The politics of pandemics
Daniel R. Suhr | Political games drive health policy as Americans grow weary of elite hypocrisy
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President Biden’s party must be facing a tough election soon, because all of a sudden the pandemic is over. In an interview this week with CBS News, the president declared, “The pandemic is over. We still have a problem with Covid. We’re still doing a lot of work on it. But the pandemic is over.”
How convenient. The midterm election is six weeks away. The president’s poll numbers are low, with 54 percent of Americans telling Reuters they disapprove of the president’s job performance. Less than 40 percent approve. Inflation remains a top concern for voters, at the grocery store and gas pump. Even the New York Times is questioning the continued COVID restrictions, with a major story last week noticing the disconnect between the administration’s rules for schools and the CDC’s guidance. If President Biden believes the pandemic is over, he ought to inform his own administration—but that would mean admitting that the “emergency” spending powers that existed during the pandemic would disappear. They have not.
The queen’s death has dominated the news cycle for the past two weeks, but that ended Monday with the state funeral. What should the news media focus on as they return to regularly scheduled programming? Apparently, the White House has decided that declaring an end to the pandemic is the perfect new narrative.
It’s amazing how “the party of science” finds its scientific conclusions align so neatly with its partisan interests. The data have not moved in any noticeable way, according to NPR. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, the federal agency tasked with leading on pandemic response, said in an Aug. 11 press release that it was OK to ease up on restrictions, but “the pandemic is not over.” And the World Health Organization, the United Nations’ public health agency, has contradicted the president’s announcement, with its director-general saying that in fact the pandemic is not over.
Even the Washington Post editorial board was eager to name the political game. After reciting all the data that, in the Post’s view, indicate the pandemic is not over, it opines: “Why Mr. Biden said otherwise is obvious. The midterm elections are coming.” Other institutions of elite opinion are equally skeptical; an ongoing pandemic gives liberals power to grow government with “much-needed funding for the nation’s ongoing COVID response.”
The incredibly convenient timing of the president’s pronouncement addresses a broader reality. Fauci and friends have lamented that the American people no longer trust the public health establishment after this pandemic, and they warn that this trust gap will lead to truly bad things the next time a pandemic hits. If so, they have only themselves to blame.
Initially, the American people were really good sports about the drastic measures asked of or imposed upon us. We stayed home from work, school, and church. As “two weeks to bend the curve” became two months, we rallied as a nation: making homemade cloth masks so the hospital workers could get the N-95s, putting up signs hailing our healthcare heroes, accepting virtual learning with a sometimes-forced smile.
But then came progressivist mass protests, as thousands of left-wing activists gathered to address supposed injustice. The blue state governors and mayors who had imposed the most draconian restrictions were suddenly marching arm-in-arm with armies of activists, as though the disease would pass over homes with “Hate has no home here” yard signs out front.
After that came a series of stories—public officials presiding over weddings, eating out in the private dining rooms of restaurants, hanging out maskless in skyboxes at the Super Bowl or on the red carpet at the Met Gala—while our kids were masked in schools, or funerals were limited to ten mourners. The American people were ready to be good sports and do their part, but they could also spot hypocrisy and double standards from a mile away.
And now, a month after the CDC warned us that the pandemic is not over, President Biden says that it is over, just in time for voters to go to the polls. The masks can come off the toddlers, apparently, and they will survive. What won’t survive is the American people’s respect for the rules when their coming and going is so patently political.
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