No Omicron overreaction

When Joe Biden delivers his speech today on his administration’s response to the pandemic, he will be acknowledging that the clear cut “victory” over the virus of the sort he has talked about for months, is unachievable. He will tell Americans that we must learn to live with pestilence. And he is set to explain that vaccinated and boosted Americans can be confident in their protection against the highly contagious but seemingly less virulent Omicron strain.

The centerpiece of Biden’s new Covid effort will be 500 million free rapid tests. My uncharitable side wants to point out that in a country of 350 million people, that’s not as big a number as it sounds. But instead, I’ll recognize it as a step in the right direction and simply note that a week ago, the White House scoffed at the suggestion that it might be within the capabilities of the federal government to send tests directly to those that needed them. This is something other countries, and several US states, were already doing.

As significant as what is in Biden’s speech is what isn’t: no calls for additional lockdowns or other mandated social distancing measures. “This is not a speech about locking the country down. This is a speech about the benefits of being vaccinated,” Jen Psaki told reporters yesterday.

That omission may seem a no brainer given that they would be deeply unpopular and unwarranted two years into the pandemic and at a time when everyone has had ample opportunity to take two doses of the vaccine and a booster. But Americans should look to Europe and count their blessings. The Netherlands has entered a strict lockdown. The UK, where vaccination rates are higher than in the US, has asked people to work remotely and is weighing a “circuit-breaker” lockdown after Christmas. The battle lines in America’s pandemic wars have been so firmly established for so long that many have missed the climbdown of the Covid hawks.

Yes, there remains a highly visible, power-hungry clique of public health officials and cable-news pundits for whom no sacrifice is too great in the fight against The Virus. Thankfully, though, the White House appears to be losing patience with them. It may be annoyingly late in the day, but Democrats are waking up to the fact that being the party of the forever pandemic is not going to end well.

Policymakers in the US demonstrate a welcome, albeit implied, acknowledgement of past mistakes. Take schools. Given the evidence that suggests serious psychological harm and educational loss, extended classroom closures were arguably the most damaging government failing of the pandemic. The CDC has just rolled out a “test to stay” scheme, a program designed to keep schools open through further outbreaks. Even this may be too restrictive, but if it is to be the fall-back option for the most Covid hawkish administrators, it will be a big improvement on the status quo ante.

Biden’s emphasis is still on vaccines, though his administration seems more interested in shaming and blaming the unvaccinated, rather than actually persuading them to take the shot. See, for example, the White House’s framing of Biden’s speech as being designed to “mitigate the impact unvaccinated individuals have on our healthcare system, while increasing access to free testing and getting more shots in arms to keep people safe and our schools and economy open.” In another statement this weekend, the White House inexplicably adopted the sadistic tone of a Bond villain. “For the unvaccinated, you’re looking at a winter of severe illness and death for yourselves, your families, and the hospitals you may soon overwhelm,” was how one grammatically dubious and needlessly callous official West Wing missive put it in Sunday.

For the Biden White House, the most important number relating to the pandemic is the country’s vaccination rate. If they were interested in genuine outreach to those who have fallen for kooky quackery, they would avoid such an inflammatory approach.

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Trump’s pro-vax message embarrasses his impersonators

One person who has the power to change a lot of minds on the vaccine is Donald Trump.  For months, the MAGA right has taken a lethally skeptical approach to vaccination. The line between opposing vaccine mandates and opposing the vaccine itself has become hopelessly blurred. That’s why Ron DeSantis finds himself unable to state plainly whether or not he has taken a booster shot, as though doing so would be to hand Biden a win.

Trump made a lot of his intimidators look silly yesterday when, in an onstage appearance with Bill O’Reilly, he boasted about the success of the vaccine effort and the millions of lives it has saved, was clear about the fact that he had taken the booster and waved away a “tiny group” of those booing him for doing so. “Take credit for it,” he said of the vaccine. “You’re playing right into their hands.” Let’s hope he stays on message.

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The cute dog strategy

In politics, a dead cat strategy is when a politician deliberately does something shocking or headline-grabbing to change the subject away from a more damaging news cycle. With Covid cases climbing and Biden’s legislative agenda in ruins, the White House is experimenting with an equally unsubtle approach: the cute dog strategy. Meet Commander, a three-month-old German shepherd welcomed to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue by Biden yesterday.

But even this heart-warming development has a dark side. Major, the Biden’s other German shepherd, has been deemed unfit for office. “After consulting with dog trainers, animal behaviorists and veterinarians, the first family has decided to follow the experts’ collective recommendation that it would be safest for Major to live in a quieter environment with family friends,” said Michael LaRosa, a spokesman for the First Lady.

What you should be reading today

Heather Mac Donald: Inside the Omicron fear factory
Micah Mattix: Christmas in the South
Leon Hadar: Time for Joe Biden, foreign policy realist
Alan Cole, Full Stack Economics: Joe Manchin’s friends aren’t listening to him
Matthew Continetti, Commentary: Disaster of the Senate
Nancy Scola, Politico: The congressman who doesn’t use Google

Poll watch

President Biden Job Approval
Approve: 44.1 percent
Disapprove: 52.1 percent
Net approval: -8.0 (RCP Average)

Top concerns for Latino voters
Covid-19: 37 percent
Crime or gun violence: 30 percent
Cimate change: 25 percent
Inflation or supply chain breakdowns: 22 percent (Axios-Ipsos)

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