The cooling of the COVID wars

Yesterday brought a long overdue return to normalcy as the US reopened its borders to foreign travelers for the first time in twenty months. The travel bans, imposed as an emergency measure at the start of the pandemic, had outlived their public health usefulness. The continuation of the illogical restrictions through most of 2021 was one of a frustrating number of polices where the Biden administration prioritized signaling COVID hawkishness over making a reasonable assessment of the costs and benefits of pandemic restrictions.

The stories of reunited families and lives finally unpaused are a reminder of the human cost to so many of our anti-pandemic measures. And there’s more signs of good news on the COVID restrictions front. New York mayor-elect Eric Adams has deviated from many of his Democratic colleagues by expressing his eagerness to end masking in NYC schools (albeit with the inevitable caveat that he will “follow science”).

Even Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers and one of the loudest and most shameful proponents of school closures and other pandemic overreactions, wants to see the rules loosened. Kids, she admitted this week, should not be required to wear masks outside. She has told the New York Times that she “believes we need to give parents and teachers a road map to what it takes to start undoing the mitigations.” Baby steps, perhaps, but baby steps in the right direction.

Meanwhile, the Biden vaccine mandate rules have been temporarily blocked by a federal court, suggesting at least the possibility of some respite in the Great Vaxx Wars of 2021.

Whether the cause is falling case rates, the availability of vaccines for everyone over the age of five, the success of trials for Merck’s game-changing COVID antiviral or a more political realization that becoming the party of never-ending covid restrictions is not a vote winner, the never-ending-pandemic, hyper-restrictionist crowd are losing the argument. And as the COVID hardliners fade from view, so too will their most vociferous opponents.

However I am hesitant about sounding too cheery. CDC director Rochelle Walensky seems maddeningly content with a world in which masking is a part of everyday life rather than an emergency pandemic measure.

But, taken in aggregate, the COVID news points to a future in which the control freaks are largely ignored and the most tedious voices on both sides of the pandemic debates are drowned out by the overwhelming majority, for whom the response to an airborne virus does not form a core part of their personality.

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Woke word games

Rather than learn any lessons from huge swings towards Republican candidates in last week’s elections, many on the left have retreated to the charge of racism. Attacks on CRT are racist, Glenn Youngkin is racist. Winsome Sears, the first black woman to hold statewide office in Virginia is, if not a racist per se, then, in the words of one Georgetown professor a “black mouth for white supremacist practices.”

New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has taken particular umbrage with the use of the word “woke”, which, she tweeted “is a term pundits are now using as a derogatory euphemism for civil rights & justice.” In other words, “woke” has become nothing more than a dog whistle.

All of this is a maddening (if clumsy) bait and switch. AOC and other progressives boast that they are leading an epoch-defining “reckoning”: a revolution in American attitudes to race, gender, social justice and more. But whenever a catch-all phrase to describe that movement bubbles up, it is dismissed as a sinister right-wing talking point.

As an exasperated Freddie deBoer asks: “Please just fucking tell me what term I am allowed to use for the sweeping social and political changes you demand.”

Oh no, O’Bama

It must be hard for a jet-setting former president to remember what country he is in. But that doesn’t excuse a particularly embarrassing gaffe by Barack Obama, who in his speech to COP26 in Scotland yesterday welcomed the audience to the “Emerald Isles”. The “Emerald Isle” is a nickname for Ireland.

The full quote is even worse: “Since we’re here in the Emerald Isles, let me quote the Bard.” (Shakespeare, of course, was English.) Obama should no better, not least because he has traced his roots back to the village of Moneygall in County Offaly.

Plain Pete

A new documentary goes behind the scenes of Pete Buttigieg’s presidential in a bid to uncover the real Mayor Pete. In an interview with Politico magazine, the filmmakers express their frustration at the fact that the Rhodes scholar turned provincial mayor-turned-transport secretary was something of a closed book. At one point, they even contemplated getting Buttigieg drunk in the hope he might open up a little.

Mayor Pete sounds like it’ll be a behind-the-scenes must-watch for political junkies. But I’m less sure about the claim in that Politico piece that “two and a half years after his run for president, Pete Buttigieg has managed to hold America’s attention and fascination.”

What you should be reading today

Jonathan Bydlak: The infrastructure bill spends big at the worst time
Peter Van Buren: Biden’s vaccine mandate is about power, not health
Alexander Larman: The decline of the woke Marvel superhero movie
Greg Ip, Wall Street Journal: Republicans at COP have a message want you to know they care about climate change too
Patricia Murphy, Atlanta Journal-Constitution: A plan B for Georgia Democrats
Kevin D. Williamson, National Review: The ORC invasion

Poll watch

President Biden Job Approval
Approve: 42.8 percent
Disapprove: 51.7 percent
Net approval: -8.9 (RCP Average)

How many Americans support the legalization of marijuana?
68 percent (Gallup)

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