Conservative author Andrew Sullivan was on Anderson Cooper's CNN show Tuesday night pitching his innovative plan to ignore the coronavirus. This is something no one else has considered. He'd written an article a few weeks ago called "Let It Rip: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Live With The Virus." The title alludes to Stanley Kubrick's 1964 Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, a film that ends with the world's destruction, so already you know Sullivan's argument is top-notch.

[T[his seems to me to be the key question here: do we really want to get back to living? I do. So take the rational precautions — a solid vaccine — and go about your business as you always did. Yes, I'll wear a mask indoors if I'm legally required or politely asked. But I don't really see why anyone should. In a free society, once everyone has access to a vaccine that overwhelmingly prevents serious sickness and death, there is no reason to enforce lockdowns again, or mask mandates, or social distancing any longer. In fact, there's every reason not to.

Ta-Nehisi Coates once noted that Sullivan was among many star journalists he'd worked with who didn't see Black people "completely as human being(s)." Sullivan was never on the Trump train, but he's actively promoted white grievance politics lately. We mention this because Sullivan can't resist describing both "white Republicans/evangelicals and urban African-Americans" as “vaccine holdouts." The Washington Post pointed out last week that Black people are actually "much less likely than Republicans to say that they refuse to be vaccinated," so it's not fair to say they're “holdouts." There are also structural problems related to access.

But if you're going to endanger human lives with a “screw the pandemic" mentality, it's helpful if you can claim that anyone who gets sick had it coming.


Cooper immediately confronted Sullivan with the fact that millions of Americans can't be vaccinated, specifically the immunocompromised and children under 12.

COOPER: Shouldn't a society like ours do what they can to protect those who are defenseless?

Sullivan is a conservative intellectual, which means if you ask him if he should care about other people, particularly if it inconveniences him, he'll respond with lots of fancy words that basically mean "no."

SULLIVAN: Yes, we should. I certainly think we should vaccinate each other and be vaccinated.

Cooper just told him vulnerable people can't get vaccinated. This is one of those interviews.

SULLIVAN: But the risk is actually really small to children. You're 18 times more likely to drown if you're aged one to five than to die of COVID.

Fortunately, my wife and I didn't enroll our son in the Aquaman Academy for Boys. This is such a bullshit abuse of statistics. If you keep your child away from bodies of water, pools, and unattended bathtubs, their risk of drowning decreases significantly. If you send your child to a South Carolina school with no mask mandate, well, let's hope you weren't too attached.

Sullivan does concede that he's not a parent and can't know what it's like to worry that your child will contract a highly contagious respiratory illness. Even before I had a kid, this didn't seem a huge empathy stretch. Besides, why did he bother writing his eat, drink, and be merry with COVID article if he was incapable of fully appreciating the risk to unvaccinated children?

In Sullivan's article, he said that “coercion is not the answer in a free society," so the best way to manage low vaccination rates was to "let mounting sickness and rising deaths concentrate the minds of the recalcitrant."

But the most potent incentive for vaccination is, to be brutally frank, a sharp rise in mortality rates. The more people who know someone who has suffered and died the likelier they will see the logic of taking measures to avoid the same fate. In other words: if people recklessly refuse to face reality, call their bluff.

That seems mighty coercive. There's also unfortunately compelling evidence that personal loss won't change the minds of vaccine resisters. Sullivan argues that “the goal is not to pursue an illusory victory over the virus, but to learn how to live with it, and actually live fully alongside it." The problem is you can't live that well with COVID-19. The virus is a terrible roommate.

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."

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