Philip Zelikow: a Covid-19 National Commission Is the Bridge We Need — Now

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Philip Zelikow, former Executive Director of the 9/11 national commission, has for the past year directed the Covid-19 Commission Planning Group. He visited with us to explore where that effort stands, should a national commission move forward? How and why? It is “absolutely essential to take account of this sprawling crisis.” Our performance to date, despite our “magnificent edifice” of science and modern health tools, has been far worse than during the 1918 Spanish flu. A national commission can counter polarization, offer an alternative that unites citizens. It can avoid the “gotcha blame game” and construct choices made – the values, tools, and information that shaped critical decisions. Most of the story of what happened is in fact not yet well known or understood. A commission is “a bridge to rethink the American health system.” “Does anyone think the American health system is fine?” There is an urgency to act in 2022, while pain and memory are fresh before we turn our attention elsewhere. We cannot wait until a pause: “the disease is going to run for a while.” The political momentum behind a commission is rising: we see a bipartisan Senate effort behind new legislation, and a recent strong endorsement from Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Philip Zelikow, White Burkett Professor of History at the University of Virginia, directs the Covid-19 Commission Planning Group. He previously was executive director of the 9/11 commission