The first question at Wednesday's vice presidential debate was why the U.S. has fared so much worse than other countries in handling the COVID-19 pandemic. The New England Journal of Medicine had offered an answer hours earlier, in a very unusual editorial: The U.S. government has, uniquely in the world, "failed at almost every step." The 202-year-old medical journal's editors did not endorse Joe Biden, as Scientific American did last month, or mention President Trump by name, but the message was a clear prescription to vote him out in November.
"The United States came into this crisis with enormous advantages," the editors detail. But "the response of our nation's leaders has been consistently inadequate. The federal government has largely abandoned disease control to the states. Governors have varied in their responses, not so much by party as by competence. But whatever their competence, governors do not have the tools that Washington controls. Instead of using those tools, the federal government has undermined them."
The federal government's "weak and inappropriate" policies have cause additional U.S. deaths "at least in the tens of thousands," the editorial estimates, concluding:
Anyone else who recklessly squandered lives and money in this way would be suffering legal consequences. Our leaders have largely claimed immunity for their actions. But this election gives us the power to render judgment. Reasonable people will certainly disagree about the many political positions taken by candidates. But truth is neither liberal nor conservative. When it comes to the response to the largest public health crisis of our time, our current political leaders have demonstrated that they are dangerously incompetent. We should not abet them and enable the deaths of thousands more Americans by allowing them to keep their jobs. [New England Journal of Medicine editorial]
"We rarely publish editorials signed by all the editors," Dr. Eric Rubin, the NEJM's editor-in-chief, told CNN. And "the reason we've never published an editorial about elections is we're not a political journal and I don't think that we want to be a political journal — but the issue here is around fact, not around opinion. There have been many mistakes made that were not only foolish but reckless and I think we want people to realize that there are truths here, not just opinions." Read the full editorial at The New England Journal of Medicine.