Reviews | Biden vs Friends of Covid
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President Biden ended his first year in office on a low note, with polls showing public disapproval of his handling of, well, just about everything. We hear, of course, endless comments about his political missteps, as well as the acknowledgment that public expectations were too high given the Democratic majority in Congress.
One thing that I think isn’t emphasized enough, however, is the extent to which Biden has been hurt by the way the pandemic continues to drag on — a sad reality for which he bears little responsibility. Oh, messaging could have been clearer, tests and masks made more available, and so on. But Biden’s biggest mistake on Covid-19 was underestimating the callousness of his opponents, who did everything they could to undermine America’s response to the pandemic.
Before we get into the politics of the Covid response, let’s talk about how the persistence of the pandemic is coloring the nation’s mood.
Some of the effects are direct and obvious. Certainly most Americans, even if they did not develop Covid themselves, know people who have become seriously ill or died.
Plus, Covid is still making life difficult in ways big and small. Closed schools were a nightmare for many parents; they have reopened in most places but are still subject to unpredictable closures.
Work is also still disrupted. According to the Census Bureau’s latest Household Pulse Survey, 8.7 million Americans weren’t working because they were either sick with coronavirus symptoms or caring for someone. another who was; 3.2 million more were not working for fear of contracting or spreading the virus.
And Covid is contributing to our economic problems. Fear of face-to-face contact has diverted consumer spending from services to goods, straining supply chains and fueling inflation. Fear of infection and burnout among workers who have faced the strains of the pandemic are likely major drivers of labor shortages, which are also contributing to inflation.
One of the puzzles in recent polls is why public assessments of the economy are so negative despite falling unemployment. It’s true that inflation eroded real wages – but George HW Bush ran on a strong economy in 1988, even as real wages fell for most of Ronald Reagan’s jobs. second term. And as I and others have noted, there is a big disconnect between Americans’ assessment of their own financial situation – which is quite positive – and their dismal assessment of “the economy”.
Partisanship surely plays a big role, with Republicans claiming the economy is as bad today as it was in early 2009, when we were losing 700,000 jobs a month. But the pandemic is also likely clouding perceptions: Along with a general sense of unease, people are seeing shuttered stores and empty office buildings, making things worse than they are.
What makes all of this particularly demoralizing is that 2021 began with the hope that miracle vaccines would end the pandemic. Despite the effectiveness of vaccines in preventing serious disease, this has not happened even in highly vaccinated countries. But America is in particularly bad shape because it is not a highly vaccinated country: after a good start, its vaccination campaign dropped far behind other wealthy nations.
And while there are various reasons why individuals fail to get vaccinated, nationally our shortfall is all about politics. Vaccination rate in blue states are similar to those of other advanced countries, while the rates of red states are far behind; at the county level, there is a stunning negative correlation between Donald Trump’s share of the 2020 vote and the vaccination rate.
Why are many Republicans refusing vaccines? Because they receive a constant stream of misinformation from the right-wing media, while right-wing politicians have gradually gone from pretending to be against vaccination mandates to being outright anti-vax. For example, recently the medical director of Orange County, Florida was furloughed simply for encouraging — not forcing — staff to get vaccinated.
But why are right-wing elites so hostile to vaccines? Did they carefully review the evidence? Do not be dumb.
Their real motivation is the desire to prevent the Democrats from achieving any kind of political success. And is it really implausible to suggest that some right-wing figures actively want to make matters worse, thinking the public will blame Biden?
But while the public does indeed tend to blame presidents for everything that happens on their watch, they can fight back. In 1948, Harry Truman successfully campaigned against “do nothing” Republicans who were blocking his economic and housing agenda. Biden could, with even more justification, campaign against Republicans whose anti-vaccine stance puts both the national economy and thousands of American lives at risk.
Would that work? Nobody knows. What we do know is that a year of trying to be conciliatory and unifying hasn’t worked. It’s time for Biden to swing.
Reviews | Biden vs Friends of Covid
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