Profound Weakness

I respectfully disagree with my thoughtful colleague, Greg Weiner, who just posted praise and elaboration for a recent piece by Matt Bai on the purported dilemma that faced Dr. Deborah Birx when she led the pandemic response for President Trump. She is described as wrestling with the problem of working for an incompetent and self-centered president while trying to advance public health and the common good. Her failure to tell the truth to the American people and to resign when sidelined by the president are depicted as a lack of prudence. That is undoubtedly true, but also so tame and understated that it is misleading.

No doubt Birx lacked prudence. But she also lacked courage and self-understanding. Birx did not merely hold her tongue in public while she offered her best counsel in private. Instead, she lied in public and circulated what fellow scientists regarded as propaganda in private. All of this is reviewed and documented in another piece by J.V. Last published yesterday in The Bulwark, titled “Shame on Deborah Birx.” Read the piece. Evaluating Birx is not a close call, she didn’t face a vexing dilemma. She was complicit in a tragedy that she is now attempting to distance herself from.

In a recent widely publicized interview with Sanjay Gupta for CNN, Birx reports that after the first 100,000 Americans died, Birx and her team knew enough about the pandemic to mitigate the deaths of the subsequent 400,000, but for the obstruction and ill advised policies of Donald Trump. But, though sidelined, she stayed on the job. Birx continued to work for Trump throughout his campaign for reelection– a campaign that he nearly won. She could have resigned and campaigned for his opponent as did the Vice President Pence’s chief aide on the coronavirus task force, Olivia Troye. Troye spoke out, spoke often, and produced advertisements for Republican Voters Against Trump. Birx could have done the same thing. She lacked courage. Even now, her interview did little to hold the previous administration to account. She is timid, still.

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