Attorney General William Barr is coming under heavy fire for supposedly comparing the pandemic lockdowns to slavery.
On CNN, House Majority Whip James Clyburn found a “painful absurdity” in Barr’s comments:
Speaking with CNN’s John Berman on “New Day,” the House majority whip distilled the absurdity at the heart of Barr’s words.
“I think that that statement by Mr. Barr was the most ridiculous, tone-deaf, God-awful thing I’ve ever heard,” Clyburn, the longtime Black leader from South Carolina, said on Thursday. “It is incredible, as chief law enforcement officer in this country, to equate human bondage to expert advice to save lives. Slavery was not about saving lives. It was about devaluing lives.”
CNN, indeed, was the sputtering voice of outrage:
After reading Barr’s statement, [Don] Lemon went to Dana Bash for comment, who, at first, couldn’t even get out any words.
“I — I’m kind of speechless,” Bash said after a moment of shock. “I really am.”
Bash then went on to point out the very large hole in Barr’s comparison.
“When people were enslaved, when human beings were enslaved in this country, they were owned by other people,” Bash said. “I mean, civil rights was, like, the notion of having civil rights was a pipe dream. They just had to be free, and then they could think about civil rights.”
White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins countered Barr’s argument with the fact that, unlike slavery, Americans weren’t forced to do anything during the lockdowns, just urged to stay at home. People were still able to leave their homes for essential tasks.
“They’re comparing this, in a way, to slavery, which he says was, quote, ‘A different kind of restraint.’ Yes, it was very much a different kind of restraint,” Collins said. “And so, you know, to see how they responded to this, and as Sanjay was saying, no one was forced to stay in their homes in the United States. Those were recommendations made.”
Presidential candidate and former veep Joe Biden was also outraged: :
“What Bill Barr recently said is outrageous,” Biden said. “I will tell you what takes away your freedom, not being able to see your kid, not being able to go to the football game or baseball game, not seeing your mom or dad sick in the hospital, not being able to do the things, that’s what is costing us our freedom.”
Oddly, Biden’s description of a loss of freedom describes the lockdowns to a T.
If Barr had compared the lockdowns to slavery that would indeed have been outrageous. But did he?
Speaking at a Hillsdale College event, Barr said this:
“You know, putting a national lockdown, stay-at-home orders, is like house arrest,” Barr said during an appearance at Hillsdale College in Michigan, according to clips posted online.
“Other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history.”
That is the opposite of comparing the lockdowns to slavery. Barr specifically exempts slavery from any comparison, acknowledging that it was altogether different. Barr knows slavery lasted centuries and was the darkest blot on our history. So, he specifically excludes this monumental wrong when talking about the lockdowns as limits to our civil rights. He does the opposite of comparing the two.
Of course, this is the political season and truthfulness on the part of politicians and pundits is always the first casually. That is to be expected. Still, it does seem rather cruel to smear Barr for something he specifically did not say.
I can’t end without quoting Barr’s quoting of Christian writer C.S. Lewis:
“It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies,'” Barr said quoting Lewis. “‘The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth.”
I suspect a lot of the outrage and trumped up charge of a comparison that would have been shocking was an effort to distract us from the truth about their beloved lockdowns. Most Americans willingly embraced the lockdowns—we wanted to save lives and bend the curve. But continued shutdowns are destroying many of us, especially those in jobs that can’t be done on a computer.
We do not need to be exorbitantly tormented supposedly for our own good by imperial politicians. And, yes, Barr is implicitly comparing politicians to robber barons and the robber barons coming out ahead.
Knock yourself out with outrage, pols and pundits!