The first presidential debate was less an argument over policies and ideas than a boxing match. But there was at least one brief exchange that bordered on an ideological debate.
“We prefer a vaccine,” said Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenFederal judge shoots down Texas proclamation allowing one ballot drop-off location per county Sanders endorses more than 150 down-ballot Democrats Debate commission cancels Oct. 15 Trump-Biden debate MORE about the COVID-19 pandemic. “But I don’t trust [President TrumpDonald John TrumpFederal judge shoots down Texas proclamation allowing one ballot drop-off location per county Nine people who attended Trump rally in Minnesota contracted coronavirus Schiff: If Trump wanted more infections ‘would he be doing anything different?’ MORE] at all, and neither do you. I know you don’t. What we trust is a scientist.”
“You don’t trust Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer?” the president responded.
Unfortunately, the discussion then drifted to trading blows about who spends more time golfing.
Reading between the lines, the candidates were debating the role of government in public health and other public goods. Should people trust private corporations over public institutions? What’s the government’s responsibility in making sure everyone has access to essential public goods, like vaccines, clean water and a quality education?
Virologists and other trusting scientific experts agree that when it comes to the eventual rollout of a vaccine, administering them will be a massive government operation, in which “good management skills and logistics” will be necessary.
This aligns with what’s worked in other places. Vietnam, a country of 95 million people, has suffered only 35 deaths due to the virus. Experts chalk that up to the government’s swift and coordinated implementation of mass testing, lockdowns, contact tracing and compulsory mask wearing.
Such a public response is hard to imagine in the U.S. because we’ve been swimming in anti-government ideology since at least the Reagan administration — which gets to the heart of what was briefly debated in Cleveland.
How can we trust big drug companies? Hundreds of legal cases have been filed against some of them related to the opioid epidemic, which has so far claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.
But it goes beyond a few companies with bad track records. It goes to the very nature of market competition versus the responsibility of public institutions in American life.
We’re repeatedly told that market competition — the pursuit of profit and choice — is the only way to make progress and prosperity happen.
Yes, competition can be a positive force — it drives people to do better and companies to come up with better products and services. But corporations have a clear interest that doesn’t always align with, nor benefit, the public.
That’s why we can’t trust corporations to provide public goods by themselves. It is why things we all rely on, like vaccines, need government coordination and regulation, and other things, like the U.S. Postal Service, should be wholly public. It is why in the race for a COVID-19 vaccine