Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The Near-Irrelevance of Drs. Birx and Fauci

Not being a creature of Washington, it's entirely possible that I'm too hopelessly unaware of the insider baseball that regularly gets played at the highest level in the nation's capital, and I'm simply too much a rube to see when someone's outmaneuvering someone else in, say, the corridors of the Rayburn Building. So perhaps I'm just being obtuse when I note how ridiculous I think this political analysis by Jonathan Swan of Axios is.

Swan's point is that it is Deborah Birx, and not Anthony Fauci, who is the real wear-the-pants doctor on the coronavirus task force, and therefore is the one who's gotten things done. "Don't be fooled by the grandmotherly demeanor and whimsical scarf collection," Swan crows. "Administration officials say they've been taken aback by Deborah Birx's masterful political skills — including a preternatural ability to get what she wants while telling people what they want to hear." According to Swan, Birx has been "far more adept at influencing the president and shaping the administration's response to the global coronavirus pandemic."

Well, if that's so, what a bang-up job you've done, Doctor Birx!

Amazingly--astonishingly, jaw-droppingly astonishingly--Swan offers recent back-room gossip surrounding discussions about the World Health Organization as evidence of Birx's savvy compared to Fauci's blundering. Weeks ago, Trump asked Birx, Fauci, and CDC Director Robert Redfield their thoughts on WHO. "Birx was very critical of the WHO and its relationship with China. She said the institution badly needed reform," the article notes, while "Fauci was more ambivalent in the Situation Room meeting. He started out by saying the WHO is an imperfect organization...[and the Director General of WHO] has a China problem."

Based on that, and presumably other conversations, Dr. Birx can therefore receive credit...for Trump holding WHO hostage in the middle of a pandemic. Or how about her allowing the President to sway tens millions of millions of Americans on the almost-certainly false hope of hydroxychloroquine as a panacea, even as of this late hour in mid-May, weeks after it became clear that this drug's promise was built on the sale of snake oil from an egomaniacal French doctor. What great public health work! That must be worthy of a marble statue somewhere!

The premise upon which this analysis is built is notably described here, in a prescient analysis of Game of Thrones, as "the pop culture fixation on heroic leaders rather than institutions [that] reinforces a dangerous tendency of real-world politics." The notion of Birx being more adept than Fauci is of a piece with someone admiring a well-played scheme of Tyrion Lannister's. It also contains zero information on the World Health Organization and the work that it does in the world. Which, given that we're in this thing called a "pandemic," and "World Health" is in their title, might be something at least as important to explore, right?

Nor does this article make even the slightest attempt to explain the complicated relationship that WHO has with China at the very root of the discussion, or even make a nod to past issues with the structure of WHO and how that has affected prior responses, such as during the West African Ebola Outbreak.

No, Jonathan Swan's fixation is on Dr. Birx versus Dr. Fauci and their attempts to get the ear of Nero. Meanwhile, Swan himself seems to be blithely unaware that Rome is burning, and that its leader is trying to hamstring the efforts of the Fire Department by taking away its trucks and hoses, fiddling as he goes.


PS. Disclosure: I have served as a consultant for WHO. Proudly.

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