An NBA Star and New York’s Governor Show That Liberal COVID Discourse is Devoid of Science
by Glenn Greenwald Sept 28, 2021
It is virtually a religious belief in the dominant liberal culture that people who do not want the COVID vaccine are stupid, ignorant, immoral and dangerous. As large sectors of the population continue to question or disobey their COVID decrees, they have begun to make more explicit this condescending view.
Liberals feel free to disparage them as “stupid” notwithstanding long-standing (though diminishing) racial disparities among this group. A CNN headline from last month told part of the story: “Black New Yorkers may have the lowest vaccination rates, but community groups refuse to give up.” Citing data from the city’s health agency, the network reported that “citywide, just 28% of Black New Yorkers between the ages of 18 and 44 are fully vaccinated. The Hispanic community is the second-least fully vaccinated population in that age group, with 49% being fully vaccinated.”
Two weeks ago, Bloomberg reported that while some of the unvaccinated are unable to get the vaccine (due to work pressures or health conditions), most of them are vaccine-hesitant by choice and continue to reflect racial disparities. Under the headline “U.S. Racial Vaccine Gaps Are Bigger Than We Thought: Covid-19 Tracker,” the news outlet reported: “the White vaccination rate is not as bad as it had seemed and Hispanic communities are lagging more than previously thought.”
Yet liberal elites continue to call anyone who is unvaccinated “stupid,” ignorant and immoral. On Sunday, New York’s Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul, when announcing her intent to use National Guard soldiers to replace health care workers fired for refusing the vaccine, told her audience: “yes, I know you’re vaccinated, you’re the smart ones.” She then said those who refuse to get the vaccine are not just stupid but have turned their back on God: “there’s people out there who aren’t listening to God and what God wants.” Gov. Hochul added that the vaccine “is from God to us and we must say, thank you, God,” and said to her “smart” vaccinated supporters: “I need you to be my apostles.”
On September 16, CNN host Don Lemon maligned those who have chosen not to be vaccinated as “stupid,” “selfish,” filled with “ignorance,” and “not acting on logic, reason and science.” He then issued this decree: “it’s time to start shaming them or leave them behind.” When controversy erupted over the lavish indoor gala former President Obama threw for himself, at which his guests were unmasked while the servants were masked, New York Times reporter Annie Karni explained on CNN that while some of Obama’s neighbors on Martha’s Vineyard objected, many believed that a maskless party was fine because “this is a sophisticated, vaccinated crowd.” Late-night host Jimmy Kimmel suggested the unvaccinated should be deprioritized for health care in hospitals, while Howard Stern recently lambasted the unvaccinated as “imbeciles” and “nut jobs” and argued they should be denied health care and be left to die.
That the unvaccinated are inherently primitive and stupid troglodytes was always a claim as baseless and offensive as it is counter-productive. Although I personally took the vaccine the first day it was available to me — as I repeatedly said I would in every forum where I speak, including Fox News — it was always clear that there were cogent reasons why those with different circumstances and risk factors (age, health, prior COVID status) might assess their own risks differently and reach a different conclusion. And what made me most comfortable about my choice to get vaccinated, or to decide whether my kids should, was precisely that it was my choice, after informing myself: the idea of forcing someone to do it against their will, or condition people’s rights and privileges on vaccine compliance — as both President Biden and the ACLU astonishingly advocated — always struck me as inconceivable.
The attempt to equate being unvaccinated with stupidity and ignorance suffered a massive blow on Wednesday night when NBA star Jonathan Isaac was asked why he was hesitant to take the vaccine. Like many unions, the NBA’s player union has refused a vaccine mandate, and Isaac, the 23-year-old player with the Orlando Magic who previously had and recovered from COVID, gave a stunningly compelling, informed, well-reasoned and thoughtful exposition on his rationale for not wanting the vaccine. Isaac also defended the right of individuals to make their own choice. One need not agree with his ultimate conclusion on the vaccine to see how groundless (and obnoxious) it is to claim that anyone who chooses not to take the vaccine — like him — is stupid, ignorant and primitive. I really encourage everyone to watch his two-minute master class in demonstrating why such a choice can, depending on one’s circumstances, be perfectly rational:
Is there anyone who can argue with a straight face that Isaac sounds stupid, ignorant or evil? One can cogently dispute the wisdom of his conclusion: while it is true that most people who recover from COVID (as he did) enjoy “natural immunity” in the form of antibodies — indeed, one major study found that “the natural immune protection that develops after a SARS-CoV-2 infection offers considerably more of a shield against the Delta variant of the pandemic coronavirus than two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine” — some studies conclude that immunity is stronger still with the vaccine.
Nonetheless, Issac is indisputably right that the risk of dying or becoming seriously ill from COVID is extremely low for someone like him: early 20s, healthy and with natural immunity. In fact, during the entire course of the pandemic, the total number of people aged 15-24 (Isaac’s age group) who have died of COVID — in a country of 330 million people — is 1,372: fewer than the number in that age group who have died of non-COVID pneumonia. Add onto that Isaac’s physical fitness and the fact that he already had COVID once, and it is clear that his risk from contracting the virus is vanishingly small.
It is true that the long-term effects of COVID are unknown, but that is also true of the long-term risks from these new vaccines. Isaac is also right that the risk of adverse consequences from the COVID vaccine is very low, but it is not zero. For the young, there is absolutely nothing irrational about fearing the vaccine more than fearing COVID even if that is not the conclusion I reached for myself. Indeed, for the age group right below Isaac’s, there is data demonstrating that the risk of the vaccine outweighs the risk of COVID. As The Guardian reported earlier this month, “healthy boys may be more likely to be admitted to the hospital with a rare side-effect of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid vaccine that causes inflammation of the heart than with Covid itself.”
Simply put, there is no way to argue that Isaac’s choice is clearly wrong, irrational or ignorant. The risk to him from either COVID or from the vaccine is very small; all other things being equal, it is certainly rational to prefer not to inject into one’s body any medication, let alone a new one, if one does not need it. That is the choice that Isaac and millions of others have made. What is stupid is not that choice, but rather the liberal consensus: namely, those who insist that such a choice can only be the by-product of stupidity or ignorance.
Indeed, given that nobody serious could claim Isaac is stupid or ignorant in how he explained his thought process, there is only one argument that could be mounted to argue that Isaac should be punished for making the choice he made, or that he should be forced to act differently on pain of losing his job or other privileges. To so argue, one must insist that his own individual health choices, bodily autonomy, and personal interests must be sacrificed and overridden in the name of some greater societal good. In the abstract, that is a valid line of reasoning: society does sometimes deny a person individual autonomy in the name of societal good by, for instance, dictating to them which narcotics they can and cannot ingest into their bodies or even requiring other types of vaccines as a condition for entering school.
But the attempt to suggest that some type of societal good justifies denying Isaac the right to choose quickly falls into incoherence. To whom is an unvaccinated Jonathan Isaac a threat? The reason vaccines have become so celebrated — the reason I took it — is based on the claim that they offer enormous protection against serious illness or death in the event that one contracts COVID. When President Biden addressed the nation about COVID on September 9, he said that “the vaccines provide strong protections for the vaccinated” and, for that reason, “this is a pandemic of the unvaccinated.” In other words, according to Biden, the vaccinated are no longer endangered. Indeed, Biden cited this data to make that point explicitly:
I want to emphasize that the vaccines provide very strong protection from severe illness from COVID-19. . . . The world’s leading scientists confirm that if you are fully vaccinated, your risk of severe illness from COVID-19 is very low. In fact, based on available data from the summer, only one of out of every 160,000 fully vaccinated Americans was hospitalized for COVID per day. These are the facts.
So the avatar of liberal orthodoxy — President Biden — himself insisted just this month that COVID poses an exceedingly low risk to you if you are vaccinated. If that is true, why does a vaccinated person care if someone is unvaccinated? How does Jonathan Isaac or anyone else who chooses not to get the vaccine endanger those who have chosen to be vaccinated if it is true that, in Biden’s words, “if you are fully vaccinated, your risk of severe illness from COVID-19 is very low”?
This is how liberal COVID discourse continues to collapse onto itself, precisely because it is bereft of consistent scientific reasoning. Indeed, this question — who do the unvaccinated endanger? — becomes even more difficult to answer given that it is now the official position of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) that the vaccinated and the unvaccinated alike can contract and transmit COVID to others. As The New York Times put it when reporting the CDC’s reversal of its prior policy — whereby they abandoned their prior decree that vaccinated people need not wear masks and instead directed that the vaccinated should continue to wear masks — that “vaccinated people with so-called breakthrough infections of the Delta variant carry just as much virus in the nose and throat as unvaccinated people, and may spread it just as readily, if less often.”
In other words, while vaccinated people may be less likely than the unvaccinated to contract COVID, they can spread it “as readily” as the unvaccinated given that they “carry just as much virus in the nose and throat as unvaccinated people.” Thus, if public health were really the concern — as opposed to extracting vengeance in the culture war or forcing people into submission — the far more important metric would be whether someone tested positive for COVID, not whether they are vaccinated (I elaborated on that argument in explaining why I oppose vaccine mandates and passports here). As Isaac put it: “I don’t believe that being vaccinated means uninfected, or that unvaccinated means being infected. You can still catch COVID with or without having the vaccine.”
But liberal COVID discourse long ago ceased being about The Science™ — at least since months of adamant demands that we all stay at home were replaced in the blink of an eye in June, 2020, by decrees that it was our moral duty to attend densely packed BLM street protests since racism is a worse threat to the public health than COVID. Within liberal COVID discourse and, increasingly, COVID policy-making, one finds much culture warring, moral judgments, symbolic in-group gestures and even religious iconography, but very little science.
How else to explain that the very same President Biden who told us on September 9 that “if you are fully vaccinated, your risk of severe illness from COVID-19 is very low” then turned around and imposed a vaccine mandate for large employers by claiming that forcing everyone to be vaccinated was necessary to preserve workplace safety and protect the health of those who are vaccinated? “This is not about freedom or personal choice,” said the president; instead, “it’s about protecting yourself and those around you — the people you work with, the people you care about, the people you love.”
But if it is true that COVID poses a “very low risk” to the vaccinated, how can he simultaneously maintain that vaccine mandates are necessary to protect the vaccinated, the foundation of his claim to impose vaccine mandates on private employers under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970? Biden’s entire argument is that the vaccinated no longer need protection from COVID since the risk to them is so low: “The bottom line: We’re going to protect vaccinated workers from unvaccinated co-workers.” None of this makes any sense except as a means for control and cultural dominance.
One could conceivably claim that the motivating goal of vaccine mandates is not only a desire to protect the vaccinated from the unvaccinated, but also a desire to protect the unvaccinated from themselves. Aside from the fact that this sentiment is rarely heard — the claim is almost always that the unvaccinated must be stopped because they are endangering the vaccinated — just ponder the oozing arrogance required for this type of paternalism, whereby someone convinces themselves that their judgment about what is best for Jonathan Isaac and people like him should override his own judgment about what his best for himself and his life.
What level of hubris is needed for someone to anoint themselves superior arbiters of other adults’ lives than they are themselves? As Isaac points out, that arrogance and hubris is readily observable — people know that liberal elites view them with patronizing scorn — and, given human nature, that makes them even less likely to submit to their decrees.
To see this arrogance and hubris in its purest expression, one can watch the truly creepy and demented invocations of religious precepts from Gov. Hochul in comments that have to be heard to be believed. Gov. Hochul, clearly very comfortable with her newly inherited power as the state’s unelected governor, delivered these remarks when announcing that she was prepared to fire tens of thousands of health care workers who refused to take the COVID vaccine — in other words, presumably informed health care workers who have decided not to get vaccinated even if it means losing their jobs: 16% of all industry workers in the state. She would replace the disobedient health care workers with National Guard officers, many of whom have “lapsed” licenses or are just recently graduated. This is justified, she said, because those who have disobeyed her decree to get vaccinated are not just stupid but have turned their backs on God:
What conceivable argument can be mounted to justify this mass firing of public health care workers in the name of protecting the public health? If you had to seek medical care at a hospital and are fully vaccinated — and thus, according to President Biden, face a “very low risk” of serious illness from COVID — would you rather be cared for by unvaccinated doctors and nurses who have worked in that facility for years, or National Guard officers or recently graduated students or retired people with “lapsed” medical licenses who, in a slapdash and manic way, have been tossed into the hospital to satisfy Gov. Hochul’s desire to punish the disobedient? Again, if you are vaccinated, why would you regard unvaccinated doctors and nurses as a risk to you?
Whatever else is true, Jonathan Isaac’s eloquent explanation on Wednesday for his choice not to be vaccinated will make it even more difficult to maintain the liberal delusion that anyone who has made a different choice than the one they have decreed is stupid, primitive and ignorant. That is precisely why it has caused so much indignation. Just Nicki Minaj’s invocation that people take the vaccine only if they decide it is best for them, rather than because they are bullied, provoked a tidal wave of indignation, so, too, has Isaac’s extremely sober, deliberative and self-possessed statement. Few things strike more fear in the hearts of liberal cultural elites than those with cultural influence telling people to think for themselves. When those delivering that message of independent thought are respected African-American figures, it becomes even more frightening to a political faction and party that depends on reflexive loyalty from African-Americans and subservience to their authority.
It is extremely important to the liberal self-identity and brand to believe that everyone who thinks differently than they do is stupid and/or morally broken. That view is foundational to the liberal mentality. The more people hear from those like Jonathan Isaac, the more difficult that delusional self-image will be to maintain.
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