“Squawk Box” co-host Andrew Ross Sorkin and CNBC’s Rick Santelli had a very fiery exchange over coronavirus restrictions and their effectiveness.

Few events have so clearly demonstrated the divide between Americans who are fine with restrictions, versus those who doubt their usefulness at preventing infections.

Santelli — a veteran business personality and former bond trader, who typically reports for CNBC from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange — suggested that U.S. policymakers should reconsider the balance between public-health restrictions, particularly on restaurants, with permitting more economic activity. He alluded to the recent controversies involving politicians such as Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, who caught heat for attending a birthday dinner for a friend at a posh restaurant in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“Therefore there is actually, and should be, an ongoing debate as to why a parking lot for a big box store, like by my house, is jam-packed. Not one parking spot open,” Santelli said. “Why are those people any safer than a restaurant with Plexiglas? I just don’t get it. And I think there’s a million of these questions that could be asked.”

“I think it’s really sad that when we look at the service sector and all the discussions we’ve had about job losses that that particular dynamic isn’t studied more, isn’t worked more, we don’t put more people in a room and try to figure out ways so that these service-sector employees and employers can all come back in a safer way,” said Santelli.

“You can’t tell me that shutting down, which is the easiest answer, is necessarily the only answer.”

Quite frankly, Sorkin’s moralizing about Santelli’s answer by citing “health experts” is laughable. Those “experts” have been wrong about so many issues related to coronavirus, its treatments, and the speed of vaccine development.

The heated debate with Sorkin was reminiscent of Santelli’s famous “Tea Party” speech in 2009, when he blasted Washington policymakers for funneling trillions of dollars to bail out various sectors that had been hit during the era’s financial crisis.

Pushed to the brink, Santelli, speaking on the “Squawk Box” show, exploded into a rant resembling the famous “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” diatribe from the character Howard Beale in the 1976 movie “Network.”

As he closed the segment, he turned to traders on the floor and asked them if they would like to bail out their neighbors who had spent too much money on their homes. A chorus of “no” ensued. Earlier in the segment, he suggested he and some others in Chicago planned that summer to throw a “tea party” to show their anger.

Closing, he turned to the camera and asked, “President Obama, are you listening?”

It was Sentelli’s ‘rant’ that directly led to Americans across the country, myself included, to use social media to organize Tea Party groups.

Who knows, maybe this debate will lead to mask burning parties? Perhaps more businesses will defy orders and stay open during their usually highly profitable Christmas season…while sheriffs departments look the other way? Americans can get very creative in their defiance.

Clearly, all the restrictions have done have delayed the spread of the virus, which will not disappear until enough people have had it (or the vaccine) and are immune. The best approach is early detection, early treatment when significant symptoms begin, and protecting vulnerable populations with sensible precautions.

Meanwhile, in California, I had to race to my hairstylist today. He was scrambling to get as many clients in as possible before the new set of extreme restrictions issued by California Gov. Gavin “French Laundry” Newsom kick in.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said the new round of regional stay-at-home orders would take effect as intensive-care beds filled up. Millions of people across Southern and Central California are likely to see outdoor dining shuttered, playgrounds roped off and hair salons closed within days if the available intensive-care capacity in their areas dips below a 15 percent threshold.

The new restrictions will last for at least three weeks, strictly limit store capacity and allow restaurants to serve only takeout or delivery. The governor also said people should temporarily call off all nonessential travel.

“If we don’t act now our hospital system will be overwhelmed,” Mr. Newsom said. “If we don’t act now we’ll continue to see our death rate climb.”

So we’re back to “flattening the curve” again…but with a population that is up to its eyeballs with politicians’ hypocrisies and is justifiably skeptical that bureaucrats’ orders will kill viruses rather than their businesses.

 

 
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