When do we get herd immunity from Jason Lewis?

April 17, 2020 10:45 am
U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis, R-2nd District, and President Donald Trump

President Donald Trump greets then-Rep. Jason Lewis, Rochester, 2018. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images.)

Jason Lewis is on a “Re-Open Minnesota for Business” RV tour Friday, hoping to draw media attention to his brilliant plan to get enough Minnesotans sick that we achieve “herd immunity” from COVID-19 and then thank him by electing him to the U.S. Senate. 

Before Lewis won his single term in the U.S. House in 2016, he was in talk radio, and he’s running his underdog campaign against Sen. Tina Smith like a guy trying to win a ratings war.  You can tell he was really good at talk radio. He has a silver tongue, and it never stops working. 

Lewis said on 1130-AM’s Justice & Drew radio earlier this week that if we’re going to be taking such extreme precautions with this COVID-19 deal, why not do the same with the flu:

“Why don’t we  — next fall, we make sure we lock down, start counting all the flu deaths, and have testing for everybody that’s going to get the flu and then not reopen until that flu is gone. Now, obviously, you can’t do that, which is why we don’t do that,” Lewis said. 

As countless epidemiologists have pointed out, COVID-19 is believed to be more contagious than the flu and more lethal, and there’s no vaccine. Don’t trust your lying eyes that see bodies piling up in Italy, Spain and New York. Facts never get in the way of the truth on talk radio.  

And it wouldn’t be talk radio without some dodgy financial advice that’s also revealingly insouciant about human suffering: “We’ll get through this, and then who knows? We may look back, hopefully, and this will all be a big buying opportunity on Wall Street,” Lewis said in March. 

And then of course miracle cures. Lewis has echoed President Donald Trump in his promotion of chloroquine, a drug approved to treat malaria and lupus. Let’s hope it works — and doesn’t lead to a shortage for people who already rely on it — but who knew the latest conservative litmus test would be an obscure drug? Amateur medical advice to own the libs. 

Another trope of talk radio: Sneering at experts. “These computer models are — and this really is apropos when it comes to climate change — can spit out anything the operator wants them to say. It is human error writ large, and so I simply don’t trust the experts on much of this,” he said in another recent Justice & Drew episode

Why should we trust people who have spent years hunched over specimens in biochemistry labs or developing highly technical mathematical equations? What do these eggheads know? We have all the knowledge we need from the man talking on the radio. 

Now Lewis wants everyone to get back to school and work, and if some people get sick and die? Well that is the cost of herd immunity. 

Don’t get me wrong: Experts can be wrong, and in a democracy our elected representatives should make decisions, not experts. As Tom Nichols wrote in his book The Death of Expertise, “We were trusting the people who landed Neil Armstrong in the Sea of Tranquility, but who also landed a lot of less famous American men in places like Khe Sanh and the Ia Drang Valley in Vietnam.”

But Lewis is not to be trusted as a good faith skeptic of scientific consensus, on the coronavirus or anything else. 

How do I know this? Let’s turn to Lewis’s radio career, which has brought researchers an almost ceaseless stream of repugnant statements. 

There’s a race war going on against white people: “The real victims of most racial violence are not members of the minorities in America. They are white people.”  

It’s too bad we can’t call women “sluts” anymore, and did you know women are “guided by more emotion than reason”? 

And then there’s his indecipherable logic comparing gay marriage to slavery:

“In fact, if you really want to be quite frank about it, how does somebody else owning a slave affect me? It doesn’t. If I don’t think it is right, I won’t own one, and people always say ‘well if you don’t want to marry somebody of the same sex, you don’t have to, but why tell somebody else they can’t. Uh, you know if you don’t want to own a slave, don’t. But don’t tell other people they can’t.”

The response of the then-congressman’s campaign when some of the comments were unearthed in 2018? “It was his job to be provocative while on the radio.” 

Got that? He was paid to say these things, so it’s fine.  

Which reveals the deep cynicism of the whole exercise. He knows there’s no risk of him being wrong and blamed for thousands of deaths because no governor would ever endanger the public with such an outlandish public health strategy. It’s just talk. 

So if we’re going to trust that Lewis is adding an important dose of contrarian skepticism to the public debate and not just cynically using his “Reopen Minnesota” RV tour as a self-promotional stunt, he’s going to need to put some skin in the game. He should take this thing national. Fly to New York and take the subway to Madison Square Garden where he can lead a rally of America’s amateur virologists. Maybe the president will appear as his special guest. 

Finally, we would have hope. 

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J. Patrick Coolican
J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican is Editor-in-Chief of Minnesota Reformer. Previously, he was a Capitol reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune for five years, after a Knight-Wallace Fellowship at the University of Michigan and time at the Las Vegas Sun, Seattle Times and a few other stops along the way. He lives in St. Paul with his wife and two young children