During the 2020 presidential campaign, Joe Biden declared that he would be ready and willing as president to follow the recommendation of scientists to shut down the country in the name of countering coronavirus. Then, on Thursday, Biden insisted he would not, as president, impose a national shutdown.
But, it turns out Biden, in his Thursday comments, was just playing a word game. He defined “shutdown” such that it describes something no government has undertaken in the name of countering coronavirus and something very different from what most people understand the term “shutdown” to mean in this context. Then Biden proceeded to describe the actions he wants to take that fall right in line with shutdowns governments have imposed and with what people generally understand as a coronavirus-related shutdown.
On Thursday, when a reporter had just begun asking a question by restating Biden’s earlier declaration about shutting down the country, Biden interrupted, insisting that his previous declaration was just a hypothetical. He then stated:
I am not gonna shut down the economy, period. I am gonna shut down the virus. That’s what I’m gonna shut down. I’ll say it again: No national shutdown; no national shutdown.That sounds like a rather emphatic 360 reversal from Biden, except that talk of “gonna shut down the virus” instead of shutting down the economy sounds like the use of a euphemism to paper over an actual national shutdown. Think of it like America’s “war on drugs.” The war is really on people who are surveilled, searched, arrested, imprisoned, and otherwise acted upon harshly by government. Yet, politicians can claim the war is on drugs, not people.
Biden then proceeded, in his comments interrupting the reporter’s question, to discuss his plan for a national shutdown, all the while stating that it would not be a national shutdown:
[E]very region, every area, every community can be different and so there’s no circumstance which I can see that would require total national shutdown. I think that would be counterproductive. But, there are constraints in which the degree to which businesses can be open. For example, it’s one thing to say that you can have, in a state where the infection rate is not as high, you can have a gymnasium open. It’s another thing to say it can only be open four hours a day with X number of people. The church I go to — my Catholic church — they don’t allow more than 40 percent of the people to come into the church. Those are rational decisions. It’s not shutting down everything. It’s calibrating based on what the threat is.Biden declares he opposes a “total” shutdown where the government shuts down “everything.” The fact is that no local, state, or national government in the world has imposed such a shutdown. While shutdowns in America and across the world have imposed major restraints on economic activities and people’s freedom of movement, they have never shut down everything. For example, people have not been required to starve to death in their homes. Grocery stores have remained open. Also remaining open, in many cases, were restaurants for drive through, take out, and delivery. In shutdowns, restrictions were placed on these and other businesses deemed “essential” by government, but they were not shut down. Similarly, shutdowns across the world have imposed extreme mandates on what people do and where people may go, but such restrictions have never been “total.”
Shutdowns in the name of countering coronavirus have been largely defined by governments taking it upon themselves to determine what businesses can be open and to dictate how businesses allowed to remain open can operate. Shutdowns also tend to come with various other government rules including prohibiting the assembling of more than a certain number of people, mandating mask wearing, and imposing limitations on people’s activities outside of home.
Biden on Thursday just said he does not intend to impose a “straw man” national shutdown — a type of action nobody is talking about and that has not been imposed by any governments — and then proceeded to describe how he desires to implement exactly what in common parlance would be called a national shutdown. When Biden says he or the United States government should decide, based on looking at coronavirus information, whether any particular gym in America may be open and, if it is decided the gym is allowed to be open, how many hours a day the gym is allowed to operate and how many people are allowed to be in it, he is saying he supports a national shutdown.
In shutdowns, some stores are closed entirely. Others have mandates placed on them, such as occupancy and hours limits. These are exactly the kind of restraints on businesses that Biden says he wants to impose while claiming he opposes a national shutdown. To us Biden’s language, though he denies it, Biden is in fact supporting a national shutdown, “period.”
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