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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Tag: vaccination campaign

Taking The Measure Of Joe Biden, Correctly

America's political media — and especially our "punditocracy" — suffer from myriad defects. They love simple answers and often seem hostile to complexity. They tend to obsess slavishly over the latest polling data. And they suffer from a chronic amnesia that erases not only historical context but even very recent events from their narrow minds.

Marking the end of President Joe Biden's first year in office, the media consensus followed a predictable and familiar framing. After 12 months, with the coronavirus pandemic continuing, his legislative agenda incomplete and his approval ratings in steep decline, Biden was all but declared a failure — with no clear way forward.

That depiction of his presidency is no doubt puzzling to Biden because it omits so much of what has happened since his inauguration and almost everything that occurred in the four preceding years. Did Biden end the pandemic, with all its damaging effects on our economy and society? No, and neither could anyone else, least of all his predecessor. But he has done a great deal to ameliorate its worst effects — and has achieved that much against an ultra-partisan opposition willing to sacrifice the nation for its own advantage.

Let's first consider the obvious — or what ought to be obvious.

During the 2020 campaign, then-President Donald Trump warned that America would stumble into "a depression" if Biden won. That would have been worse than the economic conditions caused by Trump's erratic and sometimes ruinous policies, but things were already bad. High unemployment induced by the pandemic (and Trump's mishandling of it) showed no signs of abating quickly. Markets were in turmoil. Further decline appeared inevitable, and economists predicted that we wouldn't return to pre-pandemic levels of unemployment for several years.

Yet now we can see how wrong Trump was. Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, employment and markets have smashed previous records repeatedly during the past year. And with a remarkable six million jobs created in a single year — a record high for any president in memory — those gloomy forecasts about post-pandemic recovery are in the dustbin. The economy is now effectively at full employment, with wages rising rapidly for the first time in decades.

A significant drag on those wage increases is inflation, which the Biden White House underestimated initially. But supply chain woes and price hikes are a global problem, not a consequence of Biden policies — while America's astonishing growth is unmatched elsewhere in the world.

Both the national economy and the conditions of life in America would be far better if Biden didn't face concerted resistance to his vaccination campaign and other efforts to defeat the pandemic. Republican officials and media figures who are themselves vaccinated have cynically — even monstrously — discouraged their constituencies from getting the jab. Evidently, they are willing to accept mass death so they can blame it on Biden. Nevertheless, the administration has succeeded in inoculating over 200 million Americans and saved many of them from a painful, untimely death. If Trump were still president, many more would be dead.

Voters who profess to be "disappointed" with Biden might try harder to recall the horror of the administration he ousted, in a hard-fought campaign that Trump and his minions refuse to concede to this day. Unlike Trump, who accomplished so little of value during four years despite his party's complete domination of Congress when he entered the White House, Biden passed the historic infrastructure program that had been promised — and got 20 Republican senators to vote for it.

Although no Democrat could have restored the "normal" political order that Trump and his Republicans have so eagerly destroyed in a single year, Biden has worked hard to uphold standards we once took for granted. He has ousted the gang of crooked and unethical officials Trump appointed and ended the abuse of basic government functions like the census. Both Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will release their tax returns this year, because unlike Trump, they have nothing unsavory to conceal.

"Unlike Trump" is what matters most in this era of peril to the republic and the world. That's the real choice, rather than measuring this president against some impossible wishlist. Biden could hardly be more unlike Trump than he is — and we are more secure and prosperous thanks to him.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Fox Sabotaged Vaccination Campaign But Blames Biden For Low Vaccine Uptake

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

In a monumental display of hypocrisy on Sunday, a Fox News anchor and his guest attacked President Joe Biden for the fact that America’s vaccination rate against COVID-19 is too low.

“This year we have lost more people in this country to COVID than we did during the first year of the pandemic, when Donald Trump was president — and now we have the vaccines,” anchor Jon Scott said.

Hugo Gurdon, editor-in-chief of the Washington Examiner, further pointed out that “the vaccination rate is only 58 percent here, considerably lower than in other places. So [Biden] hasn't got his arms around it.”

But Fox News itself has undermined the Biden administration’s vaccination campaign relentlessly, running at least one claim that undermined vaccines nearly every day in a six-month period. At the same time, the company has implemented its own stringent health policies, including vaccination and testing mandates and masking at company offices — even as the network has elevated those who refuse the vaccine in other places into culture war heroes, calling for Americans to “fight back.”

Considering that the company is now attacking Biden for his supposed failure to get the whole country vaccinated, it can no longer be denied that the network’s anti-vaccine campaigning is part of a deliberate campaign of political sabotage — even if this could potentially damage its own viewers’ health. (Fox News viewers, meanwhile, have become visibly angry at the few network personalities who encourage vaccination.)

On Sunday’s edition of Fox Report with Jon Scott, the anchor and his guest accused Biden of hypocrisy for implementing travel restrictions on South Africa after that country had identified the new omicron variant of COVID-19. As the conversation progressed, Scott and Gurdon accused Biden of having over-promised the extent to which the country would become vaccinated — ignoring the extent to which the network’s opinion commentators and purported “straight news” anchors have baselessly spread fears about the vaccines.

Upon further thought, the two concluded that Biden could not be specifically blamed “if people don't want to get the vaccine,” but Gurdon insisted that the president still should not have claimed the U.S. would reach his goal of 70% of the population being vaccinated.

As for figuring out whom to blame for continued vaccine hesitancy, though, perhaps they should try watching more Fox News programming, in which the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the Pfizer vaccine for people over age 16 was treated as bad news, and since then vaccinations for children have been relentlessly propagandized against. And in the wake of the omicron variant having been identified, the network’s anti-vaccine misinformation from its hosts and guests still isn’t stopping.

Hannity Denies Adopting Sane Stance On Vaccination — And He’s Right

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

On July 21, Sean Hannity went on a long radio rant denying that he ever recommended his viewers get the vaccine. He later repeated himself on his Fox show.

This endorsement of vaccine hesitancy messaging from Hannity came after days of positive mainstream press for the Fox News host. Following a viral out-of-context tweet, reports in places like Politico Playbook, The Atlantic, The New York Times, NPR, and The Week framed pieces around Hannity supposedly endorsing the vaccines, even though he never did any such thing. The funniest version of this was the Fox News version, which was never shared to any of its social accounts, per Crowdtangle. (The former Republican governor of North Carolina, Pat McCrory, shared the piece and lauded Hannity, writing, "Thank you, Sean Hannity. Vaccines work and they will save lives.")

CNN host Alisyn Camerota, Hannity's former colleague at Fox, waxed poetically on multiple occasions about Hannity endorsing vaccines. Other outlets, like The Washington Post, Vox, and The Associated Press, correctly noted that Hannity's acknowledgment of vaccine science was immediately preceded and followed by anti-vaccine segments. (Longtime Hannity watchers know what a real change of position from him looks like.)

If this media cycle sounds familiar, it's because mainstream outlets had the exact same "new tone" problem with Trump, suggesting over and over, incorrectly, that he was changing his approach. Now the cliche is deployed for Trump's henchman, to the same results.

Interestingly, Hannity's anti-vax radio remarks came in response to anti-vax criticism of Hannity from the generic right-wing content mill of radio host Wayne Dupree, a Sandy Hook truther who has falsely claimed that the parents of a Sandy Hook victim were "actors" and the shooting was a "hoax."

So, not only does Hannity distance himself from the vaccines, but he's doing so to appease a far-right conspiracy theorist who has written about crisis actors. Why is Hannity acting like this? Because he's scared.

Recall that Hannity is the comparatively responsible one about vaccines on Fox News prime-time shows. And the Murdoch/vaccine problem isn't even limited to North America!

Next time, don't listen to Fox News' PR spin. Just listen to what Fox hosts say.

From Hannity's radio show:

SEAN HANNITY (HOST): For some reason, me saying take COVID seriously has finally caught up with the mob and the -- and the media. Now, I think they've got ulterior motives. They monitor this show and TV every night, and I think it has to do with the fact that -- you know, there's been this attempt to blame conservatives for the vaccine hesitancy.

And, you know for example, Yahoo News: "Suddenly Sean Hannity and other Fox hosts are urging their viewers to get COVID-19 vaccines." Suddenly? Well, first of all, I'm not urging people to get the COVID-19 vaccine, because I'm not a doctor. That is not what I said. I said to take it seriously, it can kill you. I said to do a lot of research. If you have a phone, do your research. I said to consult your doctor and doctors, and medical professionals you trust. I said to consider your unique medical history that I know nothing about. I said to also look at your current medical condition and, in consultation with your doctors, take -- don't not do this. Do the research.

...

You know, Biden suggesting that people like me had an altar call on vaccines -- no, I haven't.

...

"Sean Hannity basically begs his viewers to get vaccinated." No, I didn't. I'm begging everybody, don't mess around with this thing. Take it seriously.

...

It would be wrong of me, not knowing your medical condition, to tell you what to do. It's not right.

...

Now, we do have therapeutics. I mean, they could be saying, "Wow, studies show that people like Hannity were right on hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin and therapeutics like Regeneron," but we're never going to hear that either.

...

I am encouraging people to really, really do the right thing for them, because I don't know. And yes, enough people have died, and yeah, I want you to take it seriously, and no, I don't apologize -- and I was being pressured heavily early on to tell people what to do. I'm not qualified to tell you what to do, I'm not. I bring on doctors and experts, some of whom I agree with or disagree with so you can have more information at your disposal.
"Hannity's pro vaccine speech is welcome" -- I mean, what -- why are they saying something I didn't say? I said I believe in the science, I believe in the science of vaccinations, and then I said, but I can't make these decisions for anybody. "Hannity urges viewers, get COVID vaccine." I never said that. I said, if it's right for you, after you do all of your research, after you talk to your doctor, doctors, medical professionals you trust, I said, after -- you really need to take it seriously, and then make the decision that is best for you. So, these headlines are wrong.

...

By the way, whatever happened -- what's wrong with Wayne Dupree? I thought Wayne Dupree was a friend of ours, Lynda. Right?

LYNDA MCLAUGHLIN (PRODUCER): Yeah, started out as a caller on the show.

HANNITY: "Sean Hannity is skating on very thin ice with his supporters. Did he finally cross the line?" and he does this whole bit -- and then I'm reading it, and sweet baby James prints this out, and goes "you need to see this," because -- you know Wayne Dupree. We -- we always liked Wayne Dupree, we've never had a problem with Wayne Dupree. He's a good guy, but then he's saying, "He's very passionate about people taking the vaccine, and he's pushing it a lot on his show."

Hey Wayne, if you're gonna say something about me, get it right. I said -- let me -- let me say it slowly, so everybody hears me -- this thing has killed enough people. Take it seriously. Everybody knows about masks and social distancing and that there are three vaccines available. Everybody knows. I can't make the decision for you. But --
MCLAUGHLIN: Actually, Sean, let's do one better. Let's play what we have. I think it deserves to be played at this point.

HANNITY: By the way, should I dedicate it to our old friend, apparently, Wayne Dupree, who I've always liked?
MCLAUGHLIN: Well, let's give him the benefit of the doubt and say maybe he didn't hear it. So, Wyane we hope you are listening, and maybe you understand what's really going on here and stop listening to fake news.

...

HANNITY: Wayne Dupree, I'll accept your apology.

From Hannity's Fox News show:

SEAN HANNITY (HOST): Now a brief message from me to the mob in the media.

I have no idea why, but it was only in the last week my coverage of coronavirus, COVID-19 got the attention of the liberal press, and their attempts to paint this great network of ours which has varying opinions, which is actually fair and balanced, to paint us as a dangerous anti-vaccine network.

They watched this program and were shocked to discover what I said and what I had been saying for months, and months and months.

Business Insider reports, quote, "Suddenly, Sean Hannity and other Fox hosts are urging their viewers to get COVID-19 vaccines." Here's another headline, "Sean Hannity basically begs his viewers to get vaccinated." Another quote, "'The View': Sunny Hostin calls Hannity's vaccination endorsement 'Too little, too late.'"

These reports are all false for multiple reasons. First, I touted Operation Warp Speed since the beginning. In January 2020 I was predicting that I had so much faith in American researchers, the medical community, scientists and, as usual, it was my prediction that it would likely be American ingenuity and genius that will help us find therapeutics and vaccines and answers. And I praised the efforts of all of the scientists and medical professionals. Those involved in developing therapeutics, there are three vaccines that are now on the market, and literally dozens of others, in terms of therapeutics.

But I have never told anyone to get a vaccine. I have been very clear. I am simply not qualified. I am not a medical doctor. I know nothing about your medical history or your current medical condition. I think it's inappropriate for me to do so. Instead, for over a year now I have been warning my viewers, you make my career possible

Language has been updated for clarity.

Boebert Joins Greene's Anti-Vax Campaign With Insulting 'Nazi' Smear

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Rep. Lauren Boebert appears to be getting jealous of all that sweet, sweet attention Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene is getting … for comparing public health officials to Nazis.

Following President Biden's announcement of a push to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates, including by sending public health workers door to door to offer people information and the opportunity to be vaccinated, Greene proved decisively that her much-touted trip to the Holocaust Museum had been a photo opportunity, not a learning opportunity, describing public health workers as "medical brown shirts." Boebert then followed suit.

"Biden has deployed his Needle Nazis to Mesa County," she tweeted. "The people of my district are more than smart enough to make their own decisions about the experimental vaccine and don't need coercion by federal agents. Did I wake up in Communist China?"

As a description of people going door to door with information to help people make informed decisions, connections to vaccination appointments, and in some cases the offer of in-home vaccination, this is blindingly dishonest. Polling and research has found that many people aren't necessarily opposed to being vaccinated, but they do want more information or need convenience and reassurance that it won't cost them anything. This is an effort to do just that.

It should not need to be spelled out, but just in case: Offering all people public health information and free vaccination can in no way be compared to sending people to death camps because they were Jewish. That is horrific.

But it's also pretty special to have a Republican ranting about government coercion, when Republicans in state after state have passed mandatory ultrasound laws for women seeking abortions. Republicans routinely force women to have one medically unnecessary intimate medical procedure to be allowed to make their own health care decisions, so they cannot talk about "coercion" in this context.

As for the Nazi talk, this is a chance for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to show he meant it when, after Greene compared mask rules to Nazism, he said "Americans must stand together to defeat anti-Semitism and any attempt to diminish the history of the Holocaust. Let me be clear: the House Republican Conference condemns this language."

Your move, Kevin. Did you mean it? (Ha ha ha, yeah, right.)

All of this Nazi talk from the Trump uber alles crowd is also a little disconcerting in light of reports that Donald Trump repeatedly praised Adolf Hitler to the point where then-chief of staff John Kelly had to say, point blank, "You cannot ever say anything supportive of Adolf Hitler. You just can't." Trump praising Hitler plus Trump's most diehard followers constantly talking about Nazis is … a disturbing fixation to have surfacing in the Republican Party.

Biden Rides High In Polls As Americans Approve His Handling Of Pandemic

President Joe Biden is riding a wave of approval as Americans overwhelmingly back his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, a new AP-NORC poll revealed Monday. As he nears four months in the White House, Biden is seeing an enviable 63 percent overall approval rating. Even more Americans approve of his handling of the pandemic, with 71 percent giving him high marks, including a remarkable 47 percent of Republicans. Some 54 percent of those surveyed say the country is on the right track, higher than at any point in AP-NORC polls conducted since former President Donald Trump's first months in office. And 57 percent approve of Bide...

GOP Anti-Vaxxers Are Destroying America's Hope For Herd Immunity

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

If you've been holding out hope that the coronavirus pandemic would end when the United States reached herd immunity … I have some bad news for you. Thanks in large part to vaccine hesitancy and slowing rates of vaccination, scientists now say herd immunity is not attainable, and COVID-19 is likely to be a public health threat that we live with and try to manage for a generation or more.

And let's be clear: There's a ton of overlap between the "we don't need no stinkin' masks, we're waiting for herd immunity" crowd and the vaccine-rejecting crowd. They're certainly part of the same broad approach to the pandemic—total lack of personal responsibility in the guise of personal liberty—and the damage keeps accumulating.

Nearly half of Republicans still say they don't want to be vaccinated, while parts of their party—like the Nevada Republican Party—are leveraging vaccine opposition for partisan gain. Republican officials across the country have downplayed the threat of the virus and refused to embrace public health guidelines, leading to nine out of the ten states with the highest cases of COVID-19 by population being Republican-led, and Republican-controlled states also dominating the list of states with the lowest vaccination rates.

Anti-vaxxers continue to thrive on social media, often driven by profit motives. On top of all that, the U.S. continues to contend with serious inequities in vaccine accessibility, leading to a situation where, as ProPublica reported, "Counties with high levels of chronic illnesses or "co-morbidities" had, on average, immunized 57 percent of their seniors by April 25, compared to 65 percent of seniors in counties with the lowest co-morbidity risk."

Add those things together and you get a situation where vaccination can give many people a strong level of protection and drive down overall rates of new COVID-19 cases, but herd immunity as it has been talked about over the past year—as the great hope for a return to normal—is not happening. Even if there are high levels of vaccination in many parts of the U.S., the virus will be able to find its way in to the places where there are not. And while prior COVID-19 infection confers some degree of protection from reinfection there are reasons to believe vaccination is more protective, so the view that if you let enough people get sick, eventually you'll reach the gleaming horizon of herd immunity has significant problems.

"I think we're going to be looking over our shoulders—or at least public health officials and infectious disease epidemiologists are going to be looking over their shoulders going: 'All right, the variants out there—what are they doing? What are they capable of?" Columbia University epidemiologist Jeffrey Shaman said to The New York Times. "Maybe the general public can go back to not worrying about it so much, but we will have to."

The United States doesn't stand alone, either. The situation in India continues to be horrific, reminding us both of how bad the worst can be and that the U.S. cannot expect to be an island of safety in a world where the pandemic continues to rage.

Biden's Doing Very Well — But Here’s How He Might Do Better

Among right-wingers, there has been some delight about polls showing that Joe Biden's popularity at the 100-day mark is the lowest of any president since World War II. Oh, if you exclude Donald Trump. Undaunted by this detail, they note with satisfaction that Biden's approval rating, according to multiple polls, is somewhere between 52 and 57 percent. At this point in his presidency, Trump's approval was 40 percent.

Americans were far less partisan in the era of Eisenhower, Reagan, Bush and even Clinton than they are now. Large numbers of Democrats were willing to give high marks to Eisenhower when the economy was thriving, or to George H.W. Bush when we had just won a quick war, and a not insignificant number of Republicans approved of Clinton when we enjoyed balanced budgets and booming markets. But in recent years, negative partisanship has curdled our perceptions. One symptom of negative partisanship is the sharp decline in ticket-splitting. As the Cook Political Report's Amy Walter noted:

"After the 1992 election, for example, there were 103 split-ticket House seats; 53 that voted for George HW Bush and a Democratic member of Congress, and 50 that voted for Bill Clinton and a Republican member of the House ... Post-2020, there are only 17, or just four percent of the House."

Starting with the presidency of George W. Bush, the partisan divide in presidential approval ratings went through the roof. Some 80% of Republicans expressed approval for Bush, but only ten percent of Democrats agreed, and it was the reverse for Barack Obama.

The same pattern has been apparent in the past year. A Washington Post poll found that 49 percent of Democrats say the economy is doing well now versus only 18 percent who said that before the election. Among Republicans, 35 percent give the economy high marks today compared with 69 percent in September of 2020. Partisanship similarly colors peoples' perceptions of health care, race relations, and other issues.

So, in this environment, Biden's approval ratings are quite an accomplishment. That 33 percent of Republicans give him high marks for this handling of the coronavirus is a testament to something — maybe reality can sometimes penetrate our epistemic bubbles?

Biden ran on unifying and healing the country. His inaugural address hit all the right notes, and his low-key handling of the office has served to relieve the national migraine that the Trump years caused.

Biden is clearly gambling that putting vaccines in people's arms and deposits in their checking accounts will be enough to transcend whatever kulturkampf the Fox News ecosystem is currently spinning up. And that may work out for him.

On the other hand, since he ran to be a national healer, there are some pitfalls he might want to avoid. Several observers I spoke to cited Biden's race rhetoric, for example, as unhelpful. David French, a conservative who wishes Biden well, recalled that verbal excess on this subject has been a weakness for Biden. In 2012, he told an African American audience that Republicans wanted to "put y'all back in chains." His recent comment on Georgia's election law as "worse than Jim Crow" was ridiculous (though the Georgia law was passed for bad faith reasons and did impose some new burdens while lightening others).

Biden is passionate about racial justice and has included a racial element in many of his proposals, including clean energy, infrastructure, agriculture, and small business loans. His heart is in the right place, but is it politically savvy?

David Frum, citing a newly published study by Micah English and Joshua Kalla, agrees that toning down the racial appeals is advisable. English and Kalla tested whether pitching reforms as attempts to atone for past discrimination were effective or ineffective, compared with class-based or neutral appeals. Their results showed that couching reforms in the language of racial justice did nothing to increase support for the proposals even among Blacks and Democrats, but did provoke a backlash among Republicans. A class frame, by contrast, increased the likelihood that white voters would see the policy as "benefiting people like me." A class appeal was also linked with more respondents of all subgroups saying the policy was "fair."

There is no denying that racial discrimination has stained American history, but that doesn't mean that explicitly racial appeals are good politics. It wouldn't cost Biden anything to signal openness to Republican ideas. He could incorporate some of Sen. Tim Scott's police reform ideas for example. That might defuse some Republican resentment. (And even if it doesn't pacify Republicans, it's the right thing to do.)

Ben Wittes also stressed to me that the Biden administration should be meeting "on a weekly basis" with Republicans "if only for show." Biden met with a group of Republican senators to discuss the COVID-19 relief bill but has essentially disregarded Republican counteroffers. Negative partisanship may be at a boil, and yet 60 percent of Americans told The Washington Post that the president ought to be willing to make "major changes" to his proposals to gain Republican support, versus only 30 percent who thought he should try to push through his legislation as is.

Biden inherited a country on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Whatever criticisms one can lodge about this or that, he deserves our lasting gratitude for restoring decency, normal order and sanity to the business of governing. Whether it will be enough to reverse the slide into chaos remains uncertain, but defusing our deep mutual loathing, to the degree he can, should be a high priority.

Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the Beg to Differ podcast. Her most recent book is Sex Matters: How Modern Feminism Lost Touch with Science, Love, and Common Sense. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.