Fauci: You don't have a problem with me, you have a problem with science

I’m surprised by how much of an uproar there was about this clip yesterday on social media. It’s not like it’s the first time he’s equated himself with Science. Remember?

Nor is it the first time he’s accused his detractors of disliking him because they can’t handle hard scientific truths.

This is the most political I’ve ever seen him get, though, jabbing at Ted Cruz and endorsing the theory that right-wing criticism of him is a clumsy attempt to distract from Trump’s pandemic failures. It isn’t. Not all of it, anyway.

Does he mean to suggest that Cruz should be prosecuted for something related to January 6? Cruz didn’t commit any crimes that day; even if he had overtly incited a riot from the Senate floor, which he didn’t, he’d have been shielded by the Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause as a legislator.

But I take Fauci to mean that, as a moral matter if not a legal one, a guy who was prepared to try to overturn a national election by blocking certification of the rightful winner is no position to lecture him about right and wrong.

Cruz isn’t taking that lying down:

Fauci nemesis Rand Paul isn’t happy either:

There’s nothing new to say about Fauci at this point. He’s neither an angel, as wider media would have us believe, or a demon, as righty media often treats him. But it’s laughably false that all criticisms of him are a matter of scapegoating by ideologues for partisan reasons. I refer you to this post from July for a non-exhaustive list of Fauci’s more notable lies and messaging missteps, of which there are many. There have been more since. He’s ardently supported vaccine mandates of all stripes — even for children, an idea many pro-vax parents disdain. He mused in October that we might not be able to safely gather for Christmas, advice that’s destined to be ignored by all but the most neurotic COVID worriers. Just yesterday he left open the prospect of new lockdowns to contain the Omicron variant at a moment when the economy is Americans’ top concern.

Amid all that, suspicions have deepened that his agency recklessly funded dangerous gain-of-function research on coronaviruses and that Fauci has lied about it publicly to protect himself, as Cruz lays out. Details also emerged of NIAID funding cruel experiments on dogs. Even sympathetic commentators have tried to nudge him to accept that he’s doing more harm than good as the administration’s top COVID mouthpiece at this point, especially with Republicans. Fauci’s response has been to occasionally muse aloud that freedom is nice and all but something we should value much less highly during a pandemic. Sheesh.

It’s ludicrous for him to wave away all criticism on grounds that his enemies hate Science, not him. But it’s not ludicrous for him to believe that he’s a lightning rod for some people whose grievances have less to do with Fauci and more to do with who, and what, he represents. Kevin Williamson was asked recently by a reader why he thought Democratic politicians never tried to cultivate anti-vax sentiment on the left when anti-vaxxism was more of a New Age progressive obsession with all things “natural” than a staple of populist right-wing media. His answer boiled down to the politics of “respectability”: “The Democrats have won it and weaponized it, and the Republicans have consequently rejected it.”

In their current configuration, the Democrats and their progressive leaders practice respectability politics, a politics of in-group affiliation expressed mainly through etiquette and socially necessary gestures of loyalty. Their main — and sometimes, their only — political strategy is based on status games, working to humiliate (and thereby effectively discredit) their opponents and rivals by associating them with low-status people and low-status ways of life rather than trying to persuade them or best them in argument…

The Republican Party has adopted a countercultural politics because it represents countercultural voters… They have given up conservatism as such because they believe that our institutions are irredeemably corrupt and hence not worth conserving…

The anti-vaxxer stuff on the right is best understood not as a medical controversy in any genuine sense but as a ritual of disaffiliation. “And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.” The response to COVID-19 — the lockdowns, the mandates, the government action on a vast and practically unprecedented scale — was a sobering display of power, and that power is very much on the minds of millions of Americans who seem to have quite suddenly realized that they don’t have any.

Fauci has come to embody America’s scientific bureaucracy, another institution that the populist right is inclined to view skeptically because it’s an elite collective and whose cause for skepticism has been reinforced by that bureaucracy’s mistakes during the pandemic. But the “ritual of disaffiliation” Williamson describes would be happening with or without Fauci. When attendees at CPAC cheer upon being told that America is falling short of its vaccination goals, there’s more going on than pique at any single scientist or bureaucrat. When fewer than half of Republicans decide that childhood vaccines mandates are justified, not just mandates for COVID vaccines, that’s way bigger than a “Fauci problem.” Back in January of this year, as the vaccines developed under Donald Trump were rolling out, 64 percent of Democrats said they’d get one at the earliest opportunity. Just 32 percent of Republicans, literally half the share, said the same. That’s not Fauci. That’s counterculturalism to a deadly degree.

The damning verdict on Fauci is that he likely exacerbated a process of “disaffiliation” that was already in motion by his deceptions. For some (not all) critics, their problem with him really does boil down to “Science,” if by “Science” we mean treating as received wisdom the consensus view of highly credentialed experts in the governing class. I’ll leave you with this.