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S2: Hello and welcome to the Slate political gabfest for August 13. Twenty twenty, the cheap, mediocre test edition.
S3: I am David Plotz of Business Insider from Washington, D.C., New set up today in my bedroom. And I am joined from New York City by John Dickerson of CBS 60 Minutes. Hello, John.
S4: Hello, David. Is that a permanent new set up or.
S3: I’m just trying out different rooms in my new apartment because last last week was a little echoey. I was in my son’s room last week. Well, he’s sleeping. And, B, it’s it was echoey. So now I’m in my bedroom, so we’ll see how it goes.
S4: You know, I’m very change makes me nervous.
S3: So I just want to make sure that, you know, that laugh, that mild chuckle of not much amusement was from Jose Duffie writes, Hello.
S5: Hi. I was very amused. I want to clarify. Yes.
S3: Jose Jose is president of the appeal. She is in Atlanta. And of course, she is a a favorite host and she is hosting because Emily is somewhere else. I don’t even know, probably on vacation. I would assume it’s August. She must be on vacation. So I hope you’re vacating. Emily on today’s gabfest. It’s Kamala Harris. How will Joe Biden’s running mate affect the race? And how will her selection shape Democratic politics for the decade to come? Then the federal government has basically given up on the coronavirus, on the pandemic, even though it remains a disaster. Will President Trump’s unilateral moves help the economy, which still suffers and will? Well, negotiations over a huge coronavirus relief bill revive? Then we are joined by epidemiologist Michael Mina, whom I raved about last week at my cocktail chatter to talk about a different way to test for covid that could really improve and change the course of the pandemic. Plus, of course, we will have cocktail chatter. Kamala Harris is Joe Biden’s running mate. Harris is the first black woman, the first Asian-American, the first graduate of an BCU to be on the ticket for a major party. She is, of course, a senator from California, former attorney general of California and a presidential candidate Jose. Yes, this is a historic moment for the country. You are a black woman, a black woman who is also a lawyer who works in criminal justice like Kamala Harris. I’m interested in how why you think it’s important. And also maybe I’m interested in how this struck you as a matter of representation, how it made you feel to have a black woman on the ticket.
S5: Yeah, it’s interesting because I’m a black woman who works in criminal justice. Right. So the past few days, we’ve been hearing from both sides of everybody. I think it’s I think it’s a great choice. I think she’s just an incredibly impressive and symbolic pick for this role. And I think she’s going to be a great complement to to the vice president. And I think it’s also worth noting just how impressive she’s been, especially in the Senate. She is, you know, but one of the very few people to call for monthly payments in this moment of pandemic. She’s been like one of the most progressive senators consistently over her career. And I really hope that she can sort of underscore the importance of working with more left voices, including grassroots voices, to the administration. If they if they are successful, which I it looks very tentatively like they will be.
S3: Do you think that she is a radical choice or conventional choice?
S5: I think she’s a pretty conventional choice. Right. Like who would be a radical? I mean, like the Senate is just not a radical body. None of the choices were particularly radical. About Demings isn’t radical. Like, you know, Susan Rice isn’t radical. So we weren’t like starting from a place of here’s here’s like there is no there was no like, is he going to pick AOC choice here? Right. And so I think she’s a fair she’s a pretty conventional choice. She knows how things work. She’s a she’s a establishment politician. And I say that in the way meaning like she’s not she works from the inside. She’s not a change maker from the outside. Right. But I think that’s good right now. I, I was really thrilled and surprised to see that at least among my communities, people were thrilled. There is rave reviews. And I think even among people who have been skeptical of her previous criminal justice record, which I think has been fair skepticism at at points in the past, I see her as someone who’s evolving, who’s changing on the issue and who can really make a major difference when it matters. And I believe in that. Like I believe that Joe Biden has has changed a lot in his time. And that doesn’t mean he won’t have to be pushed left, but it means we’re not dealing with the Joe Biden of 1991. We’re dealing with the Joe Biden of 2020. We’re dealing with the Kamala Harris of 20 20. And I think it’s a good mix of people who are open to progressive ideas and people who work pretty squarely within the system.
S6: John? I’m interested you do this probably every four years, probably more often than every four years, you give us some disquisition on the relevance or irrelevance of vice presidential choices for campaigns. Obviously, they’re relevant for getting the country for the future. And we’ll talk about that in a minute. But for campaigns, how much do they matter? So I’m interested. What does Harris bring to the Biden ticket in terms of issues or turnout or states or or anything? Or is it simply that she’ll be fine and she doesn’t disqualify him in any way?
S7: So the scholarship and the conventional wisdom, I think it’s conventional now, although we’re all analyzing the the dickens out of this decision, is that vice presidents don’t really affect the vote too much. It’s basically people vote on the top of the ticket. Having said that, I find it hard to fully embrace that scholarship because we see the way in which bad vice presidential picks have been a distraction from campaigns. And also, I should one other big caveat. We’re in a funky election in covid-19 time where traditional rules don’t as may not necessarily apply. And so to the extent that this was an attempt, this was a chance to focus on the Biden campaign, focus on Joe Biden, focus on the message and the and all the things he talked about, that’s different in this context because it’s not competing with a lot of other stuff that Joe Biden has done. So so I think we have to be careful about looking at the past to reflect on this moment because this moment is so different. But I think if you’re a presidential candidate, you want to do two things with your vice presidential pick. You want to pick somebody who excites your voters or at least doesn’t turn them off. But you don’t want to do that at the expense of craziness for the next three months between now and Election Day. So John McCain picked Sarah Palin, excited the base of his party that he was having difficulty with. But then she went rogue, as she ultimately said herself, and also had undermined his argument at a campaign which was you had to have experience in the job. You had to have a certain kind of experience to hold the job. But then she didn’t have that kind of experience and therefore it was undermined. His claim she was ready from day one. So I think Kamala Harris both seems to be exciting Democrats. And she’s a pretty cautious politician. She understands the dance steps that will be required to fit into the vice presidential role. Or I mean, at the end, she’s she’s shown herself able to kind of follow the routines of politics.
S4: 17 of the last 19 Democratic vice presidential picks have been senators or former senators. So she’s very conventional in in that sense.
S6: That is I didn’t realize that. That’s a shocking and and truly depressing statistic.
S7: Well, it perhaps. But what it shows is that the grooves of of what you’re looking for here are are pretty set. And so that’s to Josie’s point. She’s very conventional.
S8: I find her interestingly, pense like I know that’s going to be offensive to people, but in the way that she embodies kind of the median. Voter of her party and in the way that she’s a deeply conventional, opportunistic politician, I feel she is very similar to Mike Pence. But in the way that the median voter in the Republican Party is some middle aged Christian white guy, the median voter in the Democratic Party is a woman of color, of middle age. And and Kamala Harris embodies that. But in an extremely kind of conventional politician way, she’s not somebody who radiates idealism, who radiates ideology, who radiates kind of a vision about things. She’s see, she’s like a politician. And I say that with that is a compliment coming from me, I believe. And politicians should be good at politics. And she seems like that’s who she is. But I actually want to get to why, if she is good at the ways that we talk about it, why, Jose, was her presidential campaign such a wet rag?
S5: It’s undeniable that people are more comfortable with Joe Biden in the driver’s seat, in part because of his gender and his race, I think, and probably also because of the fact that he’s then, you know, vice president for eight years in the past. I think also, like she people were really grappling with her record as a prosecutor and as someone who works in criminal justice, like I’ve had that same experience in the past. Right. I will say that, like, I focus a lot on prosecutors and being a prosecutor is very difficult when you run for higher office for the reason that you’ve dealt with hundreds of thousands of cases. And so your record is extremely long. There’s no question that you’ve made decisions left and right that like people at first glance, are not going to like it, maybe for four totally good reasons. And that’s not to say that she didn’t make some decisions I don’t think I would have made. I do think that context matters in terms of timing. She was a D.A. in a time when the idea of a progressive D.A. was not really a thing at all. But I also think this is not that job. Being a prosecutor is not being vice president, being vice president is not being senator. And so trying to figure out where someone can do that could make the most change in the most progressive way, I think really matters. And then I think the other important thing is like. Who were the other choices? It’s not just I think she would be a great choice regardless, but I don’t think there was this other person that everybody was really excited about. And I think in the way that she has more personality and more kind of she’s more engaging than someone like Tim Kaine. Right. That she’s someone that you remember when she questions Kobana. I remember when Jeff Sessions said, you’re making me nervous. I was like one of my favorite quotes when she was questioning him. You’re making you’re making me nervous. She she there’s something about her that is fun to watch. Right. In good times and bad. And I think that’s great.
S8: Right. But so OK. I to all agree, why was she such a bad presidential candidate?
S5: I don’t think people are as open to voting for black women and as a president as they are for vice president. I don’t think that’s the only thing we like to believe that like we’re ready for a black woman president. And meanwhile, we have, like, the most racist president we could imagine. And those two things are really actually hard for me to to make make sense in the sense that, like, there’s still a lot of anti women, anti black sentiment. Right. And who and who gets a job like this?
S7: I would just one tiny little thing about what this tell us about Joe Biden. You know, he’s basically.
S4: A guy who who puts grudges aside to get things done, that’s what you do as a senator, you rail against somebody and you have disagreements and then you basically make deals with them. And so this reminded me a little bit. A little bit. So it reminds me of Reagan picking Bush, who obviously was a tough opponent in the 1980 race, and then and then Bob Dole picking Jack Kemp in nineteen ninety six, where I mean, Jack Kemp. People think that that Kamala Harris was tough on on Biden. Jack Kemp spent his whole career basically torpedoing Bob Dole and then Dole picked him. So in the in the pantheon of president vice presidential picks, this one’s not really at the top. But it did speak to me, did that sort of senatorial thing where you just sort of don’t hold grudges and and move on. The final point to your question about running as president, there was this weird analysis that said, well, she had a bad presidential campaign as if that were a problem for her as a vice presidential nominee. If you look at the last two Democratic vice presidential nominees, Joe Biden was not a good presidential candidate in 88 or in 08.
S7: And Al Gore wasn’t a picnic, you know, didn’t do very well either. So it’s almost as if being a bad vice, being a bad primary Democratic candidate makes you the perfect vice president. If you judge from the last two that did it.
S6: Actually, let’s. Well, several different channels. I want to I want to float down. The first is actually following on that. Jose John has said that it is conventional wisdom tells us that the Harris pick probably will not affect the race. Too much of the vote, too much. However, what it has done, it has made Kamala Harris arguably the most likely person in the world to be the most important person in the world over the next decade. She is the person now most likely to be a Democratic nominee for president in four years and eight years, most likely to be president, given the sort of shape of the electorate in this country, the inside track to lead the America’s largest political party. So in that sense, what is this? So is this a good choice? And what do you think, Harris, as a not as a dupe, does she help Biden in Wisconsin? But what change will she bring to America and to the world if she ends up as the as the truck driver for the 18 wheeler that is America?
S5: Yeah. You know, on some level, it feels so hard to predict that. And I think part of that is because I’m a fairly risk averse person. But what the world looks like in a few years is virtually impossible for me to imagine at this point, because I could not have predicted the world looking like this four years ago. I think that she’s a great and a safe pick. And I want to focus on safe because she kind of is like a calm boat in a rough storm. And I think that there’s real value in that to people right now. The chaos of the past four years has been has made so many people’s lives much more anxiety ridden. Regardless of your political party, not feeling like you know what’s coming down the hatch is an extremely stressful way to live. And you know what’s coming down the hatch with Kamala Harris, I think. And I think that that’s really a benefit right now. And so in that way, like picturing her in 10 years, I don’t know what that looks like, but I, I can imagine it much better than I can imagine the Tom Cotton world of ten years from now or the the Donald Trump world, obviously, of 10 years from now. And that in itself is reassuring to me.
S4: You know, just picking up on that, the Biden is trying to present himself as kind of a bridge to the future with Kamala Harris, which is to say, she adds dynamism and just it’s a much more youthful oriented ticket when you have when you have somebody who’s fifty five or seventy seven. But to Josie’s point, she’s also in that groove that allows him to be a bridge to the past, which is to say a bridge to normalcy. And his convention is going to be dedicated in part to basically saying those old fashioned ideas of integrity and character and restraint and respect for the office. Those would come back with a Biden presidency, and she feels completely in keeping with those norms of politics. Even though she’s a candidate of the future, it still is able to fit in the box of a kind of a traditional candidate, establishment candidate, which is part of the Biden message, actually.
S6: Let’s turn to that, John. That was another another channel I want to hit, which is the conventions and the shape of the campaign to come. So you work at CBS, so I’m sure you’re at least aware how they’re going to cover it. Do you think these conventions are going to be covered or are they going to are they going to be visual and and present spectacles in the way that conventions of the past have been?
S8: Is there anything you’ve read about in terms of how each of the parties is going to conduct their convention? That makes you think one of them is going to be valuable for the party, more valuable for a party as far as what the networks will do.
S4: I know at least I’ll be at a desk in Washington, D.C. for two straight weeks every night from from 10 to 11. Oh, yeah. Let’s have a drink. You know, we should, but I’ll be working from 10 to 11 on the TV. But that’s you know, it’s one hour. So it’s and it’s going to be I mean, Biden won’t be in Milwaukee and some of the speeches will be pre-recorded. All the serendipity. The last time we really had a session, a moment of surprise at a convention was in 1980 when Bush was announced as as Reagan’s VP. And then in the Democratic race, Kennedy almost took it away from Jimmy Carter. But since then, surprises have been banned from conventions. It’s not like they mean a lot, but it’s it’s interesting. Most of the time parties try to up the stakes when they have a convention, they try to get everybody excited and talk about how important the election is. Nobody has to add any drama to what’s happening in America right now. The Republicans have planned a nightly surprise from 10 to 11.
S7: This is an attempt, of course, to goose the ratings. I wonder if America needs a nightly surprise. I think America’s I think America would like us. I mean, they’re getting enough nightly surprises on the evening news. I think they could use a nightly sedation, frankly.
S6: And so I’m sure that you could have story time. You’re what Republican would you want to read you like a nice bedtime story?
S7: Yeah, I don’t know. But Goodnight Moon at from 10 to 11 would be might be just like be awesome. Oh so, so I think you know, so it’ll be really interesting to see how some of that stuff Saud’s.
S4: And then I think the other thing that is just constantly in my mind as we think about conventions and as we think about all this coverage for the next 80 some odd days is how the country reacts is different than how the voters in the half a dozen states that are going to determine the Election Act. And we just always have to keep that in mind. And so I’ll be trying to think that through as well.
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S8: We’re going to talk about what we would do if we had one day off from the pandemic. If the pandemic sort of vanished magically for a moment, what would we do? How would we spend that day again, go to sleep? Dotcom slugfests plus to become a member, the economy remains.
S6: Drecker, the United States is suffering more than any rich economy in the world because of the pandemic. Yet Congress and the president are no longer even negotiating about another relief bill. At the end of last week, we got the unsurprising but still scary constitutional end run by the president, who issued some executive orders that vaguely wave at the massive problems that the economy faces and the relief bill that had been under negotiation would try to solve. He’s taking some FEMA money and using it for unemployment payments that will last a few weeks. He’s encouraging the feds not to evict people from housing that is federally supported, telling companies they don’t need to collect payroll taxes that fund Social Security. Everyone then just simply walked away. So, John. There was clearly a massive gap between what the Democrats wanted to fund, they had a three point four trillion dollar bill that they passed and what Republicans wanted to fund, they had about a one trillion dollar proposal they were looking at. But it is sort of shocking that in the midst of massive unemployment, complete economic fracture, where you have House Democrats who want to negotiate, a Treasury secretary who clearly wants to negotiate, even Senate Republicans who pretty much are interested in something that there’s not even negotiation. What is going on? And do you think it’s just this is just a prelude to them coming back and passing a bill quickly and in a couple of weeks?
S4: Well, I had thought that a couple of weeks ago when talks broke down on that Friday at the end of July, I had assumed that this would follow the pattern that we know of, which is things break down and then the pressure builds after the breakdown and we get a deal or we get a series of interim whacks at the snooze bar. So the six hundred dollar weekly unemployment assistance would continue while they work out the rest of the details. So that hasn’t happened. And it’s a mean there are a number of different inputs here and reasons that that’s the case. I mean, there’s there’s disagreement among Republican senators. There is a lack of negotiating muscle from the president. I mean, remember that one of the arguments for his presidency was that he was a dealmaker and that he would be able to get deals done and not have to resort to executive orders. So that might sound like sort of the regular thing that presidential candidates say, which is fine. But since the president is regularly in no other way, that was a way in which he was supposedly going to intersect with the traditional expectations of the presidency. And he’s been basically absent and for good reason. He has no particular and has not been interested in cultivating the kind of persuasive relationship with any Democrats or even a lot of members of his own party that that you would need to get that to happen as a public matter. He lacks the persuasive skills to change the dynamic. But what’s strange about this is the public has not. Well, I guess there are two things. One, the public has given him very bad marks for his response to the coronavirus. And while there is a strange disconnect between the way that people think about the economy and the coronavirus, it is, I think, going to become increasingly clear, though it’s clear with all the economists I talked to that you can’t fix the economy until you fix the coronavirus. So to the extent that the economy is still in an anemic state, while it’s been the one bright spot for the president, I’m not sure how long that that stays the case. So I would think there’d be much more urgency from the White House as far as Democrats are concerned. I think they see this as I don’t think they see themselves as having the leverage here because of the national poll numbers and because it’s hurting those swing state Republicans up in the Senate. And I think finally, this is a part of the structural problems we have with Congress in general. Francis Lee is the political scientist I always go back to on this in her work.
S7: That basically explains that because the houses of switched control, so often all debates happen in the context of who’s going to win control of the House or Senate. And so if the Senate control is up for grabs for Democrats, there’s not a lot of incentive to give up your leverage because you’re the prize is is potentially regaining control of the Senate. And two little figures that just remind us of the structural forces at play here between 1980 and twenty eighteen, the Senate majority has changed hands six times. The House has shifted four times or five times during that same period. So that’s the bigger structural incentive that makes it that that makes it hard to get compromise.
S8: The yeah. I mean, I’ve been thinking about this in a way how much better it would be to have a parliamentary system. I mean, I think that probably every day I wake up and it’s like I wish I lived in a parliamentary system and a parliamentary system, we would have we would have a government which had controlled a majority in the legislature and could put forth whatever bills, whatever measures it wanted to put forth. And, you know, if the public rebelled, there could be a snap election and a new government could come in. But the government was always, always be able to act. We have the situation where we have a president who sort of wants to do one weird set of things, the Senate Republicans who want to do other sets of things and a Democratic House that wants to other sorts of things. Those don’t have, you know, the Venn diagram where they overlap is quite tiny. And none of them has none of them can force the other to act. And and therefore, you end up with this the situation of a frozen government. I think that the the theory of the United States was will they’ll be such an incentive for compromise because the public will need things done that these parties will compromise. But what we have is, is legislators who act in political interest rather than national interest. They are thinking about the the political gain for their party rather than than the gain for the country. What is bizarre to me and maybe, Jose, if you have a take on this, I’m interested, is that for Republicans, it seems to be so clear that for at least the Republicans who are facing election in November, that a massive emergency bill is both good politics and good policy. It is it will help them and it will help the country. And I’m so befuddled as to why they have not pushed harder for it.
S5: Yeah, it’s strange seeing like like Ron Johnson saying he hopes that the talks remain broken down. It really is a reminder that these people are not in touch with what’s happening on the ground at all. They’re not in touch with how people are struggling. I think that all the time about working moms even right now. Right. That like, we haven’t set up structures to ensure paid leave or to, you know, to extend FMLA even further than we had extended it or to help daycare stay open because they’re seeing daycare is closed down, left and right. We see what’s happening in schools. I mean, like the fact that we’ve prioritized what we’ve prioritized in terms of reopening that. I mean, I live in Georgia. My governor is just kind of pretending this isn’t happening. Right. And I’m hearing Ron Johnson say he hopes basically there’s no more spending. It really signals that there is a failure to acknowledge what is probably the biggest and most unexpected crises crisis of all of our time. I mean, my grandmother is 90. She’s like, I’ve never seen anything like this. It just erodes long term. I mean, we’re talking about short term benefits. OK, well, if the Senate, the Senate, if you get control of the Senate and a little, you know, in a few months you’re not you’re going to wish you hadn’t caved. All of that is true. And yet the long term trust of our government institutions actually really matters. And we’re just seeing it erode in real time and even faster, I think, than we’ve seen it erode in the past few years, which was I thought I didn’t know it could go any faster. And here we are seeing people just have no faith that their government will protect them.
S6: In a moment and in a moment like this, I think I want to I think that’s extremely well set up. But I want to push back on something. You started with the frame, which is that Ron Johnson or the Republicans aren’t listening to people or they’re not. I think it’s that people have a whole different set of people they listen to. And the ones the Republicans are listening to and the ones the Democrats are listening to are seeing different world. And the ones the Republicans are listening to have some sense, like, oh, all we need is to kick start the economy. Like, that’s all it is. And they are business owners. There tend to be richer. They are, you know, their their views are just very different. I mean, you look at the polling, there’s a set of thirty five percent of people who don’t think this is a real thing and just want the economy going. And those are the that’s the the the core constituency of the Republican Party. And so Ron Johnson, I think, is listening to the people who are the majority of his vote. Right. And that’s what’s so on nerving. Is that like that that leaves out the sixty five percent who disagree with that. And who who’s suffering is really profound, I think, to two things on that.
S5: One is that I think you’re right and it reminds me of the New York Times article published maybe last year or the year before about Arkansas and and how insuring less government spending is really like people. I don’t think I realize that people want less government spending, even when it’s very clear that it directly impacts their life in a negative way. It’s not hypocrisy. People are consistent in some places about wanting the deficit down as far as possible, even when they know it means their kids won’t get as good schools, etc.. But I think the second thing worth mentioning there is that it’s a real question for politicians. Like what is I mean, what is your job? And I think your job is to do it in the best interest of people, even when they’re not totally clear that that’s in the best interest of them. Not to be patronizing, but you don’t want to to to let people walk around without masks just because they don’t feel like it when you know that there like a real impact to public health, you don’t want to let the eviction moratorium. And even if it’s not a major issue that you can tell them among pulling for your voters. And so there is some sort of moral requirement here. I mean, I know I’m calling on the Republicans to show some moral authority that they haven’t shown in a long time. But it it that it’s just completely missing, right? I mean, we’re letting people die and and we’re letting them fall into complete economic devastation. It’s it’s it’s kind of unbelievable to me.
S4: Here’s the biggest head scratcher for me, which is mostly I think of it in terms. The president, but also you talked about business owners, Ron Johnson was one of them. What’s the economic behavioral theory for how economic activity starts again? Everybody I talked to and David, you made this point a thousand years ago when this all started. People need to feel safe and stop being fearful about the virus to go back to participating in the consumer behavior that is the engine of the economy.
S7: How do you get them to do that? Do you just spin them and tell them everything’s OK and go back to school and forced march them back into the economy? Or do you actually create the conditions that make people come to that conclusion on their own? Because it’s their personal safety? It seems to me you have to do the latter. So that’s inconsistent with political speech. That’s all about appealing to your base. If you’re only ginning up the people who think wearing masks is an infringement on their personal liberty, you’re not doing anything to convince the people who think, hey, let’s all wear masks so we don’t get this virus, which is the precondition for reopening the economy. So it seems to me at the end of this, a misperception about the way the economy reopens, which is that it doesn’t reopen unless you get it, unless you get the virus under control and that you can’t talk your way out of this that political speech that’s been narrowcast it for so long is ineffective. You need persuasive speech that speaks to the whole country in order to create the conditions that will allow the economy to reopen. And so as long as that disconnect exists, this problem will continue. And the and the kind of ineffective solutions will constantly be pressed until, you know, I don’t know until what.
S6: Last week, I chattered about the This Week in virology episode that featured Dr. Michael Mina, who’s an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health. It was one of the most interesting hours I have spent in the pandemic on that podcast. And afterwards, in a New York Times op ed, Mina has made the case that a relatively cheap and dramatic change to how we test could be as effective as a vaccine and breaking the pandemic. Put it briefly, we would all do daily tests or lots of us would do daily extremely cheap, maybe one dollar, maybe five dollar a day test that would take about 10 minutes and use those tests to find out if we were contagious on that day and if we were contagious to stop circulating ourselves in the world. And this is a different kind of testing, much cheaper testing, much more widespread testing, but argues could be incredibly effective, maybe as effective as a vaccine in breaking the pandemic. So hello, Michael Mina, thank you for joining us.
S9: Absolutely. Very happy to be here.
S3: So explain to those who have not heard you on podcasts or on CNN or wherever or have read, not read your OP Ed’s how we test now and how we could test in your vision of how we could test and how that would make a difference.
S9: So how we test now is diagnostic testing, which is the tests that are the nasal swabs, for example, that go to a lab and use an expensive technology called PCR, polymerase chain reaction to get a very, very sensitive test, meaning that if you have more or less any virus particles or virus RNA inside of your nasal pharynx or your mouth, that that test will pick it up. But it’s a test that’s really designed to be able to tell people if they are sick with the virus and if the reason that they’re not feeling well is because they have coronavirus in the same way that we would do this with flu or other or other pathogens. The problem with that is that this is a it’s a diagnostic test. It needs to be prescribed by a doctor. It the results have to be able to be uploaded immediately to the public health authorities. So there’s a lot of infrastructure that has to go into running these tests. And what we’re seeing as a result of trying to use diagnostic tests for public health surveillance is we’re seeing that we just can’t do enough we don’t have enough tests in this country. So what I’m proposing in a number of us now, there’s been a sort of a small army of people from everything up to people in the federal government to city mayors and everyone else is really got on board with this idea of mass testing, gayly cheap, fast tests that you can use every morning right after you brush your teeth. For example, put in your contact lens, take one of these tests. The idea is that it’s not going to be a test. Who is primary goal? It is, is to tell you, have you ever been infected or is that the reason that you aren’t feeling well last week or even yesterday? It’s a test to tell you simply, do you have enough virus in you that if you go out today, you are a risk of spreading this? To other people, so it’s primary goal as a public health measure requires a different outcome when it goes to the FDA for evaluation and these tests can exist today. They do exist today, in fact, but they’re not mass produced because they’re currently illegal to produce and distribute and use, because they don’t fit the diagnostic bill. They’re not quite sensitive enough to tell you if you are sick with this virus. Two weeks ago.
S7: So, Michael, I as you were talking, I kept thinking, if you build it, they will come. So how what are the regulatory hurdles and how quickly could they be dispensed with? Is it just checking a box or is it something more complicated? And would it be what would be the sufficiently large enough location that you would need to try to get this installed so that everybody would see how quickly?
S4: I mean, could you do it in a small town to to basically do proof of concept so people would move even faster to get this done?
S9: Yeah, that’s a that’s a terrific question. You’d want to roll it out into a town that has cases right now so that you can actually see an outcome. Just recently, we held a roundtable discussion with the mayor of L.A., a number of mayors throughout the US and then the CEOs of some of the companies building these tests, another notable scientists and others. And the whole idea of that was to try to answer the question that you just asked, which is, could we roll this out? Could we do a pilot study, if you will, to see in effect? The short answer is yes, absolutely. We could if we could get the regulatory landscape in such a way that we could even do the pilot test without these companies that are producing the test, being at risk for getting shut down by the FDA. And and so that to to get this through, the FDA will require it doesn’t actually require much if the FDA is willing to create a new pathway where the outcome is not one of diagnostic medicine. And so that means that they remove requirements for prescriptions, they remove reporting requirements that it and it becomes just as simple as a as a simple plastic pregnancy test you pick up at the store. And so if we could get the FDA to say, you know, this is a new pathway that we’re building and the outcome of measure here is not going to be the sensitivity to, for example, detect molecules, but it would be the sensitivity to detect a person when they’re infectious or the ability to reduce an outbreak to nothing. Those would be different kinds of metrics. And the FDA is usually focused on. But if they could build that pathway, then I think we could we would have a number of different tests available today that could pass. Every test that that Americans get in particular is and this isn’t unique to the US. But since we’re in the US, in every test that we normally get is is firewalled, if you will, by a physician. And I’m a physician. And I don’t think that any patients or people that I would need to have a doctor’s note if they want to know their cholesterol. But this is just how we work in the US. And and fortunately, we’ve gotten this far without it becoming extraordinarily burdensome so that people were dying as a result. But now we’re at a point where we’re seeing this mixture of public health and trying to fit public health through a medical physician patient kind of relationship. Landscape is just failing.
S8: Have we seen any countries that are not the US adopt this? If we is this a is this idea of yours something that that is being tried elsewhere or nobody else has the number of cases we have and nobody else needs this because they’re doing contact tracing and that’s how they’re breaking the chain. Is that why it’s not happening elsewhere?
S9: Yes, I would say that the other the countries that are probably in a position to do this and would have the the interest in doing it, have a like you said, have largely gotten their cases to a manageable level, that it’s almost not necessary. But there are some countries this is somewhat of a new idea of how to use these tests. And for a long time, they were just deemed to be less accurate tests. And and I think a lot of our research, what it’s showing is the is actually I would say they’re not less accurate. You just have to define what is exactly your target is. And now that we’ve kind of redefined that and we’ve had we have the papers there in reference, but they should come out in the near future and in published versions. I think that there are a lot of people have been getting on board with the idea and now we’re starting to see every single day, more or less, I get at least one, if not multiple emails from people high up. Crown Prince’s and prime ministers and things like that have gotten in touch. So I think that we should expect to start seeing. Additional countries getting these rolled out. I hear a lot of people when they write to me, they said, look, you guys are having regulatory troubles. We don’t have those in our country. Let’s just do it here.
S3: We got a crown prince and so forth.
S9: So, you know, these are I think that we might see I think we will see this happening. I’ve been advising a lot of those other countries on how to maybe do this. And the problem is a lot of the countries that are really eager to do it, some in South America, Latin America, they don’t necessarily have the funds to really build it up. And the other part, the other problem is that the manufacturing infrastructure, at least the technology development, a lot of it’s in the United States and the US companies just aren’t even willing to necessarily go to production with this and spend the extra dollars to go to production until they get FDA approval or some sort of signal from the FDA that it’s worthwhile for them what they’re going to shut down. So I’m worried that that alone could serve to undermine the whole effort across the world. But there are two there are two tests that are that are being that are marked in Europe. That’s kind of a form of approval similar to the FDA. They’re Rapidan and Biosensor, the both South Korean, and they’re being rolled out a number of countries now, not quite to the scale. Again, they’re kind of they were being used as diagnostics. But I think now that we’re really showing how this can be used, not as simply a diagnostic, but truly an outbreak control mechanism, I think a lot of countries are starting to re-evaluate their their overall strategy and use of this almost in lieu of a vaccine, which currently, as we know, doesn’t exist.
S4: And even if it did exist, the I saw the Gallup polls said 30, 30 some odd percent of people wouldn’t trust the vaccine enough to take it. And then we also have all of the implementation challenges and depending on the government. So even if there is a vaccine, getting it into the population might be a huge challenge. So, Michael, if there is a benevolent billionaire out there who could go to one of these companies and say, look, I’ll I’ll freight the cost, don’t worry about the FDA, let’s build these and some country will use them and that will demonstrate proof of concept in the FDA. Of course, we’ll follow along. How fast could you turn could you flip the switch here? And how much money are we talking about that the benevolent billionaire would have to give?
S9: There are some small companies that are in space. Small companies like biotech, for example, I think could probably go to one of their manufacturing partners and start making a million or more of these a week. But actually, I’ve really started looking more at the some other companies, large companies like 3M. So now 3M has this test that I believe could work. I haven’t seen the data for it. So but I’m pretty sure this isn’t tough. Technology to build is one of the key things here. This is actually pretty routine technology. So if a company like 3M decides that they want to start building just millions and millions, millions of these a day, I wouldn’t put it past them to just start doing that. We would be in a pretty good position to probably build tens or maybe even hundreds of millions of these every single day.
S5: So just for people who are listening and are trying to imagine what this actually looks like, because I think there are people who have gone and gotten the tests now they’ve gone to their doctor’s office. They’ve maybe gone to a drive through what they’re experiencing, the Nazel, they’re hearing about the Nazel. So what does it look like to have a different test? What for? For someone who needs to get tested. What would be the procedure? How long would it take? Let’s sketch it out. Right.
S9: So what somebody would do is they would probably open a little plastic tube that they have. They would open up their package of of swabs. It swab the front of their nose. You’d rub inside the front of your nose. It wouldn’t be one of these tests that go way back into the back of the nose. You would do it yourself, drop the swab into a little plastic tube or a few drops of sailing into it, just like contact lenses and take the swab out. So now you have you just have a little plastic tube with some blood, some sailing. And if there was virus on that swab, it’s now in that sailing as well. And then you open up your package. And I envision that everyone has a pack of 30 or 50 tests that they get once a month. And and you just pull out one of the paper strips and toss it into the tube of sailing and let it sit there right next to your sink, right after you brush your teeth or whatever. And about five to 10 minutes later, 15 minutes later. So a little line will show up. And if the line shows up, then you’re positive. If there’s no line, then you are negative on this test, meaning you are negative, that you are unlikely to be transmitting viruses that day and. There will also be a control line set that it’s working so that every time you use that, there should be one line that does turn positive, but that’s a control. And so if you see two lines or positive, you see one line, you’re negative. So that’s kind of it. It really does have the form factor a little bit like a pregnancy test as well.
S6: Michael Mina, I hope that Jared Kushner or or some other muckety muck, Tony Fauji or Deborah Berk’s is listening to you and that we do get at least some of this experimentation. Thank you for joining us and come back another time. Thanks so much for having me. All right, let’s go to cocktail chatter when you’re sitting, waiting for your swab to deliver a positive or negative test result. John Dickerson, what are you going to be chattering about?
S4: Um, well, I have two chapters. One, is that just coming out of our conversation about covid-19, The New York Times did another study of the actual number of deaths from the coronavirus, and they found, at least as of August 13th, that the that the real number is closer to 200000. And basically, this is following up on work that they did previously, which was to look at what the traditional deaths would have been in the hardest hit areas and find that there was this big gap between what was reported as a coronavirus death and then the uptick in total deaths. And they saw that same pattern in this most recent work, track and follow the hot spots as they moved around the country. So both confirming the work that they’ve done before and and uncovering some of the the deaths that just aren’t being counted as this spreads across the country. And this week on Thursday was the highest death toll in the United States since May. So this is still raging, even though people aren’t talking about it that way in some quarters. The other thing is just to note that it turns out Bob Woodward, who never stops writing books, has another book that’s coming out September 15th. And the reason it’s interesting is that it’s based on 12 interviews he did, or at least maybe more than a dozen interviews he did with the president. The president didn’t talk to him for his first book, which was highly unflattering to the president, but now he has talked to him. Woodward also apparently has twenty five personal letters that Trump wrote to the North Korean dictator Kim Jong un. So basically in September 15th, we’re going to have probably the most extensive look into the Trump presidency from the president’s own mouth that we’ve had so far.
S8: I don’t think I’ve written twenty five personal letters to my wife. I mean, maybe to some college girlfriend during the during a dark time. Man, I don’t think I’ve written twenty five to my mother. I’m 50 years old and she loves letters. Jose, what is your chatter.
S5: Well first I think you owe your mom some letters. I read this book recently called Big Friendship, which I have been telling everybody about because I think it’s so great. It’s by I mean not to so and and and Friedman and it’s this incredible book about like how to maintain friendships, how to take care of your friendships the older you get. Right. And the thesis of it is kind of like we don’t see our friendships as important relationships in the context of our lives. But here they are really sustaining us. And I think it’s especially interesting and covid times for all of us are like, OK, what do we need? If we need if there’s an emergency, who do we call write like who are the people we want to build pods with or stay close to or see six feet away in the park or whatever it is. So this book I really, really enjoyed and I think it’s particularly important for the moment. It’s interesting because the two authors can’t really like do these in-person events where you would probably bring your friends in you it you know, it would be the sort of communal thing. And instead there’s all this distance. But at the same time, I think it’s such an important book for the for the for the moment. So I highly recommend it. Yeah, that’s my main piece of cocktail chatter.
S8: It’s interesting. I’m going through a divorce. And one of the things that happens when you go through a divorce is that friendships really kind of break and reconstruct themselves. And it’s been it’s been like a real high point of of this divorce has been the deepening, enriching of friendships and the maintaining of things, which I think when you’re in a couple, especially if you’re a man, a middle aged man in a in a married couple like you outsource a lot of the emotional work to your spouse and friendships become collective rather than individual. And it’s been it’s been great that that part of I mean, I don’t I do not recommend divorce in general, but that part of it has been has been great. My chatter is actually I felt like as I was thinking of it, I was like, oh, this is probably what Jose will chatter about. But it is the news this week that San Francisco has become the first county in the nation to give free phone calls to inmates in county jail. And the mayor, mayor of San Francisco, London bried announced this on Monday. And also she announced that they are also cutting prices for commissary items as. Well, that the commissary has been this real profit center, I think, for the jails and for the city and the phone calls too, and the contract, the companies that have the contracts are really using it to just to extract huge amounts of money from people who don’t have very much. And it’s I think all of us understand intuitively that it is important, particularly with phone calls, that people who are in jail and people who are in prison maintain relationships and maintain connections outside as much as possible. The more that people can do that, the better it is for them, the better it is for society. When they return, the better it is for the families left behind. The the more peace and community and and connection that people have. And so good for San Francisco for doing this. And I hope that I hope that this is a preview of it happening all over or a lot of other places. Do you think, Jose, is this something that could happen elsewhere?
S10: There’s a lot of great work being done around this, coming at it from all angles. Right. Like trying to get cities to change, states to change. And a lot of it’s being done. There are tons of great organizations, but I’ll shout one out which is worth rises that really deals with the different levels of privatization that happen in prison systems, even public prisons like we think about private prisons. But the reality is, like much, many of the services that happen in public institutions are also privatized. And so there has been just increasing kind of pressure around there. It’s great to see. And I do think that, like, we’re on a path to kind of privatizing not just phone calls, but commissary accounts, medical care and all of the things that you see really so much worse and prison settings in part because of the privatization. So I’ll just tack on to that and say people should check out Worth Rises as an organization because they’re doing really great work around this listener.
S8: As you continue to send us Great Chatter’s great, great chatter’s Wolf. There were so many good ones this week and you tweet them to us at Slate Gabfests. Please keep them coming. This week. I want to point to a story that Tim Anderson ate at Tim Anderson, underscore our tweet it to us. And it was a story that is on the BBC and it’s about how a long forgotten word, Danish word, and I’m going to now zabulon mispronounce this word Simpsons and Simpsons and has become a word that’s revived in covid. It’s reappeared during covid and it’s become a kind of rallying cry for the nation of Denmark. There’s no direct, literal English translation, but it’s something about putting the good of greater society ahead of your own personal interests. And this was a word that wasn’t much used. But the Danish leader, the Danish prime minister, started to use this word, and it’s now become a word that is in widespread use and it’s used to help get people to act collectively during this time. Just a really interesting story about how language can help shape behavior. So check it out on the BBC.
S2: That’s our show for today. The Gabfest is produced by Jocelyn Frank. Our researcher is Bridget Dunlap. Gabriel Roth is the editorial director of Slate podcast, June Thomas as managing producer. And Alicia Montgomery is the executive producer for Jose Duffie Rice and John Dickerson and David Plotz. Thanks for listening. We will talk to you next week.
S3: Hello, Slate, plus, how are you? Good, glad to hear it. That’s great. Yesterday we Jose and John and I were kind of like, what do we do for Slate? Plus we run out of all our good ideas. Well, to be fair, Jose probably did not run out of her good ideas. She she she hadn’t she we hadn’t we hadn’t exploited all our good ideas, had not been mind and and extracted from the earth the way they have been for me and John. But two years ago. Yeah. Seriously, we’re like one of the one of the veins of copper in Nevada that was like tapped out in 1893. This just slurry, you know, just the slurry, poisonous, toxic, heavy metals. Anyway, I asked on Twitter for Slate plus ideas and oh my goodness, you sent so many great ideas and we will hit so many of them in the weeks to come.
S6: It was awesome. And today we’re going to use one from you, Brian Bennett and Brian Bennett. Slate plus ideas. If the pandemic magically disappeared for one day only, what are the activities? You would prioritize doing that one day, which you cannot currently do or feel comfortable, cannot currently feel comfortable doing. So, John, do you have some thoughts on that? You won’t take that first.
S7: Well, this is I can’t get over my there would be a better thing that I should do.
S4: But the thing that has been I think it’s because normally we go to Ireland around this time of year and also I’m missing the friends that we see over there in this extremely remote part of Ireland. And so this is normally the time I’m either there or returning from there. And so I’m trying to think if you had one day, if I could fly. It’s a very it’s a pretty hard place, part of Ireland to get to. And if I could just go there and basically just touch it is one super remote set of rock outcroppings that has been in my head in this very powerful way, which is not my most benevolent thought about how I would use the freedom after there are much better ways to use my time that would be better for my family and for my community. But I’m sorry, that was just like that has been in my head for the last several weeks. Josie, what about you?
S10: So my sister has a bookstore here in Atlanta called For Keeps Books, which is also a reading room. And she it has black and antique use books in it. And she has all these amazing books that she doesn’t sell because she wants them to be available to the community.
S5: And it’s just such a cool place. I know she’s my sister, so, like, I have to say that, but I really don’t. It’s why we always say it’s amazing that our favorite bookstore is owned by a family member, because it makes it you know, sometimes she gives us a discount. So I would definitely go hang out it for keeps books all day like I was doing before this. She has kids books, so my kids distracted. It’s just an amazing place, so I can’t wait to go back.
S6: That’s awesome. That is definitely that was on my list, but not for keeps because I don’t live in Atlanta, but to go to politics and prose here in Washington and hang around it inside uselessly and just read and gossip with people I know I have to, I guess to I mean, I made a list of a bunch of things. I would just go sit in. I have a favorite tea shop or any really good coffee shop here in Washington and just go and sit in in my favorite tea shop to them and just hang out. There’s a couple of regulars there who I will talk to and just be there among strangers and with the ill circulating air. That would be wonderful. But right before the thing I would really want to do is right before shutdown. And John, I hope you remember this. We had my brother threw me a fiftieth birthday party and you and Ann were there, John and and Emily was there and a dozen kind of friends in the house who were cooking and eating and drinking and playing and singing. And that was heaven. Like I found that to be heaven and to have that group of people who, you know, people that come from near and far. And some of us were people who see each other like once a week. But they weren’t people. Nobody’s in my pod. None of those people are in my pa. They’re not people I can now be in a room with and and sing a song with or cook a meal with. And just to do that with dear friends, that was that would be what I would do. That would be great.
S4: Yeah. I the other thing, the my version of the autism would be the theater going to see a play or. Yeah. A play and, and the particularly the quiet that hits right. When the lights go down. And so you’re in this massive room full of people and it’s. Basically silent and church church also comes to mind as something that, um. Now the question is whether I would go to it if given the choice to go to one or the other, which I would do.
S8: Oh, my God. But imagine that feeling when the lights go down, the quiet, the rustle of people’s candy, and then someone coughs. And now now people are like, oh, the sharp intake of breath. Yeah.
S5: At the call of God, have you guys seen someone coughing a movie yet? Like in the past few months. And I was watching a movie the other night and someone coughed and nobody reacted.
S11: And I’m like, why isn’t anybody like everybody to clear out? Like why is anybody out? So I hopefully, hopefully I grow out of this at some point. All of us do.
S6: Oh, my God. May this be may this be our future and not just our past, you know? OK, goodbye. Slate plus.