Victor Davis Hanson
We may never know the exact role of the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and Anthony Fauci’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in routing gain-of-function research money through the suspect Dr. Peter Daszak’s EcoHealth Alliance and on into the Wuhan virology lab.
Certainly, the very notion that our own government’s administrative-state octopus subsidized the Frankensteinian COVID-19 virus is too surreal for us even to comprehend. And yet, the usually loquacious and omnipresent Fauci grows silent, contrite, even perturbed when the issue is raised—as if it is more injurious to America simply to ask for proof that his NIAID did not help the Chinese-communist Level-4 virology lab birth this monstrous germ than it is to have partially funded the research that bore the plague in the first place.
In The Dying Citizen, I feared that the “unelected” have taken control over the lives of dying citizens. And tragically our medical establishment has done so with sometimes lethal consequences.
Remember that when the virus officially reached American shores with the first recorded case on January 20, 2020, in Washington state, naturally citizens looked for assurance from the federal CDC. After all, it is a massive organization with a $12 billion annual budget and some 15,000 full-time employees and contractors at its disposal.
In the first days of the infection, the CDC was immediately tasked with the widespread issuance of COVID-19 virus test kits. Such testing was critical to determine which apparently sick Americans had the “normal” flu and which the more feared SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Widespread testing also might determine the percentages of positives to negatives among those tested, the degree to which those with mild or no symptoms were still infectious, and both the lethality of the virus and likelihood of a pandemic.
Perhaps at the moment of greatest need in the agency’s history, the CDC failed, at least initially. Its bureaucratic officials sent out initial test kits that were defective. The devices invalidated the results of the few available critical early tests. Then culpable CDC officials ignored immediate calls from state and local officials and doctors to widen the availability of test kits. The world heaped scorn and ridicule on the U.S., as nations abroad successfully tested tens of thousands of their citizens in the first weeks of the outbreak.
More specifically, CDC officials at first refused to invite in private companies needed to guarantee that materials like nasal swabs and reagents were on hand for rapid expansion of test-kit supplies. Commercial labs and private hospitals were likewise ignored by almost all the concerned government agencies. After weeks into the crisis, and hundreds of deaths, the U.S. finally began testing citizens in the millions, both those infected with the active virus, and those who had recovered and developed antibodies to the disease. Ultimately, by late 2020 the U.S. had tested more people for COVID-19 than any other large nation in the world.
Yet such a massive reboot was due only to the tardy concessions from the parent agency, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), to loosen its onerous regulations and greenlight the breakneck work of private researchers and companies, which in competition might have earlier raced to offer a variety of new modalities of testing. What, then, is going on?
The CDC is currently the most important public health agency in the United States, created in 1946 as a new branch of the U.S. Public Health Service, growing out of the wartime “Malaria Control in Wartime Areas” agency.
For its first half-century, the lean and focused CDC played major roles in eliminating deadly infectious diseases like malaria, tuberculosis, and syphilis as major U.S. epidemics. But as public responses to epidemics improved, the ambitious CDC also expanded to address workplace hazards, chronic disabilities, and environmental risks. Nonetheless, it still followed much of its founding directives to prevent epidemics that posed existential threats to a growing and increasingly urbanized America.
However, in the 1990s the CDC next began to expand into areas never envisioned by its founders or even its recent directors—even as the complexity, and thus the fragility, of modern urban and globalized society grew. Budgets and staffing soared even as its mission was diluted. The agency began to become politicized in its choices of new agendas.
In its increasing vanity, the CDC almost seemed to assume that the age of plagues was passing and thus it needed to recalibrate to “confront the challenges of 21st-century health threats.” As part of its “modernization” focus, the CDC talked grandly of “transformation” and “new strategies.”
So currently, the CDC invests much of its budget in areas quite extraneous to the classical idea of preventing, containing, and ameliorating infectious diseases—such as reducing obesity, substance abuse, and environmental hazards. Among current areas ripe for CDC regulation and intervention are television violence, suspect playground equipment, and school bullying.
In short, like all government agencies that overreach and create bureaucratic empires, the CDC by attempting to address almost all conceivable medical, social, and cultural pathologies was rendered most effective in none, all made worse by attempting to pander to its government funders by embracing perceived and transient politically correct agendas.
When citizens lose control of their government to mostly anonymous and unelected bureaucratic “experts” whose desire is self-perpetuation rather than public service, then citizens are seen as mere bothersome clients. In that context, the confusion at the CDC was not exceptional. Likewise, those in the National Institutes of Health and the Federal Drug Administration periodically issued contradictory directives that face masks were unnecessary and diverted limited supplies from medical professionals, that they might have some utility in reducing the epidemic, and that they were absolutely critical and must be worn by nearly all in public—and perhaps two indeed were better than one. The same contradictory messaging was true of the use of off-label anti-malarial drugs, of the nature of the virus’s transmission, the role of ventilators, and the use of modeling. Yesterday’s government mandate became today’s suggestion and tomorrow’s prohibition.
The point is not that there is not always legitimate uncertainty and a need for constant updating of the progress of scientific inquiry. Instead, often government agencies issue such warnings without a note of doubt, and with the full assumption that they alone could provide the rationale for subsequent government policy. When erroneous, there was rarely acknowledgement of error, and little sense that greater humility was needed in the next round of federal directives—perhaps because with government growth and expansion comes institutional unaccountability.
CDC officials increasingly in the past also had sought to ingratiate their agency with current administrations. In the nature of federal agencies, bureaucratic elites were more or less sure that they enjoyed career tenure, scant chance of being fired, and steady pay increases. Both liberal and conservative critics cited the agency’s growing politicization and inefficiency, its unethical conflicts of interest with corporations and community pressure groups alike, and detours into areas of regulation that it had no real ability to monitor. As federal, state, and local governments grow, the CDC’s model becomes disturbingly familiar: an agency’s empire expands into areas in which it has little background or expertise, and thus loses the ability to fulfill its original charter mission.