America's attorney-general William Barr has been roundly criticised by prominent Democrats this week, including the presidential nominee Joe Biden, after comparing instructions to stay at home because of coronavirus with “house arrest” and by extension with slavery.
Speaking at Hillsdale College in Virginia on Wednesday, Barr said that “other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, this [national lockdown and stay-at-home order] is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history.”
Barr also seemed to suggest that health experts were not necessarily the right people to turn to for advice during the pandemic.
Here’s AG Bill Barr comparing stay-at-home orders during a pandemic to slavery.— Rex Chapman🏇🏼 (@RexChapman) September 17, 2020
“Slavery was a different kind of restraint.”
You think? Not worse or anything.
This is a block, a charge, an ejection, and lifetime ban from the league.
This is insane...pic.twitter.com/MkCJzvoizK
But Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden, appearing at CNN’s town hall event on Thursday, slammed Barr’s remarks as “sick” and called the Trump administration “totally irresponsible”.
And House Majority Whip James Clyburn described the attorney-general’s statement as “the most ridiculous, tone-deaf, God-awful thing” he has ever heard.
"It is incredible, as chief law enforcement officer in this country, to equate human bondage with expert advice to save lives. Slavery was not about saving lives. It was about devaluing lives,” the Democrat told CNN.
Some members of the Republican camp also did not share Barr's beliefs, including Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, who, however, offered a milder interpretation of the present situation.
“I think what [Barr's] trying to say is that the country has — you know, it’s been tough. We’ve had to shelter in place and our lifestyle has changed dramatically. But, no, I would not compare it to slavery. Probably the only thing to compare it to would be 1918,” the lawmaker told Politico, potentially referring to the Spanish flu epidemic.
Some of Barr’s other remarks from the Hillsdale College event, including the one where he attacked Justice Department prosecutors as “headhunters, consumed with taking down their target” were also not greatly welcomed by certain politicians, with former attorney-general Eric Holder calling them “absurd”.
It’s not the first time Barr referred to lockdown as “house arrest”, and his chief Donald Trump has repeatedly called upon state governors to “liberate” the US from restrictions and open schools and businesses as quickly as possible.