Douglas Andrews / July 30, 2020

The Best Case Ever for Limited Government?

Heather Mac Donald lays bare a four-month run of ruinous public-policy encroachments.

“Over the last four months, Americans have lived through what is arguably the most consequential period of government malfeasance in U.S. history.”

So begins a recent lecture delivered to Hillsdale College by the inimitable Heather Mac Donald, who then goes on to analyze the overreaction by our nation’s public officials to the Wuhan coronavirus — an overreaction that quickly brought our lives to a screeching halt and has wreaked untold havoc on us ever since.

Mac Donald is the E.F. Hutton of commentary on matters ranging from the diversity industry to criminal justice and policing: When she talks, thoughtful people listen.

Even leftists pay attention to Mac Donald, albeit while gnashing their teeth. After all, she’s smarter than they are — much smarter, in fact, if degrees from Yale, Cambridge, and Stanford Law still hold sway in faculty lounges. (Admittedly, some on the Left prefer to just cancel her — like the student petitioners and their assistant professors at Claremont McKenna College. To them, she’s nothing more than “a fascist, a white supremacist, a warhawk, a transphobe, a queerphobe, [and] a classist” who’s “ignorant of interlocking systems of domination that produce the lethal conditions under which oppressed peoples are forced to live.” Anyway.)

“Public officials’ overreaction to the novel coronavirus put American cities into a coma,” Mac Donald continues. “Those same officials’ passivity in the face of widespread rioting threatens to deliver the coup de grâce. Together, these back-to-back governmental failures will transform the American polity and cripple urban life for decades.”

It sounds a bit overwrought at first, but the more one reads (and we recommend every word of it), the more convincing her case becomes.

“Never before,” she writes, “had public officials required millions of lawful businesses to shut their doors, throwing tens of millions of people out of work. They did so at the command of one particular group of experts — those in the medical and public health fields — who viewed their mandate as eliminating one particular health risk with every means put at their disposal. … [And yet] Italian health data showed that the coronavirus was terribly lethal to a very small subset of the population — the elderly infirm — and a minor health problem to nearly everyone else who was not already severely ill.”

We wondered even back in March why we were shutting down our schools and locking up nearly everyone and everything for a virus that overwhelmingly preyed on the elderly. Couldn’t we, perhaps, have quarantined everyone over 70 until the collective genius of the American people got this thing under control with smarter behavior, better therapeutics, and an eventual vaccine? Couldn’t we have kept our vital economic engine running, at least? Apparently not.

And then came the wrongful death in Minneapolis of a career criminal and unworthy martyr named George Floyd. And then the looting, and the firebombings, and the statue-toppling, and the shootings, and the autonomous zones, and the not-so-peaceful protests in Democrat-run cities from coast to coast.

“Blue state governors and mayors ordered law enforcement to stand down or use at most (in New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s words) a ‘light touch’ with the rioters,” writes Mac Donald. “By the time these progressive public leaders realized that something more forceful needed to be done, it was too late. The fire of sadism and hatred could not be contained, but would have to burn itself out. Belatedly imposed curfews were universally ignored: Why should anyone obey an edict from a government that refused to protect human life and livelihoods?”

Mac Donald then gets to the most maddening aspect of all these deeply consequential and life-wrecking decisions: “Previously, securely-employed public officials breezily dismissed their constituents’ anguish over unemployment and growing business failures. Now those same officials, safe behind their security details and publicly owned mansions, foreswore the activation of the National Guard and military. None of those officials owned businesses, so they faced no loss either from economic quarantine or from physical rampage.”

And there we have it: the case for limited government.

The double standards and the rank hypocrisy that Mac Donald details are the ultimate insult, but suffice it to say: The fewer ignorant, uncaring, and unaccountable public officials we have calling the shots in our lives, the better.

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