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All politicians appreciate the power of a symbol, a slogan or a mantra.

That must account for the right wing's transformation of the name of Anthony S. Fauci, America's best-known and most respected immunologist, into an all-purpose swear word.

The right wing has tried to make Fauci, 80, the face of a supposed campaign to absolve China from responsibility for ushering the virus that causes COVID-19 into the world, which is known as the "lab leak hypothesis."

Tucker Carlson of Fox News alleges Fauci lied to the public to protect a virus lab in Wuhan, China, and has mocked him via graphics on his show as "Lord Fauci, Patron Saint of Wuhan."

Republican officeholders have called for Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, to be fired or subjected to criminal prosecution.

They accuse him of being complicit in the alleged release or escape from a Chinese laboratory of the virus causing COVID-19, a "manufactured plague," according to a letter sent out June 4 by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga. (Greene demanded action against Fauci by the Biden administration by June 31, a date that doesn't exist on the calendar.)

None of this is novel as a political technique. Facts are complicated and often can't be explicated without nuance. That process bores audiences and glazes people's eyes. It's much easier, and effective, to cast nuance aside and bundle every detail of a position into a simple one- or two-word mantra.

Neither side of the political aisle is immune from this temptation, but it certainly seems as if the right has become more adept at employing it.

Republicans rechristened the estate tax as the "death tax," which concealed from voters the facts that it was levied not on the dead but their heirs and that its effects fell chiefly on the very richest families in America, not the average mom and dad.

Similarly, the Affordable Care Act was repositioned by its enemies as a "government takeover" of health care and America's health insurance companies.

"Socialism" has become the all-purpose Republican label for any Democratic-supported government policy, evidently on the assumption that average Americans don't actually know what socialism is or that the Democratic platform doesn't resemble it at all; voters only need to think that "socialism" is a bad thing for the label to do its job.

It's proper to take a close look at what Fauci is specifically accused of. In the most general terms, he's being painted as the villain in the U.S. response to the coronavirus. Americans' doubts about the pandemic include questions about the deadliness of the virus, the efficacy of countermeasures such as masks or anti-malarial pills, and where the virus came from.

Professional scientists' views on many of these issues evolved over the last 18 months, and as a professional scientist, so did Fauci's. The attack line that he was "wrong" in the past for advising against widespread mask wearing or doubting the scale of the pandemic's threat merely shows that he was open to new information about a virus about which we knew almost nothing at the outset but learned quickly.

As knowledge grew, Fauci's views changed; what didn't change was his willingness to admit that he was learning something new every day and to adjust his conclusions to the facts at hand.

The attacks on Fauci have nothing to do with anything resembling responsible scientific inquiry. They're a partisan sideshow. Luckily, the Biden White House seems at this date to be fully alive to that aspect of the campaign. Biden was asked at a June 4 news conference in Delaware as he was walking out the door, "Mr. President, are you confident in Dr. Fauci?" Biden thought the question so important that he stuck his head back through the door to say, "Yes, I'm very confident in Dr. Fauci."

That same day, in Washington, Biden's press secretary, Jen Psaki, fielded a similar question about Fauci from a Fox News reporter.

"Can you imagine any circumstance where President Biden would ever fire him?" he asked.

Without a moment's hesitation, she replied, "No."

The Los Angeles Times

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