The character George Costanza of the '90s sitcom "Seinfeld," goes berserk after an 85-year old man he just met and is having lunch with tells him he’s not afraid of dying.
“I think about it at my age,” says Costanza. “Imagine how much I’ll be thinking about it at your age. All I do is think about it until it drives me insane.”
“I’m grateful for every moment I have,” counters the 85-year old.
“Grateful? How can you be grateful when you are so close to the end? Any second, bam! it could be over. It’s a matter of simple arithmetic for God’s sake,” Costanza howls.
“I guess I just don’t care," the calm 85-year old responds.
“What are you talking about?” an increasingly loud and agitated Costanza shouts. “How can you sit there and look me in the eye and tell me you are not worried? Don’t you have any sense? Don’t you have a brain? Are you so completely senile you don’t even know what you are talking about anymore? “
The elderly man eventually gets up, telling the irate Costanza as he walks out, “Life’s too short to waste on you.”
Costanza’s fear of dying is so deeply embedded he’s incapable of hearing another point of view. Isn’t that how fear often works? We don’t want to hear anything that doesn’t validate our views and we reject and despise anyone who disagrees.
I was reminded of this decades-old Seinfeld clip after reading the many Costanza-like emails, Twitter responses and comments responding to my column published on Sunday. In it, I offer examples of evidence that shutting down and ruining our economy over the coronavirus may have been an overreaction to the problem.
“I will do everything in my power to understand why the Advocate/Times-Picayune allows you to do this and what pictures you have of them to keep them hostage,” writes Brian.
“You have the critical thinking skills of a sea sponge,” tweets Stephen.
“You really need to do some soul searching to see first and foremost if you still have one,” tweets Kat.
“Fagan, your column is cringe-worthy, your ignorance is overwhelming, and you look like a pink potato,” writes John.
Opinion columnists, conservative or liberal, are used to strong reactions to their work. We are deeply divided as a nation. But the COVID-19 debate seems different. There’s more passion, vitriol, anger. Very Costanza like.
The virus has been deadly in Louisiana especially among the elderly. But this should not stop us from debating the impact of the government’s response. Especially since Louisiana, unlike many other states, has kept a considerable number of the restrictions that have damaged our economy in place.
The debate over lifting restrictions have fallen mostly along ideological lines in Louisiana. Many Republican legislators have called on Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, to lift restrictions more quickly. And New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, also a Democrat but considered to lean even harder to the left than Edwards, has been more resistant to opening up the economy than the governor.
A Reuters/Ipsos survey of 1,115 U.S. adults conducted last week found nearly half of Democrats were very concerned about the virus compared to only one-third of Republicans. Reuters also reports several polls show Republicans, much more than Democrats, favor lifting COVID-19 restrictions that have crippled our nation’s economy.
The New York Times reported this week the canceling of elective procedures at U.S. hospitals has led to many deaths that could have been prevented. The Times also reports visits to many of our nation’s emergency rooms are down by half for fear of COVID-19. And then there are the fatalities caused by the stress of losing a job or a business you spent your life building. Stress kills, too.
The debate over how to deal with COVID-19 is not as cut and dry as many demanding conformity and silence on the issue claim. This is not simply a debate between jobs or life. It’s much more complicated than that. The virus is real, dangerous and destructive. But so are many of the measures taken to combat it.
Email Dan Fagan at firstname.lastname@example.org