Today’s Edition: “You are not a horse. You are not a cow.”
August 23, 2021
The media’s pummeling of Joe Biden continued unabated over the weekend. The easy availability of videotape of genuinely heartbreaking scenes at the Kabul airport over the last two weeks eclipsed two decades of suffering and loss that preceded the withdrawal. Biden’s vigorous defense of his decision to withdraw was overwhelmed by criticism from the architects of the failed Afghanistan strategy and the dishonest brokers who sold out the Afghanistan government more than a year ago. Joe Biden is caught in a negative news cycle and the media is amplifying the negative message for every click it is worth. The NYTimes front-page article highlights doubt that “some” Democrats have expressed over the withdrawal. See NYTimes, “As Biden Faces a Political Crisis, His Party Looks On in Alarm.” The Times notes that though “most” Americans support the withdrawal, “some of them worry the execution of the withdrawal has undermined Mr. Biden’s central campaign promise to restore a steady hand to governance.” So, although “most” support withdrawal, “some” worry about it, and the result is a “political crisis.”
Similar reporting surrounded news of recent polls showing that Biden’s favorability ratings have dropped over the last month. See Politico, “Polls show Biden's approval rating sliding to new lows.” Although the headline in Politico is true, it is the equivalent to a “glass half empty” narrative. Yes, Biden’s favorability ratings have dropped to the lowest of his tenure. But they remain 10 points higher than Trump’s ratings during the equivalent period of Trump’s presidency and 12 points above Trump’s lowest rating. A little context goes a long way. The drop in Biden’s ratings is unwelcome news, but is not as bad as the headline suggests.
But we should not fool ourselves. Biden is facing strong headwinds as he deals with the fallout of the Afghanistan withdrawal and the resurgence of coronavirus infections. Importantly, those are real issues that affect the lives of Americans and our allies. They cannot and should not be reduced to favorability ratings. But we need to separate reality from media “hype.” It seems to me that the media hype is registering “11” on a ten-point scale at the moment. In other words, don’t panic. The reality of the situation is that most Americans still agree with Biden’s decision to withdraw. It is worrying, however, that much of the erosion in support for the withdrawal has been among Independents.
So, what do we do in this situation? First, we must be realistic. Biased coverage by the media comes with the territory of being president. It shouldn’t rattle Biden or his supporters. Second, we should recognize that, sadly, perception is reality in politics, however unfair that may be. We must be part of the solution of shaping the perception of Biden’s performance. It has been disappointing to see some Democrats in Congress join the Republican dogpile on Biden. Yes, the withdrawal has been rough and may have been poorly executed, but it is not equivalent to the attempted insurrection incited by Trump. Nor is it equivalent to Trump’s underhanded deal with the Taliban that promised to lift sanctions against a group that gave safe haven to Osama bin Laden. If you can, stand up for Biden—or at least help provide a little context. It can go a long way to maintaining support for a president who is doing a good job in difficult circumstances.
One more note about California’s recall election.
FiveThirtyEight.com updated its polling averages last Thursday regarding replacement candidates for California’s governorship IF the recall is successful. Although the polls regarding replacement candidates have been all over the place, FiveThirtyEight rates Democrat Kevin Paffrath in second place as of August 18th with 9% support. Republican Larry Elder leads the pack with 19% support.
The Democratic Party and Gavin Newsom are telling people not to vote on a replacement candidate—a strategy that seems destined to elect Larry Elder if the recall is successful. For those voters who want to ensure that Larry Elder is not the governor if the recall is successful, the best strategy is to vote for someone who can garner more votes than Elder. A week ago, Paffrath was polling at 1 to 3%. His sudden jump in the polls may be a reflection of Democrats waking up to the awful consequences of not voting for a replacement if the recall is successful.
One final note: If you write-in a candidate who has not registered as a write-in candidate, your write-in vote will not be counted. That is the same result as not voting on question 2. See SFGate, in “A very simple guide to voting in the Gavin Newsom recall election.” (“The ballot does contain a write-in section, but for a vote to count, the write-in candidate must have filed a statement of write-in candidacy. In other words, the write-in box mostly exists as a form of protest, so write-in votes for Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis or any other prominent Democrat will not be counted.)
As nervous Democrats worry about Biden’s dropping poll numbers on handling of the coronavirus resurgence, they should remember that Democrats will be running against GOP candidates who oppose mask and vaccine mandates. Democrats should not underestimate the growing resentment among the vaccinated population against the anti-vax / anti-mask base in the Republican party. A reader (Whitney Tilson) sent a link to a TikTok video by a husband whose wife with stage 4 cancer was discharged early from the hospital to make way for unvaccinated Covid patients. I will link to the video and include a quote below, but fair warning, the husband is understandably upset that his wife was denied care because anti-vaxxers flood the hospitals when they become seriously ill with an infection they could have avoided. The video has garnered over a million views. See Travon Free on Twitter (linking to @speakthetruth101). The husband says, in part,
If you really believe COVID’s not a big deal and you don’t get the vaccine, stick to your f**king guns and keep your mother-f**kin’ a** at home. Stop running to the hospital, putting everybody else at f**king risk. . . . the collateral damage is people like my wife, who actually need medical attention for a chronic disease, get kicked out of the hospital because your dumb a** is too stupid to get a f**kin’ vaccine shot.
Of course, if anti-vaxxers make the regrettable decision not to get vaccinated and become seriously ill, they should seek appropriate treatment—in the hospital if necessary. The point of the husband’s TikTok video is to highlight that the collective burden anti-vaxxers are putting on the healthcare system is creating real damage to others and sparking anger among their family and friends. When GOP candidates run in 2022 promising to oppose mask and vaccine mandates, they may find that their support is limited to the small and shrinking base of anti-vaxxers. So, when I read that Biden’s handling of the Covid resurgence is a “crisis,” my instinctive reaction is to ask, “Compared to what?” If the answer is “Compared to no mask mandates and no vaccine mandates,” I am less concerned about the “crisis” of Biden’s dropping favorability ratings on the pandemic.
A key argument among anti-maskers has been that Sweden allowed the virus to spread freely and was therefore able to minimize illness, deaths, and damage to its economy. After a year-and-a-half of the Swedish experiment, it turns out that every assertion about the benefits of Sweden’s “free-range” approach is false. Sweden experienced greater rates of infection, more deaths, and greater damage to its economy than its Scandinavian neighbors. See Business Insider, “Sweden's Anti-Lockdown Strategy Didn't Work, Led to Higher Death Rate.” (“A year and a half after Sweden decided not to lock down, its COVID-19 death rate is up to 10 times higher than its neighbors.”)
The final story about anti-vaxxer objections lays bare the hypocrisy and inconsistency of their objections. A frequently cited reason for not taking the vaccine is that it only has an “emergency use authorization” from the FDA. While that is true, the vaccines were put through clinical trials like any other drug seeking approval—but were granted emergency approval on an expedited basis. Compare that objection to the craze among unvaccinated people who have decided to take a drug (“ivermectin”) that is primarily used for “de-worming” livestock. (It is also used to treat head lice and intestinal parasites in humans.) Anti-vaxxers are buying out the stock of ivermectin at feed stores because they can’t get a prescription from their doctor for an approved use in humans.
Why, you may be asking yourself, would anyone take a livestock de-worming drug to prevent Covid? Answer: Because Fox News hyped the drug based on its unproven use in some Latin American countries. See Washington Post, “Ivermectin in Mississippi: Livestock drug is 'crazy' covid treatment used by some people, state says.” (“Fox News hosts Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham promoted the use of ivermectin as an alternative covid treatment to millions of viewers on their prime-time shows.”)
The result of the disinformation promoted by Fox News is that calls to poison control centers in Mississippi due to ivermectin ingestion now account for 70% of inquiries. Per the Post,
Mississippi State Epidemiologist Paul Byers wrote in a letter to the MS Health Alert Network that “at least 70 percent of the recent calls” have been related to the ingestion of ivermectin “purchased at livestock supply centers.”
So, anti-vaxxers are not willing to take a vaccine approved by the FDA for use in humans but are flocking to livestock centers to give themselves a horse-sized dose of a deworming drug. That kind of motivated reasoning and hypocrisy explains why vaccinated Americans lost patience with the antivaccine propaganda have that is causing overcrowding in hospitals and unnecessary deaths. Though it should not need to be said, the FDA tweeted the following warning over the weekend about ivermectin:
You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y’all. Stop it.
I used the phrase “anti-vaxxers” eight times in this newsletter. I cringed each time I typed the word because it feels like an ad hominem attack. That is not my intent; I am attacking the misguided—or bad faith—opposition to vaccines. It important to distinguish those who refuse to take the vaccine on disingenuous or bogus grounds from those who are unable to take the vaccine because of serious underlying health conditions. A reader called me over the weekend to say that she was unsubscribing from the newsletter because “Democrats lump everyone together who are unvaccinated” when many people cannot do so for legitimate health reasons. The reader said she was unable to get the vaccine and felt attacked / shamed by Democrats who seemed oblivious to the distinction between “cannot / will not” get the vaccine.
The reader has a fair point. The understandable frustration of vaccinated people should not extend to those who are medically unable to take the vaccine. It is an important distinction to make that is not conveyed by the “vaccinated / unvaccinated” terminology. Merriam-Webster defines “anti-vaxxer” as “a person who opposes vaccination or laws that mandate vaccination.” That seems like a fair description of those who oppose the Covid vaccines on political or ideological grounds. The reader’s call reminded me to be careful to avoid stigmatizing those who are unable to get the vaccine for medical reasons. I think that is a good practice for everyone.
Talk to you tomorrow!