Democrats Race to Avoid a Covid Trap
The overprotective mom we sought in 2020 looks like a crazy Karen in 2022.
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There’s a compelling case to be made that if Donald Trump had simply conveyed a serious resolve about the coronavirus in the spring or summer of 2020, he would’ve netted the 77,000 votes necessary in the four closest states to have been re-elected president.
At the outset of the pandemic, anxiety-ridden, locked-down Americans welcomed the motherly approach embraced by most Democrats that recognized the threat and unpredictability of the airborne virus but also reassured and soothed us that we’d eventually be ok.
Instead, Trump played the role of cranky uncle: No big deal, it’ll disappear. Now move, you’re blocking the damn TV!
Jonathan Karl’s book, “Betrayal,” reminded me that at the beginning of the pandemic — when there were just 15 known U.S. cases — Trump actually predicted, “in a couple of days it’s gonna be down to close to zero.”
“Voters don’t think you take it seriously,” Trump pollster Tony Fabrizio counseled his client in July of 2020 during a meeting to review voter sentiments, according to the book, “I Alone Can Fix It,” by Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker.
In the post-election daze, when an enraged Trump demanded to know how he could have possibly lost to “Sleepy” Joe Biden, his aides — the ones not feeding him conspiracy theories — told him Covid was a big reason.
Now, 14 months later as we near the third year of multiple variants circulating globally, there’s an equally compelling reason to believe the politics of the pandemic have flipped.
Americans are fed up and worn out. They’re sick … of being told to stay home and limit gatherings. They’re through with eating Friday night winter dinner outside on a freezing sidewalk under an insufficient heat lamp. They’re fatigued by the on-again-off-again mask mandates. They’re bewildered by which type of mask material actually reduces transmission. They’re exasperated by the lack of Covid tests and the shifting requirements of isolation for positive cases recommended by a haphazard CDC.
People are eager to move on and live their lives with a continual but severely diminished risk for most healthy, able-bodied vaccinated people. That includes liberal people in urban areas.
The smartest Democrats know this and are now scurrying to meet the reformed attitudes of a bleary-eyed, Zoomed-out but ultimately pragmatic public.
“You see the path out and everyone needs to get comfortable with the path out,” said Jon Lovett, the former speechwriter for President Barack Obama on a recent “Pod Save America” cast. “Man, if the Democratic Party is the party of like, ‘Everybody be careful,’ the pandemic is not over next summer, like maybe we don’t even need a House of Representatives anymore.”
2022 is already table-set to be gut punch to Democrats, due to history — not the virus.
“The specific policy choices made by Democratic officials will probably matter less in the mind of the voters next November than whether or not they have a general sense that the COVID crisis is mostly behind us,” said David Hopkins, an associate professor of political science at Boston College.
But if America enters next fall with a mood of alarmist hysteria over a disease that’s never going to completely disappear, voters will likely punish the party in power even more severely.
This is why astute Democrats are swiping back at the Covid hypochondriacs to declare enough is enough.
From Gov. Jared Polis in Colorado …
To Mayor Eric Adams in New York City …
to Biden from the White House …
to Biden-friendly doctors, like Dr. Zeke Emanuel on the outside …
and yes, even liberal Mayor Lori Lightfoot in Chicago . . .
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The main issue they’re pushing back against is proposed school closures, an issue Republicans hope to use as a cudgel against them in the 2022 midterms.
The outbursts this week were an attempt to knock that club out of the GOP’s hand. It likely won’t be completely successful. Republicans will still point to liberal teachers unions who are refusing to instruct in person, as a part of the failed Democratic Party infrastructure that needs to be dethroned.
But the fact that prominent Democratic politicians are pushing back so forcefully and consistently will matter over time. It takes time for messaging alterations to sufficiently root in our national soil, but they’re already winning over the left-leaning establishment and commentariat.
The New York Times’ highly rational David Leonhardt wrote this week:
Data now suggest that many changes to school routines are of questionable value in controlling the virus’s spread. Some researchers are skeptical that school closures reduce Covid cases in most instances. Other interventions, like forcing students to sit apart from their friends at lunch, may also have little benefit.
One reason: Severe versions of Covid, including long Covid, are extremely rare in children. For them, the virus resembles a typical flu. Children face more risk from car rides than Covid.
Here’s “Pivot” podcaster Kara Swisher in praise of Polis this week >
"Democrats...if they leaned the way he is doing it, it would be a much better thing than allowing all these screamers and crazy conspiracy theory people to sort of dominate the conversation."
And podcaster-soon-to-be CNN+ host Scott Galloway going even further to pump up the Coloradan >
"I think he's a VEEP candidate."
Let’s not shower too much praise on the pols.
As usual, they’re just following public sentiment.
At the start of last year, 60% of Americans surveyed by Monmouth University said they were “very concerned” about a Covid illness in their family. Last month that number had dropped to just 30%, even as Omicron cases climbed rapidly to set a new daily records in recent weeks.
“I think that there is a growing recognition in the country that we are not going to beat these viruses but rather need to learn how to live with them, which is increasingly reflected in the comments made by elected officials,” said Doug Sosnik, a Democratic messaging strategist who advised former President Bill Clinton in the White House. “While it’s crazy to make predictions it seems like to me, as we move into spring this threat will recede until next winter.”
A few weeks ago, days before my family was supposed to gather for Christmas in Brooklyn, in dropped a text message from my brother that’s now become commonplace in our new world.
A friend of my 3-year-old niece, Edie, had tested positive at school. No symptoms. Edie felt fine, as did my brother and his wife. But he let the family thread know in order to make a decision on whether to convene.
My mother, a vaccinated and boosted Trump-loathing New Jersey liberal in her 70s, responded almost immediately >
“We will certainly be there. I would much rather take my chances catching this virus while celebrating Christmas with my family in Brooklyn than sitting in my house in Washington, NJ waiting for it to attack me. Pretty much set on this end. Making the coffee cake now. Dad still has to pack.”
If MamaCat declared Christmas was on, it was settled.
Now, two weeks later, no one’s gotten sick.
I understand this wouldn’t be everyone’s choice, but increasingly, moving ahead with plans even under a calculated risk is becoming the choice of many Americans, nudging Democratic politicians to advocate for an open society.
The overprotective mom that was properly overly precautious in 2020 looks more like a Karen in 2022.
And the crazy Trump uncle who we rolled our eyes at in 2020 now looks like he has somewhat of a point.