Last week he defended the “reopen now” push by analogizing to war: “We sent our young men during World War II over to Europe, out to the Pacific, knowing, knowing that many of them would not come home alive. And we decided to make that sacrifice because what we were standing up for was the American way of life. In the very same way now, we have to stand up for the American way of life.” Whoopi decided to engage with him on those terms when he turned up as a guest today on “The View” by asking him to … identify which people he’s willing to sacrifice.
Which was foolish. The point of Christie’s war analogy is that we undertake certain risky endeavors because the cost of inaction exceeds the cost of inaction even when we know many will die. No one stopped after 9/11 to say, “Kindly identify which American soldiers, specifically, you’re willing to see die in agony in the name of smashing Al Qaeda.” We routinely factor “acceptable casualties” into all walks of life, from construction projects to speed limits. If Christie has to specify who he’s willing to sacrifice in order to reopen the country, Goldberg should specify who she’s willing to see die in a bloody wreck on the highway in order to keep the speed limit at 55.
There was a stronger critique available to her. Ask Christie to identify how many casualties he’s willing to tolerate as acceptable in the name of resuming commerce. What’s the tipping point in terms of deaths and hospitalizations from a second wave after we reopen where he’d say, “Okay, people should probably stay home for awhile until this cools off”? It’s one thing to say that we need to approach reopening the way we approach a war, it’s another to say that we need to approach reopening like it’s Pickett’s charge.
If his answer is that we have to balance casualties incurred from the second wave against deaths from despair resulting from the economic collapse, then what is he suggesting should be done if that second wave occurs? This point has been made repeatedly over the past few weeks but let’s make it again: Demand for restaurants, movie theaters, etc, began to collapse *before* stay-at-home orders went into effect. It’s not Gretchen Whitmer who killed business in Michigan, it’s Michiganders who decided to stop risking their health by congregating with strangers in enclosed spaces for non-essential reasons. If a second wave develops because we rushed to reopen too soon and people start sheltering at home again, causing a second economic collapse, what’s Christie’s solution? That’s what Whoopi’s getting at with her question, I think. It’s not that Christie wants any particular person to die or that he’s eager to sacrifice any single individual; it’s that his logic ends up implying that people should just keep shopping in the name of propping up the economy even if the epidemic starts exploding all around them. How he proposes to make them do that, I haven’t a clue.
This is a recurring problem with “reopen now” advocates. They purport to be arguing with governors when in reality they’re arguing with consumers. Watch, then read on.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie defends his controversial comments urging to reopen economy: “I said that some Americans will make that sacrifice no matter what we do, and now we have to decide how we’re going to balance this.” https://t.co/f8u2wbJuik pic.twitter.com/QqXWud9IxF
— The View (@TheView) May 15, 2020
Peggy Noonan has a column out today about the “class struggle” that the lockdown era has created. A week ago I would have nodded along with every word. As it is, I think she’s been suckered by the same fallacy I was, that the working class is gung ho to reopen and the out-of-touch professional class is not.
There is a class divide between those who are hard-line on lockdowns and those who are pushing back. We see the professionals on one side—those James Burnham called the managerial elite, and Michael Lind, in “The New Class War,” calls “the overclass”—and regular people on the other. The overclass are highly educated and exert outsize influence as managers and leaders of important institutions—hospitals, companies, statehouses. The normal people aren’t connected through professional or social lines to power structures, and they have regular jobs—service worker, small-business owner.
Since the pandemic began, the overclass has been in charge—scientists, doctors, political figures, consultants—calling the shots for the average people. But personally they have less skin in the game. The National Institutes of Health scientist won’t lose his livelihood over what’s happened. Neither will the midday anchor.
It’s true that the professional class is pro-lockdown and it’s true that blue states are more comfortable with lockdowns than red states are, although whether that would be *as* true if Trump had remained staunchly pro-lockdown over the past two months is an open question. But it just ain’t true that salt-of-the-earth blue-collar workers are ready to knock down the doors of their places of employment to get working again. It feels like it should be true for the simple reason that the working class doesn’t have nest eggs to fall back on like the professional class does. But it isn’t.
I posted this WaPo data a few days ago but will re-up it now because it’s relevant.
Laid-off workers, the most desperate members of the working class, are less eager to reopen than everyone else is. You can blame that on the availability of souped-up unemployment benefits or the rational fear among lower-paid workers that their job duties make them more prone to contracting the virus, but it is what it is.
In reality, according to this recent poll out of Wisconsin, lower-earning Republicans are much less eager to reopen soon than higher-earning ones are. It’s bosses more so than employees who are willing to risk employees’ health for the sake of reopening, at least on the right. Or, if you prefer Christie’s analogy, the “generals” are more eager for battle than the “soldiers” who’ll have to do the fighting on the front lines.
Interesting class divide among Republicans on reopening in @MULawPoll
Lower income Reps are divided about reopening too soon (41 too soon-52 too slow) but high income Reps are overwhelmingly more worried reopen too slow. (16-82)
— Charles Franklin (@PollsAndVotes) May 12, 2020
The caveat to the point up top about how consumers, not governors, decided when it was time to start massive social distancing is that it’s also consumers, not governors, who’ll decide when it’s time for social distancing to relax. People had already begun relaxing a bit before states started reopening and now they’re relaxing more per new polling from Gallup. Self-isolation is ending, whether governors like it or not. And self-isolation will begin again if a second wave develops, whether Christie likes it or not.