Talking Points

The pathological politics of leaving the pandemic behind

If you thought partisanship was making us stupid, just wait till you see how Republicans respond to Democrats lifting COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

There are numerous signs this week that Democrats are ready to do precisely that. But will Republicans applaud, cheering on a belated embrace of something they've been advocating for the better part of two years? Not on your life. After endless months of hitting Democrats for upholding masking requirements and attempting to enforce vaccine mandates, Republicans are getting ready to hit them again, this time for lifting pandemic restrictions on the grounds that late is really no better than never.

The line we'll likely hear is this: Your polling must really be in the tank if you're conceding we were right all along!

The claim will be that Democrats are just running scared from political reality, not responding to how the Omicron wave unfolded or the inevitable need to transition to a longer-term, endemic response to COVID-19 and its future variants. The right will insist the left has always wanted to impose its will on the country, forcing everyone to don masks and curtail their activities, and only now is preparing to back down from its "soft totalitarian" footing with great reluctance in the face of a surge of popular resentment.

This is mostly projection. Democrats have actually adjusted their positions quite a lot over time as public health authorities have learned more about the virus, how it spreads, whom it kills, and how many Americans would take advantage of widely available and effective vaccines. They've also learned things from the highly contagious but less deadly Omicron wave. Those lessons are the very reason views are now beginning to change (among public health officials and office holders, as well as in the public at large).  

It's Republicans who have been lamentably consistent from nearly the beginning of the pandemic in opposing any and all restrictions and painfully resistant to adjusting course as COVID-19 deaths have risen into the stratosphere.

Recall, the pandemic began with Republican President Donald Trump backing lockdowns in mid-March 2020. But the first protests against them took place in Michigan a month later, and a few days after that, Trump tweeted "LIBERATE MICHIGAN," "LIBERATE MINNESOTA," and "LIBERATE VIRGINA." Very little has changed on the right since then, as lockdowns have been lifted and various mandates imposed, and as the number of deaths has climbed past 900,000.

The Democratic response to the pandemic has been far from perfect. But it has usually been motivated by a concern for public health, and it has shown an admirable willingness to adjust course in the face of new information. That's more than one can say about Republicans.