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Sunday, February 13, 2022

The War on Dr. Fauci

Sheryl Gay Stolberg at NYT:
“Populism is essentially anti: anti-establishment, anti-expertise, anti-intellectual and anti-media,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican strategist, adding that Dr. Fauci “is an establishment expert intellectual who is in the media.”

For the 81-year-old immunologist, a venerated figure in the world of science, it is a jarring last chapter of a government career that has spanned half a century. As director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a post he has held since 1984, he has helped lead the response to various public health crises, including AIDS and Ebola, and advised eight presidents. He has never revealed a party affiliation. President George H.W. Bush once cited him as a hero.

Now, though, some voters are parroting right-wing commentators who compare Dr. Fauci to the brutal Nazi doctor Josef Mengele. Candidates in hotly contested Republican primaries like Ohio’s are trying to out-Trump one another by supplanting Speaker Nancy Pelosi with Dr. Fauci as a political boogeyman.

In Pennsylvania, Dr. Oz recently ran a Twitter ad calling for a debate — not between candidates, but between him and Dr. Fauci. In Wisconsin, Kevin Nicholson, a onetime Democrat running for governor as a conservative outsider, says Dr. Fauci “should be fired and referred to prosecutors.”

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis has released an advertisement last month telling Dr. Fauci to “pound sand” via the beach sandals the governor’s re-election campaign is now selling: “Freedom Over Fauci Flip-Flops.” Mr. DeSantis has coined a new term: “Faucism.” In Washington, lawmakers are taking aim at Dr. Fauci’s salary, finances and influence.

“I didn’t make myself a polarizing figure,” Dr. Fauci declared in an interview. “I’ve been demonized by people who are running away from the truth.”

The anti-Fauci fervor has taken its toll on his personal life; he has received death threats, his family has been harassed and his home in Washington is guarded by a security detail. His standing with the public has also suffered. In a recent NBC News Poll, just 40 percent of respondents said they trusted Dr. Fauci, down from 60 percent in April 2020.

Still, Mr. Ayres said, Dr. Fauci remains for many Americans “one of the most trusted voices regarding the pandemic.” In a Gallup poll at the end of 2021, his job approval rating was 52 percent. On a list of 10 officials, including Mr. Biden and congressional leaders, only two scored higher: Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Jerome H. Powell, the chairman of the Federal Reserve.