It’s a Festivus Miracle!
Come hang out with me, Bill Kristol, Ted Johnson, Mona Charen, and Tim Miller for our annual holiday show. It’ll be fun and cathartic. Predictions will be made. Grievances will be aired.
Tonight, Thursday, at 8:00 pm in the East. Right here.
Only for members of Bulwark+.
(You should treat yourself if you’re not.)
1. The Big Tease
I am begging you to read Amanda Carpenter’s article about Ron DeSantis’s latest piece of performative governing. It’s fantastic.
Short version: DeSantis made a series of announcements this week about how he’s going to go after the Deep Science Big Elites or whatever by:
Seeking a grand jury to potentially prosecute the manufacturers of COVID vaccines.
Investigating “cardiac-related deaths” linked to COVID vaccines.
Standing up a “Public Health Integrity Committee” to oversee the medical establishment.
In a minute we’ll talk about the merits of these ideas. But let’s start with the fact that none of these proposals will amount to anything. Which is perfectly in line with the DeSantis modus operandi: big, performative, shit-stirring uses of government power—that are quickly (and quietly) walked back, overturned, or abandoned.
Remember the Stop WOKE Act? It was DeSantis’s big anti-CRT-in-schools legislation. (This was back when CRT was the most important issue facing the republic.) It was stopped by the courts because it is flatly and obviously unconstitutional.
Remember when DeSantis punished Disney for opposing his Don’t Say Gay law by revoking the company’s Reedy Creek special tax district? Yeah, that’s going by the wayside because it wasn’t thought out and would wind up costing Florida taxpayers money. The face-saving climbdown spin seems to be that DeSantis is reconsidering because Disney has changed CEOs and it was the old CEO whom he wanted to punish.
And how about DeSantis’s mass “voter fraud” arrests, which managed to round up a bunch of people who don’t look like they live in the Villages on trumped-up voter-fraud charges? Yeah, those cases are falling apart in court because they had no basis in law.
Oh—and don’t forget the DeSantis promise to ship immigrants out of Florida after his stunt sending asylum seekers from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard blew up in his face.
This is what he does. And his anti-vaccine programs are no different.
No vaccine maker will be prosecuted in Florida.
There will be no peer-reviewed research showing that the risks of vaccine side effects were greater than the benefits.
A “Public Health Integrity Committee” will not interfere with the practice of medicine in Florida.
And that’s by design.
The impracticability of DeSantis’s abuses of power are a win-win situation for him with Republican voters. They’re the governing version of shitposting.
The MAGA nationalists get stroked by them. And by the time the abuse of power is countered, DeSantis has given them a tease in some other erogenous zone. He’s edging the MAGAs and they are into it.
As for Team Normal, they look at his abuses of power and say,
“See? Nothing ever comes of it. The system holds. The guardrails work. And he probably doesn’t even mean it. He’s just doing this performative stuff for the rubes. If anything, these performances are good because they’re helping him detach the base from Trump!”
Might DeSantis actually mean it? Or, if he doesn’t mean it now, is it possible that humans are mimetic creatures and the principle of fake-it-until-you-make can be true for both good and evil?
These concerns are dismissed out of hand.
Gotta support the team, bruh.
I do not and have not ever had a team. I’m not a joiner. I find the team aspect of politics at best corrupting and at worst dangerous. I despise people who will not tell you what they really think because they are working on a convoluted triple bank-shot in the hopes of helping their side.
We don’t do any of that at The Bulwark. We just say the thing. In part because that’s what people should do. But also because not saying what you really think is how we got onto this crummy timeline. We—collectively—indulged too many bad actors because they were on “our side”—whichever side that was.
The DeSantis stuff especially grinds my gears because he’s not shitposting on Twitter—he’s using the awesome power of the state to hurt real people. The alleged vote fraudsters? These were actual human beings with jobs and families. The asylum seekers from Venezuela he tricked into going to Martha’s Vineyard? They’re folks who braved unimaginable horrors to escape an ugly dictatorship.
And the COVID stuff? My God: More than a million Americans died from it. People still die from it every day. And DeSantis is playing games with this disease.
We don’t play games at The Bulwark. Come join us. Be real. Be serious. Be true.
2. Vaccines Are a Damned Miracle
One of the things I said all through the pandemic was that our official COVID death totals were only approximations and that we’d need forensic epidemiology looking at excess deaths to get a real handle on the number. The early evidence from Italy was not great.
Well, a group of researchers have published over at Nature with the first stab at a true count.
Want to guess? Because it is also not great.
Officially, we have 5.42 million global deaths from COVID. This study puts the number closer to 15 million.
Now look: This is a statistical analysis and not a forensic hand count.But even so, the excess death number tracks pretty reasonably over time with the course of the pandemic:
And also: The excess deaths are not distributed evenly across the globe. This figure shows that in America, for instance, the excess death numbers are relatively modest;in India and Russia, they’re staggering.
One other piece of COVID research from this week: The Commonwealth Fund has tried to figure out how many lives have been saved (so far) by the COVID vaccines.
In the United States, our reported COVID death total—the official one, not accounting for excess deaths—is 1,080,472. The Commonwealth Fund’s analysis suggests that vaccines prevented 3.2 million additional deaths.
Understand: This is dogs-that-didn’t-bark stuff. There is no way to know, with epistemological certainty, that the vaccines saved the lives of 3.2 million Americans. We’re talking about an initial best guess based on statistical modeling. Maybe the vaccines actually saved 5 million lives—or only saved 1 million lives.
The point is that the answer is not 17. No matter who you are, at least one person you know is alive today because of the COVID vaccines. And unless you are exceedingly unfortunate, no one you know died from the COVID vaccine, because the side effects are so manageable that we only have 17,868 preliminary—not confirmed, but preliminary—reports of deaths stemming from the vaccines.
Dr. Gov. Ron DeSantis, adverse effects from the COVID vaccines have been well documented. They are real. They are also quite rare and in all but a tiny, sliver of a fraction of cases, they are mild.
On the other hand, COVID still kills about 450 Americans per day. Disproportionately, these deaths are among people who are not fully vaccinated.
Ron DeSantis doesn’t give a crap about that. He doesn’t care if his stunt convinces people not to get vaccinated.
Because DeSantis has a theory about the Republican electorate: He believes that Republican voters do not care whether or not a politician makes their lives better in any meaningful way. What they want is a politician who will punish their enemies.
And Ron DeSantis is hurting the people he needs to be hurting.
Which is what this anti-vaccine nonsense is all about.
Long-time readers will remember that The Bulwark was . . . critical of much of President Trump’s handling of the COVID pandemic.
There was one aspect on which we praised him contemporaneously: Operation Warp Speed. Trump did a good thing in making sure that the vaccine task force included pharmaceutical companies as full partners and didn’t overload the project with academics. Having voices from inside the industry as stakeholders in the task force is partly why the vaccines were developed and manufactured so quickly.
How f*#!ed up is it that one of the few unambiguously good things Trump accomplished is now a political liability for him in the Republican primary?
I saw it again last night for the second time in a week and it’s a beautiful, gossamer creation. If you haven’t seen it, go when the tour comes your way. In the meantime, enjoy this Tiny Desk Concert with the original cast. If you click through, it’ll start you with Orpheus meeting Eurydice.
If you want to jump straight to “Why We Build the Wall” click here. If you haven’t heard Patrick Page before, prepare yourself.
If true, isn’t that an even worse abuse of government power? Going after a private company purely because you want them to replace one of their workers?
Which isn’t possible globally, but will probably eventually be done in the United States.
By “relatively” I mean that this study thinks the true number of COVID deaths in America is less than 2x the current reported number.
For some context about what “preliminary” means here in regards to the 17,868 number:
"FDA requires healthcare providers to report any death after COVID-19 vaccination to VAERS, even if it’s unclear whether the vaccine was the cause. Reports of adverse events to VAERS following vaccination, including deaths, do not necessarily mean that a vaccine caused a health problem. More than 657 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines were administered in the United States from December 14, 2020, through December 7, 2022. During this time, VAERS received 17,868 preliminary reports of death (0.0027%) among people who received a COVID-19 vaccine. CDC and FDA clinicians review reports of death to VAERS including death certificates, autopsy, and medical records. Continued monitoring has identified nine deaths causally associated with J&J/Janssen COVID-19 vaccination. CDC and FDA continue to review reports of death following COVID-19 vaccination and update information as it becomes available."
Excellent commentary on this autocratic buffoon. If you listen closely, you can hear the whine in DeSantis’ voice. He won’t last. Whiners become tiresome to everyone eventually.
I've subscribed to Bulwark+ for, oh, about six months now, and am blown away by the wit and intelligence of JVL and the other proprietors, and also by the writers in the comments section. I subscribe to several Substack writers, and while I enjoy their work, there is a fair amount of viciousness and right-wingery in the comments. That's not to say all the commenters are vicious or Trumpian; they are not, I found some lovely commenters there. But there is NONE of that tribal crap here.
I came here for calm and reasoned views, and stayed for the rimming :-) Thanks, gang.