trump.

The president thus answers to no man — except the 5-foot 7-inch pharmacist’s kid from Brooklyn.

Fauci, 79, seems oddly cast as the Big Man of the Beltway. He’s been an advisor to every president since Ronald Reagan, and he’s been the director of the National Institute on Allergy and Infectious Disease since 1984. If anyone had ever seemed settled in a role and on a glide path to retirement, it was Fauci.

Then the Chinese coronavirus hit, and Fauci’s status and experience made him a natural choice — an undeniable choice — for the president’s Coronavirus Task Force. And he’s been a pain in the president’s butt ever since.

Fauci, for all his scientific strengths, doesn’t seem to understand the real-life consequences of his public pronouncements. When he says, for example, that a too-quick return to normalcy will result in “needless suffering and death,” he sends a shockwave through governor’s mansions and city halls across the nation. And then state and local leaders tighten their grip on the rest of us, and then we dutifully return to our odd and risk-free existence — all for our own good, we’re told.

When Fauci talks of needless suffering and death, he sounds like President Truman trying to decide whether to drop the bomb or invade the mainland. But he’s not, and he isn’t. Fauci has a lucrative government job and a retirement plan to kill for, and the same can probably be said for his entire social circle. But there’s a private sector, also, to which the vast majority of us belong. And needless suffering and death come in many forms and from many causes — including depression, drug addiction, child abuse, spousal battery, suicide, and murder. Fauci, sadly, seems incapable of striking a balance here. He seems intent — benignly but ruinously intent — on saving every last one of us.

More recently — Tuesday, in fact — Fauci said this: “It’s a false narrative to take comfort in a lower rate of death. There’s so many other things that are very dangerous and bad about this virus. Don’t get yourself into a false complacency.”

Since when is taking comfort in a significantly lower death rate as reported by a renowned Stanford epidemiologist a “false narrative”?

Perhaps the president’s Coronavirus Task Force was doomed from the start — doomed by a simple statement with a glaring omission: “The Task Force will lead the Administration’s efforts to monitor, contain, and mitigate the spread of the virus,” went the initial press release, “while ensuring that the American people have the most accurate and up-to-date health and travel information.”

It’s hindsight, of course, but “to monitor, contain, and mitigate the spread of the virus and its economic impact” has a much better ring to it. Instead, the statement lists the talented task-force members, not a single one of whom belongs to the private sector, and not a single one of whom is serving the president in an economic advisory role.

To be fair, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and economist Larry Kudlow were added to the task force a little more than a month later, but that was an important month. And it appears that the president was given some bad advice by Senate Republicans shortly thereafter. As The Hill reported, “Senators told Trump that Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has done a great job so far and that they would like to see him become the face of the federal government’s response.”

So there you have it. And he’s been untouchable ever since — kind of like MacArthur was, right up until the moment Truman fired him.

Anthony Fauci isn’t perfect, nor does he claim to be. But he’s made some pretty glaring mistakes along the way — mistakes that might well have gotten a regular guy canned. He also lied about the effectiveness of masks, and this naturally makes one wonder: Are there any other issues about which he’s being less than candid?

The point in all this wasn’t to deride or demonize Dr. Fauci. It’s simply to state that no one person — especially an unelected person — should have so much influence over such far-reaching and monumental public-policy decisions. Not now, and not ever again.

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