Attorney General William Barr compared virus stay-at-home orders, a safety measure meant to save American lives, to the scourge of American slavery.
Barr made the lopsided remarks by first asserting a factless claim that suggested a “national lockdown” had been in place at one time during the pandemic. Although there were individual states that did implement stay-at-home orders, in one form or another, those decisions were made by governors — some of whom were Republicans.
“You know, putting a national lockdown, stay at home orders, is like house arrest. It’s — other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint — this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history.”
— Peter Wade (@brooklynmutt) September 17, 2020
Barr’s outlandish comparison drew immediate applause from those who attended the event at Hillsdale College on Wednesday. But the attorney general’s remarks drew the ire of at least two leading Democrats, Reps. James Clyburn and Hakeem Jeffries.
Barr’s statements were “the most ridiculous, tone-deaf, God-awful thing I’ve ever heard,” House Majority Whip James Clyburn told CNN.
Clyburn continued, “It is incredible. The chief law enforcement officer in this country would equate human bondage to expert advice to save lives. Slavery was not about saving lives, it was about devaluing lives. This pandemic is a threat to human life. And the experts, the medical experts, the scientists are telling us what it takes to respond successfully to this pandemic.”
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York took offense to the AG’s callous remarks and blasted Barr for using the word “restraint” while describing slavery.
“Well, first of all, slavery is not a ‘restraint.’ It was one of the worst crimes against humanity ever committed,” Jeffries said. “And the casual way in which he referenced it pretty much tells you all you need to know about Bil Barr and his inability to process the dynamics, particularly as it relates to the systemic racism that has been in the soil of America for four hundred and one years.”
Jeffries added, “We’ve come a long way. We still have a long way to go. Bill Barr is in no position to try to get us to a more perfect union.”
Barr’s message is chum for Trump’s supporters, as the accompanying applause makes clear. It’s a fear-driven form of disinformation that is meant to suggest that Democrats will force Americans to sacrifice freedom if they are put in power. But the reality is that Democrats are calling for measures that would save human lives. Barr’s comments exemplify a purely political tactic made by a figure who holds what is supposed to be a non-political position.
When the current AG speaks, he should be covered as if he is a representative of the Trump campaign — an astonishing reality that reflects an administration filled with corruption, cronyism, and little else.