- Interview by
- David Sirota
Marianne Williamson, who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, is the first candidate to announce that she will be challenging President Joe Biden in the 2024 Democratic primary. In this interview with Jacobin editor at large David Sirota, Williamson discusses the undemocratic nature of the Democratic Party establishment, her criticisms of the Biden administration, and the need for institutions to regain ordinary Americans’ trust. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You’re running in the Democratic primary in 2024. You ran in 2020, in the primary. What did you learn from the 2020 Democratic primary? What are the two, three, four big takeaways that you learned from that experience that most inform your campaign in 2024?
I learned that the political media–industrial complex is even more corrupt and in a way more vicious than I would have feared. And I learned that the voters are even more wonderful than I would have hoped. What I have experienced is the dignity, the decency, the open mindedness, and the basic goodwill that people want to at least aspire to among the voters and a political system that does more to obstruct the expression of that high-mindedness than to inspire it.
The Democratic Party seems incredibly hostile to the idea of primaries in general, and in particular primaries against incumbents. I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again: the hardest thing to do in all of American politics, really at any level, all the way from city council up to the presidency, is to successfully challenge an incumbent in a Democratic primary. That almost never, ever happens.
It is so incredibly rare, and I’ve worked on a bunch of Democratic primaries. I worked for Ned Lamont against Joe Lieberman. I worked for my wife’s Democratic primary against an incumbent that was actually successful, one of the very rare ones. I’ve worked for, obviously, Bernie Sanders in 2020. Now, that wasn’t against a sitting incumbent, but a kind of quasi-incumbent in a former vice president.
Knowing that, I would ask why you think that, not only does the Democratic Party leadership seem to be so hostile to the idea of a primary, but clearly there’s a voting base that looks skeptically upon primary candidates against incumbents. I wonder if you agree with that and why you think that is.
I do agree with it, although I make a distinction, as you just did, between the Democratic Party and the Democratic establishment leadership — that the latter is clearly hostile in all the ways that you said. The Democratic electorate has become deeply codependent in its relationship to the DNC [Democratic National Committee] and the Democratic leadership in a way that, number one, you don’t see on the Republican side, and number two, wasn’t true when I was growing up.
When Eugene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy said they were going to primary Lyndon Johnson, nobody said they shouldn’t or couldn’t or even thought it was odd. Even when Teddy Kennedy said he was going to primary Jimmy Carter. Nobody thought, “Oh, how dare he?” That narrative hadn’t been created yet. It’s really a reversion to a time one hundred years ago when a bunch of men sat around a table smoking their cigars, thinking that they had the right — that they were entitled — to determine who the candidate should be, which to me is particularly outrageous because the presumption there is, “They got this.” And if anything has been proven over the last few decades, it’s that they don’t got this. The idea that they know better, the idea that we should go, “Oh, they know better,” is particularly absurd in today’s world.
Right after Bernie won New Hampshire in 2020, Jeff Bezos’s newspaper, the Washington Post, published a piece with the headline, “It’s time to give the elites a bigger say in choosing the president.” I picked that out because I think it does illustrate that it has been normalized — this idea that primaries are bad; challenges to incumbents are bad; the party bosses — if you will, the elites, the political class — should choose party nominees.
Last week we had Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez [AOC] on our show, and I asked her about this hostility to primaries — her as somebody who is one of the rare few who has won a Democratic primary against the Democratic incumbent. She said, as somebody who had won a primary, that she would never speak ill of primaries and essentially thinks the primary process is a healthy one.
But I would ask you to address the trope that you hear so often that says primaries are bad for potential nominees. Primaries weaken a party; the more the party fights with each other in primaries, the more it imperils the party’s ability to win a general election. I’m sure that has been thrown at you; I’m sure it will be thrown at you. What do you say to that argument when a voter or somebody in the media brings that up?
It’s not an argument. It’s a narrative created by the DNC and the Biden administration in order to gaslight people. In 2016, there was certainly a big fight among the Republicans. But Donald Trump won. This idea that if a lot of people are arguing in the primary, that somehow that’s going to make us less capable of winning the general election, is ridiculous.
As a matter of fact, I would argue that if the DNC had kept their hands off the scale in 2016, let it just be Hillary or Bernie, whichever one the voters chose, then Trump would never have become president. If anything, the evidence would imply that a primary is a good thing. Among other things, it’s democracy.
The traditional role of the party is to stay out of this until the voters have spoken. Then once the nominee is chosen, the DNC is supposed to come in there and do everything they can to support the nominee in the general election. So this is a recently formulated power grab on the part of the Democratic establishment elite and the DNC.
It’s so interesting, because these people would have us believe that they’re the great protectors of democracy. And yet in this particular situation, they are so worried about the actual democratic process. They would have us clear the field so that Biden is just the one we all go with because they say so, as though we’re not even supposed to have an intelligent conversation among ourselves about whether or not he’s the best person to win in 2024. We’re not even supposed to have the conversation. So as much as someone like AOC might say, “I would never put down a primary,” they’re passive. All those people are passively putting down a primary by keeping their mouths shut.
The argument that primaries weaken general election nominees . . . you mentioned some past examples: on the Republican side, Donald Trump. But the 2008 primary was one of the most vicious Democratic primaries in the party’s modern history, between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. And Obama emerged, in my view, as a stronger nominee because he was battle-tested.
He said that himself. That’s exactly right. Number one, he admitted that. And number two, the whole country got to see who he was because of that experience. So the narrative is nothing but PR. It’s not a good-faith argument.
I agree. I am somebody who thinks that primaries make candidates stronger. I’m not surprised by the party establishment’s and the party elites’ hostility to primaries. They are invested in the current power structure as it stands right now, a power structure that doesn’t want to be challenged in intraparty primaries.
I’m more dismayed — maybe not surprised, but dismayed — by how that thinking has become more pervasive among rank-and-file Democratic activists and Democratic voters. It’s troubling because, in my view, it’s the voters and the activists’ job in part to demand more of these parties — both of the major parties, all the parties that exist. I think there’s kind of a subservient role now, or at least a subservient psychology, among a lot of liberals that says, our job is to serve the party; it’s not the party’s job to serve us.
Now, I do want to turn to Joe Biden specifically. There’s a new poll out, and we’re going to go through a couple of pieces of polling data. There’s a new poll out this week that says just a third of American voters say that President Biden deserves to be reelected and a majority in his own party say they would like to see somebody else as the Democratic presidential nominee in 2024. Why do you think that is?
For obvious reasons. I think a lot of people — and that poll also shows us this — are grateful to the president for many things. He defeated Trump in 2020. He’s done some things better than some people would have thought. But many people feel, “Thank you for your service and what you’ve done. But in moving forward, we can do better and we must do better, because the 2024 election is going to be very different than the 2020 election.”
They’re going to be coming at us with some very big lies. And the only way we’re going to defeat those big lies is with some very big truths. Those big truths have to do with a deeper analysis of what’s going on in this country, where we are as a country, than the Democratic establishment wants to do, because it has to do with the undue influence of corporate money on our system.
It has to do with the kind of corporate tyranny that not only holds our government in its grip, but the people of the United States in its grip. The only way we’re going to beat the Republicans in 2024 is with a genuine economic alternative, a genuine fundamental course correction and a U-turn that actually admits the citizens of the political system across the board and commits to a season of change and repair.
You mentioned corporate influence over the government writ large. I presume that includes, in your analysis, the Biden administration. I want to ask you to be specific about that, and I want to offer some context for why I’m asking that. When I was working for Bernie Sanders in 2020, Zephyr Teachout, one of Bernie’s supporters, published an op-ed in the middle of the campaign. She was a supporter of Bernie, saying that Biden has a corruption problem, and she listed a number of places in which he had served. His donors, including one of the most prominent ones, were the credit card industry and the financial industry — pushing, for instance, the horrible bankruptcy bill that crushed a lot of working-class people.
I bring this up because when she published this and said he has a corruption problem, it became an enormous controversy in a “How dare you?” sort of way. The allegation was portrayed as so outrageous and out of bounds, and ultimately Bernie Sanders apologized for it.
I was horrified and dismayed at the entire apology. I thought this is the kind of discussion that should be had in a Democratic primary: money went into Joe Biden, and policy came out. I don’t even understand why that’s controversial to say. So I want to ask you to be specific about where you think corporate influence has been most pervasive and intense in the policies of the Biden administration, and what you might say to folks who would say that making such allegations is out of line.
“Out of line.” I love that. I’m an American. The Democratic Party should not be telling a Democratic voter what’s “out of line.” There’s that codependent relationship right there. First of all, the most obvious one is the Willow Project. The president had said that there would be no further drilling on public lands. The president had said that he recognizes that climate change is the existential threat to the human race, and yet he has provided more permits for oil drilling than even Trump did. And of course, the Willow Project gives $8 billion to ConocoPhillips so that they can extract fossil fuels on the North Slope of Alaska.
When it came time for “Ol’ Labor Joe” to show that he really meant it when it came to the railroad workers and their struggle with their bosses, when really at that time all they were asking was for sick pay, he came down on the side of the bosses. He had said that there would be a $15-an-hour minimum wage, which should be the minimum that we’re even considering . . . once the parliamentarian said that it couldn’t make it into the bill, he certainly found it convenient to hide behind her skirts. And even though they cut the child poverty rate in half with their child tax credit, when that expired six months later, they didn’t get around to permanently raising it.
In other words, in the final analysis, more often than not, they come down on the side of business. Now, this is how I see Biden. The way I see Biden related to these things is how I see all the corporate Democrats. They try their best to have it both ways. They do see the pain, and they are interested in and will make efforts to ameliorate the stress that people are experiencing, as long as it doesn’t challenge that underlying corporate profit.
Bottom line: that always inevitably makes the return of that pain inevitable. They’ll alleviate stress, but they will not stand for genuine, fundamental economic reform. And I do.
Let’s go a little bit deeper on that, because it’s a topic that I have been reporting on for a very long time, and I think you articulated it there quite explicitly and quite articulately. There is an underlying theory in the corporate wing of the Democratic Party. You could look at it and say their ideology is just corruption; everything is just a patina for corruption. But taking them at their at their word on some of the policies — for instance, as you mentioned, there does seem to be a theory that we can solve major problems and also preserve the economic status quo, that we can help millions and millions of people and the rising tide can lift all boats, and there can be yachts as well.
I don’t believe that that’s true. I believe there is a “Which side are you on?” question, that in order for millions of people to, for instance, have decent health care, you cannot have health care billionaires. Those two things cannot exist together. I wonder if you agree. And I would also ask you whether you think that really is their theory — whether that really is their principled ideology, or whether you do think it is just essentially a cover for corruption.
I think that many of those people are so buffered emotionally from the ravages of human suffering that is on the other side of the gates that they live behind that they don’t honestly recognize what it means that eighteen million Americans cannot afford to fulfill the prescriptions their doctors give them. They clearly don’t recognize what it means that sixty-eight thousand people die in this country every year from lack of health care. They don’t understand what it means, really, on an emotional, visceral level, that 85 percent of Americans are underinsured or uninsured. That one in four Americans live with medical debt; that Americans are out there rationing their insulin — because they’re not hungry and they have decent health care.
There are some folks who say, look, compared to the past two Democratic presidents, Biden represents a significant policy step forward. They look at Bill Clinton deregulating Wall Street and his cuts to welfare — by the way, things that Biden himself supported. They look at Obama essentially using the health care reform debate to prop up the health insurance industry, using the Wall Street crisis to bail out and prop up Wall Street. They look at all of that and then see Biden, and they see somebody who has appointed people who are more affiliated with organized labor. They look at, for instance, the American Rescue Plan as something so much better than the bank bailouts.
I think the American Rescue Plan was a terrific thing. I think it was the best thing that’s happened as a piece of legislation that I can remember in my entire lifetime. And they look at that and they say, “Well, Joe Biden is the best president that we’ve had in a long time, and so we should reelect him.” What do you say to that?
The American Rescue Plan was good, but its effects are no longer here. Build Back Better would have been good. But basically what you’re saying is that they have given cookies as opposed to crumbs. And what I’m saying is that you can’t live on cookies either.
We shouldn’t be comparing this to what a Democratic president did ten or twenty years ago. We should be comparing it to every other advanced democracy in the world. Every other advanced democracy in the world has universal health care. Every other advanced democracy in the world has tuition-free college, which we had until the 1960s. And when I was growing up, Blue Cross Blue Shield was a nonprofit. Every other advanced democracy in the world has free childcare, paid family leave, sick pay, and a guaranteed living wage.
That inside-the-Beltway conversation you’re having doesn’t mean anything to the average American voter. Staying within the confines of that conversation is staying within this bubble with which Democrats lose. And they are always so shocked when they lose, because they don’t realize that none of it has anything to do with the visceral experience of the majority of Americans.
If you’re among the 20 percent of Americans for whom the economy is doing fine, then a lot of those things that you just said matter. The point is 20 percent is like an enchanted economic island surrounded by a vast sea of economic despair. That is what Bernie spoke to. That is what Trump spoke to — although in Bernie’s case, he actually meant it.
But this other stuff, the conversation that you’re mentioning that the corporate Democrats are having, it’s losing. It doesn’t mean anything. In fact, it infuriates — for good reason, on some level — the average American who is struggling and who is resentful that those kind of effete arguments are made to keep them from being able to simply survive, feed their children, have a decent wage, and get health care.
The other argument that you hear all the time is, ok, Marianne, you’re right. Biden hasn’t done X, hasn’t done Y, hasn’t done Z, and has done ABCDEFG, all this bad stuff over here. But he really wants to do all of this good stuff. The problem is that they only have fifty, fifty-one senators, and there’s always Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema and whoever the rotating villain is. Biden’s really trying to do the right thing, and people who say that he hasn’t done what needs to be done are unsophisticated in their understanding of what the politically possible is. How do you respond to that?
I respond as a woman. When a man is cheating on you and keeps cheating on you and keeps cheating on you, but then every two or four years comes back and says, “Aw baby, come on, give me one more chance.” At a certain point, the woman says, “No, no, no.” There’s always an excuse with those people.
Can you imagine the Republicans hiding behind the skirts of the parliamentarian when they really wanted to get something done? It’s true that they will abuse their power, but the Democrats won’t even use it. They’re mealymouthed, and they’ll always come up with an excuse. There are plenty of executive orders that the president could have effectuated. More than anything, the president could have used the bully pulpit in ways that he has refused to.
You’re right, Biden has made some appointments, like with the NLRB [National Labor Relations Board]. But still, when it comes to that bottom line, he stays on this side of fundamental economic reform. That’s all we need to know, and that’s what we should be discussing.
Do you think that he has recently tacked to the right? There have been a series of things that he’s done: breaking the rail strike, the Willow Project, and the immigration issue. There are some folks out there saying that this represents a deliberate decision to move to the right in advance of the election.
To go back to our AOC interview, she said, this is extremely dangerous. It’s not only bad on policy, it’s politically dangerous. But there are other folks who have said this isn’t a tack to the right, that this is who Biden always has been, and this is not any kind of change. Do you think he’s trying to move to the right deliberately, or is this just an expression of what the administration is?
I don’t care. It appears that since Ron Klain left, there has been this move to the right. Some of them have actually said — not as an interpretation, but as an actual statement of the will of the campaign — they’re going to move toward this mythical center where they think they’re going to get more independents.
It seems that the establishment Democrats are intent on shrinking their base. They treat progressives like we’re unruly children who should sit down and just let the adults — who clearly know what they’re doing — run this thing.
The psychology is, “He’s a nice man.” George Bush was a nice man. Talk to the people in Iraq: lost generations, murdered souls. Ask them how nice he is. This conversation of, “Who’s nice and really has the best of intentions?” The Democrats do this all the time. If a Republican does it, we scream bloody murder. If an Obama or Biden does it . . . “Oh, poor baby. He really wanted to get it done.” Even in situations where there’s no evidence whatsoever that he even tried. We have got to stop making excuses for these guys.
There have been some polls about the 2024 race, but a lot of these polls don’t even mention you. So let’s turn to the media for a second, because that’s not necessarily a Joe Biden thing. That’s how the media treats different kinds of candidates. And in these polls, it’s Bernie Sanders, Michelle Obama, Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren — but you are, in a lot of these polls, noticeably absent. Why do you think that is?
Oh, gee, I can’t figure it out. Come on, let’s be real. There’s a FiveThirtyEight A-rated poll that came out last week that put me at 10 percent. In some of these polls, you’re right, I’m not even mentioned. What do you think that says?
One of the things I mentioned earlier is a political media–industrial complex. I saw how it worked in 2020. These guys are married; there’s an unholy alliance there. There’s one side of the mainstream media that takes its directions from the RNC [Republican National Committee], and there’s another side of the mainstream media that clearly takes its directions from the DNC. This should not be a surprise to anyone at this point. What does surprise me sometimes is some of the people who fall for that.
Just to go back to the poll that you mentioned, 10 percent overall of likely Democratic voters said they’d probably or definitely back you. This is a poll by Echelon Insights, and I believe this poll showed a stronger contingent of support among people below the age of thirty. I want to hear you explain why you think younger people may be more interested in a candidacy like yours than older people.
Because they’re not even twentieth-century creatures. A Gen Z person wasn’t even born in the twentieth century, or if they were born then, they just hung out for a few years while they were babies. They see no reason why they should live with the effect of bad ideas left over from the twentieth century.
They also have no nostalgia for a time — as I do and as I think you do — when the Democratic Party really did show up. In their experience, the Democratic Party hasn’t really shown up for them any more than the Republicans have. So they’re open. I’ve noticed this. Part of my making the decision of whether or not to run entailed a college tour. I went to eight colleges and universities. I wanted to check it out; I wanted to hear from these people.
I saw they’re not tied to any of that neoliberal bias. They’re not tied to any of that manipulated narrative of how we really should support the Democratic Party because the Democratic Party has supported them. But they’re not stupid. When you talk about FDR [Franklin Delano Roosevelt], when you talk about the New Deal, when you talk about the very idea that the party has been at times and still could be a real advocate for the working people of the United States, they’re not stupid. They hear that.
People tell me every day, “You’re blowing up on TikTok.” It’s pretty funny. And on that poll, it says 21 percent — that’s what my numbers are with people under thirty. I do understand why, because in many ways they represent a similar mentality to what I and my generation had when I was there. Some generations are like a perfect third on the piano. I always say, “Old people hear me, young people hear me.” The people in the middle — a lot of guys just wish I’d go away. But the young ones and the old ones, they hear me. They get it.
Let’s talk about experience here for a second. Trump was the first person to become the president after not holding elected office, I think, in modern history. I want to take seriously the notion that there’s a lot of evidence that Democratic voters, even more than Republican voters, like to or are more willing to support candidates for higher office who have held office before now. Maybe some of that is credentialism. Maybe some of that is Democratic voters want to elect people to higher office who they feel have experience in government.
With all of that as context, you have not held an elected office. What is your response to those who would say, “Listen, we should be interested in people who have experience in running pieces of the government if we’re electing a president.” How do you respond to that?
First of all, it displays a great naivete about what you think those people do all day, including how much time they spend on the phone raising money. That’s number one. Number two, I think it’s very interesting what the Constitution says related to this. The Constitution says that in order to be president, you have to have lived here for fourteen years. You have to be thirty-five years or older, and you have to have been born here.
If the founders had wanted to say you had to have held elected office, then they would have. But they didn’t, and I think they didn’t for a reason. They were leaving it to every generation to determine for itself, what do you think are the skill sets required to lead us through the challenges of a particular moment?
I don’t think the problem with Trump was his lack of governmental experience. It was his lack of ethics and his lack of character. He was a very effective president in all the terrible — and some very, very terrible — ways. But if he had been a different person, and instead of someone like a Stephen Miller or Sebastian Gorka or whatever, he had brought a different kind of person around him, then it would have been a completely different story.
The idea that you’re repeating here is the idea that only people whose careers have been entrenched for years within the system — that is, the car that drove us into the ditch — should possibly be considered qualified to lead us out of the ditch. I don’t think that we need somebody qualified to perpetuate that system. We need somebody qualified to disrupt that system.
That is one of the things that I feel that I do bring. Washington, DC, as you well know, David, is filled with political car mechanics. There are some very good political car mechanics in Washington, DC, and I would bring them into my administration.
But the problem is not that we don’t have good political car mechanics. The problem is we’re on the wrong road. We’re six inches from the cliff in terms of the state of our democracy, the state of our economy, and the state of our environment. What are those people so self-satisfied over? What are they so self-congratulatory about? On what basis do they say “It has to be one of us”? Have we not given them enough experience and enough of our nation’s history that, at some point, we say, “We need to intervene. You are the status quo. The status quo is not going to disrupt itself. You have us on a self-defeating, self-destructive trajectory to the point where we could destroy the habitability of this planet within one hundred years. We, the people, will take it from here.” That’s what needs to be said now.
But I would ask you this question about the system itself. Are you arguing that everybody in the system, by virtue of being in it, is part of the problem?
No, I don’t believe that. I don’t believe that about Bernie. I don’t believe that about quite a few of the progressives. Rashida Tlaib was talking the other day about Julian Assange. It took a long time for one of them to mention him, but she did. I know there are progressives. And sometimes I agree with something that a corporate Democrat might do.
It’s not black and white, but what is black and white is where we find ourselves as a democracy, where we find ourselves in terms of the habitability of the planet. Everywhere I go — this was true in 2020, and it’s even more startling now — I will go into a room full of voters and I will say we’re going to do something. I’m going to ask you to raise your hand if something applies to you, and if you raise your hand, keep it up, because I want everybody to be able to look around the room.
I have done this all around the country, and this is my question. Have you heard a young person say, or are you a young person who has ever said, these words, “Under normal circumstances, I would be considering having children, but given the state of the world, particularly the environment, today, I’m thinking that’s not a responsible thing to do.” I am shocked everywhere I go by the number of hands that are raised. And I ask everybody to just look around the room, and I point out what we all know. This is not normal. We’re like frogs in the boiling water at this point.
So let historians a hundred years from now do all this deep diving, into-the-weeds analysis about who got it kind of right and how it really happened. Did it just start with Ronald Reagan, or maybe it started with some of the austerity of Carter? I don’t care. I don’t know. All I know is the house is burning, and it is not negative to yell “Fire!” if in fact the house is burning down. Who did the arson? How the fire started is not as important as saving the house of our democracy, because right now it is on fire.
You’ve mentioned the climate a bunch. I feel like the discourse over science, especially during the COVID pandemic, has become extremely scrambled and at times very, very toxic. You’ve talked in the past about vaccines. I think there’s some skepticism in various quarters of the country — across the political spectrum, by the way — skepticism of Big Pharma.
But I also worry that healthy skepticism — whether it’s of a government agency or the pharmaceutical industry, as an example — can tip over into science denialism. Where do you come down on the entire debate over vaccines and their efficacy specifically? And how do you think about the balance between “trust, but verify,” that kind of skepticism, and science denialism?
First of all, healthy skepticism, as you said, is a part of right citizenship. But you’re right, it can’t just be blanket skepticism. It should be healthy skepticism. Contrary to popular belief, I have not said a word about vaccines. Before COVID, I said something about mandates and having a problem with mandates.
I have said at various times, and I think it’s naive not to suggest, that there are some places when it comes to Big Pharma where clearly there is predatory behavior. I haven’t spoken about that specifically in terms of vaccines; I have spoken about it in general. After the opioid crisis, Purdue Pharma, the Sackler family, five hundred thousand opioid overdoses . . . what are we talking about? Pretending that there’s not something to look at there?
So I think that it is very dangerous. We are at that point where people are not trusting the institutions that we should be able to rely upon. I heard a doctor, my own doctor, who said at one point, “Normally, I would just look to see what the CDC [Center for Disease Control and Prevention] has to say, but at this point, I don’t even bother.” That’s dangerous.
But that’s not just people’s fault. There are too many situations, from our government to our health organizations to Big Pharma — which is the problem, of course, with a profit-based health care system — where you can’t blame people who ask legitimate questions. And the government and some of these institutions have cried wolf so many times, have suppressed legitimate questioning, that when the time came when we really needed to listen to some of these people, people didn’t even want to hear them.
Everybody has something to look at there, including the guardians of these huge institutions who, at this point, are going to have to get the trust of the people back. That’s something I’m talking about in this campaign. It’s very, very dangerous when you have the guardians of the public trust — they come year after year, decade after decade, to gain power in order to keep money in order to gain power — become so untrustworthy. And so much of the chaos that we’re experiencing in our society today is because of that.
The vaccine discussion drives me crazy in this way: I don’t presume good faith in most instances, especially not with Big Pharma. But when it comes to agencies like the CDC, rank-and-file people working there, I feel like there must be a thought process that says, “Listen, if we acknowledge any questions, if we acknowledge that a vaccine isn’t 100-percent perfect with zero side effects, if we acknowledged any of those truths, it will be seized upon by dishonest opportunists to sow doubt, which is bad for mass public health.”
There are almost no medicines that have no side effects or no risks. My point is that I do think that rank-and-file folks who are trying to do the right thing in an agency like the CDC are probably calibrating: “If we acknowledge any of the truths at the margins or the truths of the risks, we will open it up to a kind of a wave of confusing information that will harm. . . .” And I think that infantilizes the public.
That’s exactly what I was going to say. It does infantilize the public, and it does more to create skepticism and to sow doubt. When you were talking about the rank-and-file people working at such institutions, I think across the board that’s true. The rank-and-file person working in any of those institutions goes to work wanting to do the right thing and wanting in their own way to serve the public good.
There’s no doubt for me about that. But my father used to always say, “Talk to the smartest person on the jury.” And this dumbing down of the American public, acting like we’re dumb and talking to us like we’re seventh-graders, is what has created a lot of this infantile behavior on the part of people.