We wouldn’t be in this mess if we’d just listened to Dr. Ehrman all those years ago. Credit: Samantha Bailey

I know there’s never really a good time to say I told you so. 

Especially when we’re trying not to freak out over the coronavirus and we find ourselves shuttered in our homes looking for something, anything, to distract us. Which is how I found myself recently watching Spies in Disguise, a really dumb animated movie with Will Smith that I’m ashamed to admit I enjoyed as much as I did.

And yet, after having a long talk with Dr. Howard Ehrman, I’m about to tell you: I told you so. Or at least, Dr. Ehrman told you so.

Ehrman is a public health advocate of the leftist persuasion. An assistant professor of medicine at UIC, he used to be assistant commissioner at the Chicago Department of Public Health, and he also served as chief medical officer in Will County during the Ebola outbreak.

So, he knows a thing or two about dealing with epidemics.

I urge everyone to check out my interview with him on my podcast as he takes us through the coronavirus pandemic from A to Z, including how it, and similar viruses, spread in part thanks to greed. A sample Ehrmanian statement on this topic . . .

“It’s not a natural process. It’s a human-caused process caused by the system of capitalism and imperialism that exists in almost every country in the world with the exception of Cuba.”

I include that line in part because I know it will irritate the hell out of my friends of the centrist Democratic persuasion, who still get mad whenever Bernie says something nice about Cuba.

And if I can’t entertain myself by irritating Dems, what fun is life, especially in the midst of a pandemic?

Ehrman’s larger point is that we’d be in better shape to battle this disease if we hadn’t been dismantling our public health system going back to the Reagan years of the 1980s. And he says we should immediately undo those cuts by hiring more public scientists, nurses, doctors, social workers, and so forth.

When I point out that health-care cuts are worse under Trump, Ehrman replies that as much as he despises Trump’s policies, many of these cuts continued under Democrats like Clinton and Obama.

Or, closer to home, during the mayoral administrations of Daley and Rahm—when clinics were closed and health department jobs eliminated.

I didn’t have much to say—really, what can I say? It’s always a struggle to defend my faith in the Democratic Party. Other than to say—oh, yeah, the Republicans are a lot worse.

Anyway, I urge everyone to listen to Ehrman in the hopes that when this crisis passes, we don’t get complacent and allow something like it to happen again.

Coincidentally, I watched the debate between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders a few days after my conversation with Ehrman.

Biden laid out his plan for dealing with the current catastrophe—calling for things like free testing and paid sick leave. At least until the crisis has passed.

Sanders said the larger health-care crisis never really ends. And that we should take advantage of the moment by adopting Medicare for All.

Ironically, Sanders was channeling advice made famous by Mayor Rahm, who said elected officials should never let a crisis go to waste.

By which he meant that you take advantage of desperate times to take desperate measures you couldn’t ordinarily get away with. Though in Rahm’s case the desperate measures meant closing schools and clinics and eradicating pensions so he’d have more money for mega TIF deals like Lincoln Yards. But I digress.

Sanders wants to use the coronavirus scare as a spur to create a health-care system in which all people—even the poor and middle class—have access to medical coverage, so that the prohibitive cost of a test will never deter someone from taking it.

Biden responded by saying we need “results not a revolution”—a pretty good line, even if it was probably rehearsed. His point is that there’s no need to get too dramatic with our health-care plans because once we get by this crisis, all will be more or less well.

Listening to Biden counter Bernie, I flashed back to the Detroit arguments I used to hear back in the 90s and early 00s, when Mayor Richard Daley was making some of the cuts that Ehrman had protested.

Whenever I wrote a column blasting Daley for his misguided policies, some Daley lover would write in to say that without our wise and benevolent mayor, Chicago would be like Detroit. And if I didn’t like it here, I should move back to Detroit, even though I’d never lived there in my life.

The point is that many neighborhoods in Chicago were already like Detroit. If by that you mean impoverished, high-crime communities that were losing people as the city closed schools and clinics and other sources of public investment. And that there was always going to be a crisis somewhere in Chicago, even if it didn’t affect relatively well-off north-siders.

It’s sort of a localized version of the Biden/Sanders health-care debate.

I’ll vote for Bernie, though I have no illusion he will win—my fellow Democrats have made it clear that they think Biden has a better chance of defeating Trump. And that’s what seems to matter most for voters.

But I’m hoping Sanders’s movement will push Biden to the left and get him to sign on to some of the programs I think we need. Like a comprehensive public health system of the kind Ehrman advocates.

I take stock in the fact that Biden has embraced Elizabeth Warren’s more progressive position on bankruptcy law, reversing his own stance on the matter.

So, there’s hope. How would I exist without hope? Especially now, when I’m stuck in my house, waiting out a pandemic, watching Spies in Disguise.

Which really wasn’t that bad—I swear.  v