December 28, 2020 Reading Time: 5 minutes

Another day, another politician violates their own rule. Do as I say not as I do; this has been the prevailing theme of the pandemic as politicians openly flout the laws and recommendations they advocate for. From people like Speaker Nancy Pelosi to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to local county supervisors in Los Angeles, hypocrisy thrives at every level of government. Our leaders tell society to suck it up and lock down while providing little justification or direction. Meanwhile, they reserve the right to travel, dine out, and see their loved ones for themselves after devoting effort to prevent the rest of us from doing so. As they enjoy these luxuries, their policies bring economic devastation, social deprivation, and encourage fellow citizens to turn on one another. 

Another public official to be added to this long list of hypocrites is Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator. AP News writes,

“The day after Thanksgiving, she traveled to one of her vacation properties on Fenwick Island in Delaware. She was accompanied by three generations of her family from two households. Birx, her husband Paige Reffe, a daughter, son-in-law and two young grandchildren were present.”

This is of course after she and her colleagues made a number of recommendations not to travel or gather on Thanksgiving. According to the New York Post,

“Birx had urged people in the days leading up to Thanksgiving to keep gatherings to “your immediate household.”

“I don’t like it to be any number,” Birx said on CNN’s “New Day.”

“Because you know, if you say it can be 10, and it’s eight people from four different families, then that probably is not the same degree of safe as 10 people from your immediate household.”

Birx said at the time that every American is obligated to make sacrifices to stop the spread of the virus.”

Dr. Birx believes that we should not gather with anyone besides those in our immediate household yet here she is just like many politicians before her. The New York Post also writes that when confronted on the matter Dr. Birx attempted to justify the trip by stating that she was going to “winterize the property before a potential sale.” On the matter it reports, 

“I did not go to Delaware for the purpose of celebrating Thanksgiving,” Birx said in a statement.

She argued that the members of the trip belong to her “immediate household,” though she acknowledged they live in separate homes.”

As unconvincing as that sounds, even if Dr. Birx didn’t go to celebrate Thanksgiving that doesn’t change the fact that she was meeting with people from different households. Preparing the house for sale doesn’t change things either as American businesses have been crumbling under the boot of lockdowns since March. Although failing to prepare her house for sale might have lasting and adverse consequences, every day Americans have been making these sacrifices for months. 

The New York Post provides a follow up on this situation when it reports that to justify her visit Dr. Birx said the following,

“My parents stopped eating and drinking because they were so depressed,” the 64-year-old complained to Newsy.

“My daughter hasn’t left that house in 10 months, my parents have been isolated for 10 months. They’ve become deeply depressed,” Birx said of the need to “recover from the trauma of the last 10 months.”

Although this is certainly a compelling reason to visit her family, the problem is that this is what countless Americans have been dealing with as well. Dr. Birx has simply realized what the consequences of her policies have been. For many Americans, lockdowns have generated the social agony her family has experienced. Plenty of Americans have also lost jobs and livelihoods. According to data from Yelp, 60 percent of businesses that closed will never open again. For many Americans, they have experienced even worse. According to the CDC, drug overdoses have skyrocketed in 2020, expanding the list of self-inflicted deaths both intentional and unintentional. Despite all this, the average American has obediently complied with these guidelines even though they have every right not to. 

Should We Forgive Dr. Birx? 

Dr. Birx and the countless politicians like her should be forgiven under the following condition: That they learn from their mistakes and empathize with the average American’s struggle with their policies. To understand the eternal lesson that policy intentions do not equal policy results. If we could have more people in power who understand this truth then society would be better off. Lockdowns are a classic example of a policy that seemed to have benevolent intentions but wound up having lethal consequences. There are laws that work and those that don’t. Lockdowns and all the arbitrary restrictions that come with them promote contempt for the rule of law while doing little to control the virus. They have not only done little to prevent the spread of Covid-19, but they have wrecked society as a result. Part of the process of leadership is having the humility to admit that you were wrong and understanding that you can’t force a square peg through a round hole. Likewise, you cannot drastically shut down society and prohibit everything it means to be human without expecting terrible results. 

The great economist Friedrich Hayek once wrote,

“The basic source of social order, however, is not a deliberate decision to adopt certain common rules, but the existence among the people of certain opinions of what is right and wrong…. Except where the political unit is created by conquest, people submit to authority not to enable it to do what it likes, but because they trust somebody to act in conformity with certain common conceptions of what is just. There is not first a society which then gives itself rules, but it is common rules which weld dispersed bands into a society.”

Hayek spoke of lawmaking as a sort of discovery process of policies that are compatible with society rather than simply forcing one’s will on society. Lockdowns are a clear example of an unsustainable law that is not only incompatible with society but impossible to follow. Dr. Birx has learned firsthand that her recommendations are not sustainable in the long run and even she of all people can’t follow such an edict. Rather than feeling humiliated and ashamed, she should attempt to enlighten her colleagues about her discovery. Otherwise, this will go down as another one of countless instances of elitism and hypocrisy exercised by our public servants.

Dr. Birx may have saved her family from emotional trauma or worse by visiting them. Surely she had taken the necessary precautions to ensure that her trip was as safe as possible. It would certainly be reasonable to make such a trip given the circumstances. She weighed the dangers and rewards of the actions she was taking and made a thoughtful decision. Rather than apologizing and retreating, she should fight for the average American’s right to do the same. One could only wish.

Ethan Yang

Ethan Yang

Ethan Yang is an Adjunct Research Fellow at AIER as well as the host of the AIER Authors Corner Podcast.

He holds a BA in Political Science with a concentration in International Relations with minors in legal studies and formal organizations from Trinity College in Hartford Connecticut. He is currently pursuing a JD from the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University.

Ethan also serves as the director of the Mark Twain Center for the Study of Human Freedom at Trinity College and is also involved with Students for Liberty. He has also held research positions at the Cato Institute, the Connecticut State Senate, Cause of Action Institute and other organizations.

Ethan is currently based in Washington D.C and is a recipient of the 13th Annual International Vernon Smith Prize from the European Center of Austrian Economics Foundation. His work has been featured and cited in a variety of outlets from online media to radio broadcast.

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