It’s Time for Pritzker to Discard His Scientific Hobgoblins

After the last session of the Illinois legislature, you have to wonder what we’ll do this year to top it. After all, we:

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• Singlehandedly solved the climate crisis;
• Took away from parents the right to be informed if their daughters were getting an abortion; and
• Made sure that feminine hygiene products would be stocked in boys’ bathrooms in every school in the state.

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We didn’t defund the police, but we did the next best thing by trying to do away with qualified immunity, which is causing police officers to retire in droves and discouraging those who would replace them from applying for the job. We need only look at our crime statistics to see how well that’s working.

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A bow was put on all this by the issuance of gerrymandered election maps that J.B. Pritzker promised he’d never sign when he was running for the job but now figures that being Governor means you never have to say you’re sorry.

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Of course, we couldn’t do much substantive work because the Governor continues to rely upon the disaster declaration he’s been xeroxing since March of 2020 so he could basically run the state on his own through executive order. He reminds me of this guy.

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Nonetheless, there are serious issues that demand serious attention. I wish we could convince the Democrats to take their job (and their constituents) seriously and address a few of them. However, there’s one big hurdle that needs to be overcome before we can be allowed to fulfill our Constitutional role, and that’s to once again be a fully functioning co-equal branch of government.

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Covid-19 dictated the agenda on everything that has happened since 2020 and has given J.B. Pritzker the colorable pretext to do whatever he damn well pleases. The mantra justifying this has been the Governor’s insistence that he “follow the science”. It’s time for the General Assembly to reassert itself as the voice of the People of Illinois and tell the Governor that it’s time for that mantra to end.

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The first reason to stop it is that the experts have often been wrong. They’ve told us to lock down, mask up and socially distance for nearly two years, and the virus continues to mutate and spread. Also, Covid outbreaks haven’t been limited to areas which have disregarded the public-health community. Right now, New York City, which has some of the earliest and strictest Covid policies in the country is reporting record numbers of cases.

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Now we have the CDC making value judgments. In recent days the CDC has decided to cut the number of quarantine days in half to five, not because of changing science but more in practical consideration of maintaining a functioning society. As Rachelle Walensky told CNN, “It really had a lot to do with what we thought people would be able to tolerate.”

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Anthony Fauci conceded that because so many people will be infected by such a highly transmissible form of Covid in the coming weeks, if everybody had to quarantine for ten days, “that might have a negative impact on our ability to maintain the structure of society, of all the essential workers you would need if you keep them all out for a period of ten days.”

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I guess this might be a backhanded concession to what’s becoming more evident every day, which is that the latest variant, while more transmissible, is less deadly and its symptoms are often confused for those of the common cold, with the same severity. It’s probably why Walensky, Fauci and Pritzker continue to flog the case count. They must think it’s their only hope of jumping off the back of this tiger without ending up inside.

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At the beginning of the pandemic, it made sense to trust the scientists, because we’ve dealt with pandemics in the past and those experiences tended to justify the strict reactions we saw early on. However, “trust the scientists” has now become an empty platitude meant to shut down any objection to ongoing Covid policies.

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But put aside the fact that expert guidance has not proven effective in preventing the spread of Covid. Even if the guidance were more effective than it has been, it still wouldn’t justify blindly “trusting the scientists.” The job of infectious-disease scientists is to focus on providing guidance on how to combat infectious diseases, not tell us how to live our lives.

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Unlike 2020, we now have vaccines and boosters which substantially reduce the risk of serious illness. In 2022, the Covid pill Paxlovid will become widely available. It’s clear that the threat of contracting a serious form of or dying from Covid is not the same as it was in early 2020.

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But now we’re no longer debating whether to spend a few weeks in quarantine. We’re debating permanent changes: from children wearing masks all day in school and at day-care facilities to whether people should have to show evidence of vaccination to do the normal things incident to living in a free society. In December, Dr. Fauci testified before Congress that permanent masking on commercial flights should become mandatory.

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There are people who will in good faith end up on different sides of these questions. But the consequences of what we’re going through are broader than the spread of the virus. The risks of canceling routine health care treatments, the damage done to our children who are being pulled from pillar to post in what has become an ever more frenetic conflict between warring constituencies, the increase in drug abuse and suicide and the steady decline of respect for the rule of law all need to be added to the other side of the scale. A scientist merely interested in combating a virus does not have to pay attention to all of these concerns, that’s the job of our lawmakers.

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H.L. Mencken once famously said: “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.” Covid isn’t imaginary, but the constant drumbeat of fear buttressed by expert opinion that shifts at every turn makes Mencken sound prescient.

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It’s the job of policy makers, and ultimately, the people, to balance the risk of the disease against these other considerations. That’s why, as we convene for our new session of the 102nd General Assembly, it’s time that we reassert our constitutional role and put a stop to the serial nightmare of the Governor’s executive overreach. Let the people speak.

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