The political battle is on to own–and define–the “new normal.”
And the mainstream media are getting on board, gradually adopting arguments previously made mainly by conservatives.
In short, it’s not 2020 anymore. And there is an emerging consensus, despite the soaring Omicron numbers, that in 2022 we have to learn to live with the virus.
When the pandemic first struck in Donald Trump’s last year, the battle lines were pretty clear. Democrats were for shutdowns and lockdowns to protect people from Covid-19, while Republicans favored limited restrictions to keep the economy humming.
But now people are sick and tired of businesses and especially schools being closed. Now we have life-saving vaccines, for those who choose to take them, and new drugs to treat Covid patients.
Phlebotomist Briana Green draws blood from Maritza Nieves during the new FDA emergency use and authorized IgG ll Antibody Test for vaccinated people, offered free of charge in Santa Fe Springs, California, on April 21, 2021. – (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)
So even though the country is averaging more than 730,000 new daily cases–thankfully from the milder variant–there’s a growing recognition that there are financial and mental health costs to endless waves of shutdowns. That, in other words, we have to live with some risk–which is the gist of what conservative pundits have been arguing for some time.
But the devil is in the messy details.
In the Washington Post, Matt Bai (who has Covid) says it’s crazy to keep making policy to protect the unvaccinated–and that the president and his party have to step up:
“If Biden is going to beat the pandemic rather than be undone by it, he is going to have to acknowledge the new reality, which is that our public policy is way too weighted toward a bunch of people who made the wrong choice.”
How does he get there? “It’s his own Democratic constituencies — teachers unions, local governments, ultra-leftist Trump haters who refuse to let go of the culture war over the virus — who would continue to hold the country hostage to what now is a manageable public health risk. Biden needs to take these people on and steer his party toward a more sensible course.”
President Joe Biden salutes as he boards Air Force One, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. Biden is en route to Atlanta. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Some would say the Biden haters also refuse to let go of the virus culture war. But that war has changed, and the Democrats risk being seen as the party of government control rather than sensible choices.
The teachers’ strike in Chicago, which closed classrooms for a week, is emblematic of the Democrats’ problem ( although some schools elsewhere are closing because they don’t have enough healthy teachers and staff).
Take the case of Cleveland mom Angie Schmitt, writing in the Atlantic that she’s “been disappointed by how often the Democratic response has exacerbated that mistrust by, for example, exaggerating the risks of Covid-19 to children.”
Schimitt, a Democrat, says she feels “adrift from my tribe” after the lengthy school closing that consigned her son to online kindergarten and therefore limited her ability to work–until she finally switched to a charter school.
“Compounding my fury was a complete lack of sympathy or outright hostility from my own ‘team.’ Throughout the pandemic, Democrats have been eager to style themselves as the ones that “take the virus seriously,” which is shorthand, at least in the bluest states and cities, for endorsing the most extreme interventions. By questioning the wisdom of school closures—and taking our child out of public school—I found myself going against the party line. And when I tried to speak out on social media, I was shouted down and abused, accused of being a Trumper who didn’t care if teachers died.”
That’s what drives people away from the party.
And from the right, Charles Cooke says in National Review that those on the left who depicted contracting Covid as a “moral failing” need to apologize.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses a joint session of a legislative session, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022, in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack) (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
The reason is that it’s no longer a problem for Ron DeSantis’ Florida or Greg Abbott’s Texas: “Now that they’ve contracted Covid themselves en masse, the ruse has become unsustainable. It is one thing to point at the hicks down South and conclude that they’re coughing because they have the wrong politics; it is quite another to reckon with what infection must mean when your own city is inundated, when your own friends are sick, when your own policies have failed.
“It’s different when it’s you and people like you. It’s different when the ‘adult’ president proves as hapless as the ‘moron’ president. It’s different when the Buzzfeed Christmas party, rather than Spring Break at the Lake of the Ozarks, becomes the super-spreader event of the season.”
Along these lines, some conservatives mocked Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for getting Covid on a vacation trip to Florida–especially after she ridiculed Republicans for being sexually attracted to her. Obviously a coronavirus diagnosis is not cause for celebration, regardless of political persuasion.
No one knows whether Biden can nudge his party toward a more realistic approach to the virus. What’s clear is that the country may have little choice.
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of “MediaBuzz” (Sundays 11 a.m.). He also hosts the MediaBuzzmeter podcast and is the author of “Media Madness: Donald Trump, The Press and the War Over the Truth.” Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.