JOE BIDEN, MAN IN THE IRON MASK
I took a flight to Charleston, South Carolina, on Tuesday, the first full day that the mask requirement for air travel had been lifted.
While my destination was in a deep red state, my departure was from one of the bluest bastions, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. As I passed through DCA and traveled on the flight as well as on my return through the airport the next day, I watched intently to see how many people voluntarily wore masks. Not too many. Even at Reagan, masks were by far the exception. Maybe 1 in 5 people had them on, often families with little ones who can’t get vaccinated.
But on my travels, I was also reading about how the Biden administration was vowing to fight to have the mandates, struck down by a judge’s ruling Monday, reimposed. And it occurred to me that while my experience is certainly unique and my observations strictly anecdotal, there are obviously lots of Americans—including many working in transportation—who are very glad to not have to cover their faces after two long years under wraps.
And I thought: Why doesn’t the president want these people to be pleased with him? Aren’t many of the folks showing their smiling faces the very voters Democrats so desperately need this fall?
And that got me thinking about Biden’s bigger problem about taking credit and his administration’s emphasis on its own failures.
First, though, to the mask matter. There is a poll from the Associated Press and the National Opinion Research Center that says a majority of Americans support keeping the restrictions in place. I have my qualms about issue polls like this one, especially when respondents feel societal pressure to say the correct or moral thing like they would in this case, but it’s worth quickly exploring. Fifty-six percent said they supported maintaining mask requirements on public transportation. Forty-four percent said they either didn’t support the mandate or were strongly opposed.
The survey was conducted from Thursday of last week until Monday of this week, so that means the survey was taken almost entirely before the mandate was lifted. That means almost all of the respondents were being asked about a change to the status quo. I’d bet you every ginger ale in the airplane drink cart that if you now asked the question “Should mask mandates be reimposed?” you wouldn’t get anything like 56 percent. The 39 percent in the poll that “strongly favor” mask mandates might still be there for it, but the other 17 percent who “somewhat” favored last week’s status quo? I’m doubtful.
Here’s why: The percentage of respondents in the same poll who said they were “extremely” or “very” worried about themselves or their loved ones contracting coronavirus fell to its lowest ever level, 20 percent, since pollsters started asking the question in February 2020. As fears wane, which events suggest they will continue to do, voters will be increasingly hostile to extraordinary measures taken against the virus.
Whatever the polls say, though, these mask mandates were going to end someday anyway. By handling the issue this way, Biden deprives himself of the upside that he would get for actually doing something but still looks weak to the people he is trying to impress.
We see this over and over again in this presidency. On the question of continuing a constitutionally dubious executive-branch eviction moratorium, Team Biden openly cast doubt on whether it could survive a legal challenge, but went ahead and filed an extension to see what the Supreme Court would do. The White House knew very well what the court would do, but since someone else was doing the spiking, Biden figured that he could avoid blame with his own political base.
So it went when it came to the Biden vaccine mandates. Anybody with an eighth-grade civics class under her belt would have known that it would be a terribly fraught question as to whether the Department of Labor has the authority by executive fiat to require all Americans working at medium size or larger companies to get an injection.
That was never going to be easy. But by proposing it during the slowdown in vaccination rates last year, Biden was able to say that he was taking action that in reality would never go into place. It was a fake.
Or how about now with allowing oil drilling on federal lands? Biden could get mega brownie points with a lot of people who are sick of paying so much for gasoline, but the administration is treating it like a political liability and again blaming the courts, “a necessary action as a result of ongoing litigation,” was the line. The climate activists who are in favor of higher energy prices are furious anyway, claiming that the administration needn’t comply with a judge’s ruling, so Biden gets no credit in that direction, either.
As he did in hiding the remarkable success of passing a bipartisan infrastructure bill under the bushel of his failures on “Build Back Better” and an election law overhaul, Biden manages with oil drilling to deny himself an advantage with persuadable voters while simultaneously showing Democrats that he is ineffectual. It’s the worst of both worlds.
I know there are STRONG feelings pro and con on the question of masks, and proponents of maintaining requirements point to rising cases and would argue that even the additional weeks Biden had sought to extend the mandate would have helped slow the spread. But imagine the scenario envisioned by the administration’s appeal. The mandate, which Biden had set to end on May 2, was struck down two weeks early. If the Centers for Disease Control wins on appeal to have the requirement reimposed, it will be close to its sunset day, anyway. Will Biden feel obliged to extend the requirement having just fought to reinstate it? Or will the mandate go back on for a few days and then go away again, reinforcing perceptions that the administration’s uneven, confused guidance on the pandemic is getting even worse?
Biden has been short on wins in the past year. He ought to take them where he can.
Holy croakano! We welcome your feedback, so please email us with your tips, corrections, reactions, amplifications, etc. at STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. If you’d like to be considered for publication, please include your real name and hometown. If you don’t want your comments to be made public, please specify.
Biden job performance
Average approval: 39.4 percent
Average disapproval: 53.4 percent
Net score: -14 points
Change from one week ago: ↑ 0.8 points
[Average includes: Ipsos: 43% approve-51% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 33% approve-54% disapprove; CNBC: 38% approve-53% disapprove; Marist College: 39% approve-54% disapprove; Marquette University Law School: 44% approve-55% disapprove]
Generic congressional ballot
Democrats: 43.4 percent
Republicans: 45 percent
Net advantage: Republican Party +1.6
Change from one week ago: No change
[Average includes: Quinnipiac University: 43% Democrat, 47% Republican; NBC News: 44% Democrat, 46% Republican; Fox News: 41% Democrat, 43% Republican; Monmouth University: 46% Democrat, 46% Republican; Pew Research Center: 43% Democrat, 43% Republican]
TIME OUT: “SEEKING SOLACE IN FRIED CHICKEN”
Wall Street Journal: “Fried food is one of Americans’ oldest obsessions. The pandemic took that to a deeper level. More people are ordering french fries with their fast food, and seeking solace in fried chicken, say food industry executives and nutritionists. Repairs of restaurants’ deep-fat fryers have doubled due to overuse. Nearly half of U.S. households now own air fryers. And there aren’t enough cheese curds to go around. … In Ellsworth, Wis., known as the state’s cheese curd capital, dairy processor Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery can’t keep up with orders for the cheesy nuggets, which are often deep-fried, says Chief Executive Paul Bauer. The creamery’s cheese-curd business grew 38% in 2021 and sales in the first two months of this year are up another 24%, Mr. Bauer says, as grocery orders soar for its Cajun and hickory bacon-flavored curds, and more restaurants add Ellsworth’s beer-battered variety to their menus.”
DESANTIS WINS BACKING FOR ATTACK ON DISNEY
New York Times: “On Thursday … the Florida House voted to revoke Disney World’s designation as a special tax district — a privilege that Disney has held for 55 years, effectively allowing the company to self-govern its 25,000-acre theme park complex. The Florida Senate on Wednesday voted to eliminate the special zone, which is called the Reedy Creek Improvement District. Having cleared the way to this outcome on Tuesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis will almost certainly make the measure official by adding his signature. It would take effect in June of next year. The swift effort to dissolve Reedy Creek by Florida Republicans has been widely seen as brazen retaliation after Disney, Florida’s largest private employer, paused political donations in the state and condemned a new education law that opponents call ‘Don’t Say Gay.’ … The special district, enacted in 1967 to entice Disney to build a theme park 20 miles south of Orlando, saves the company millions of dollars annually in fees and taxes.”
Trump’s pickings risky: Washington Post: “With his endorsements of [Mehmet Oz], Senate candidate Ted Budd in North Carolina, gubernatorial hopeful David Perdue in Georgia and, on Friday, author and Senate candidate J.D. Vance in Ohio, [Donald Trump] has leaped into the middle of several competitive primaries that could put his desired image as a kingmaker at risk. In key contests, Trump’s statements have not cleared the field like they once did — and some advisers fear he has diluted his endorsements by backing hundreds of candidates, some for low-level positions, because of their willingness to support his false claims of a fraudulent election. … Trump endorsed Vance in Ohio on Friday afternoon against the wishes of some of his advisers — who are working for other candidates in the race and argued against an endorsement by citing negative comments Vance made about Trump in the past. Candidates and operatives also lobbied more than two dozen GOP county chairmen in Ohio to sign a letter opposing a Vance endorsement. Trump received so many calls that he stopped taking them Friday.”
Pro-McConnell PAC goes big to win Senate: Politico: “A Mitch McConnell-aligned super PAC is booking $141 million in fall advertisements to help turn the Senate red, a staggering sum that sets the stage for a vicious battle over the chamber’s control. The GOP-controlled Senate Leadership Fund is reserving eight-figure ad flights starting in September to protect Republican seats in North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin as well as to take Democratic-held seats in Arizona, Georgia and Nevada… SLF also laid down millions in Alaska to protect incumbent Lisa Murkowski from a Donald Trump-inspired primary challenge. … With Republicans currently favored to take the House, the 50-50 Senate is shaping up to be this fall’s marquee electoral contest. And it comes with huge stakes: The ability to control the Senate floor and confirm President Joe Biden’s nominees. ‘This is such a strong year that we need to invest as broadly and deeply as we can,’ Steven Law, the Senate Leadership Fund’s president, said in an interview. ‘In the Senate, majority control is everything…[T]here’s so much at stake.’”
House ratings get redder: Politico: “House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and NRCC Chairman Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) are having a stellar week: In the past 24 hours, two of the most-watched political raters have shifted their projections for clusters of competitive House races — all in favor of Republicans. Dave Wasserman at Cook Political Report changed the ratings of eight House matchups. That includes three Democratic incumbents — Susie Lee (Nev.), Steven Horsford (Nev.) and Abigail Spanberger (Va.) — who are being kicked from the ‘lean Democrat’ to ‘toss-up’ categories. After the change, as Wasserman noted, 27 Democratic-held seats are in the ‘toss-up or worse’ column, compared to 12 GOP-held districts. … Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics shifted 11 House races toward the GOP. Most of these, as they note in their analysis, ‘either move marginally competitive Republican-held seats to the ‘Safe Republican’ category, or move Democratic districts from ‘Likely Democratic’ to the more competitive ‘Leans Democratic’ column.’”
Member-on-member races rake in top dollars: Roll Call: “The 10 sitting House members who will face a fellow incumbent in upcoming primaries raised a combined $6.5 million in the first quarter of the year, according to a CQ Roll Call analysis of new filings to the Federal Election Commission. The fundraising receipts offer clues about the dynamics of those races, all of which came about because of redistricting. None of the members stand out as fundraising all-stars and only one, Democratic Rep. Haley Stevens of Michigan, hauled in more than $1 million during the first three months of the year, the FEC filings show. On the GOP side, those in member vs. member races who have the endorsement of former President Donald Trump lagged in fundraising behind their opponents during the quarter. … Kristin Brackemyre, director of PAC and government relations for the Public Affairs Council, said member vs. member races can put big donors … in an uncomfortable situation. Some PACs will opt to donate to both members, while other PACs will just stay out of a race altogether… Other times, they’ll pick one.”
Herschel Walker looks to ride celebrity to the Senate: New York Times: “Most came dressed in University of Georgia jerseys, hats and T-shirts. Some carried footballs and framed posters. It was a campaign stop for a Senate candidate, but for many Georgians who came to see Herschel Walker, politics was hardly the only draw. … Mr. Walker’s one-name-only fame has propelled him to the top of the field. In less than nine months as a candidate, he has amassed $10 million in cash. He campaigns with no fear of his primary opponents and all the confidence of an all-star athlete. … Mr. Walker campaigns as both a political outsider and a celebrity, drawing comparisons to Mr. Trump, whose friendship and early endorsement have lifted Mr. Walker’s prospects. But unlike Mr. Trump, Mr. Walker eschews large events and spends most of his time at private fund-raisers, listening sessions and small-scale grass-roots events with limited media access. In speeches, he zigzags from hot-button issues such as transgender students’ participation in high school sports, to riffs on the mechanics of his campaign.”
Bernie may run again if Biden doesn’t—WaPo
Amy Walter: Upton’s departure and the demise of governing in Congress: Cook Report
Jeff Greenfield warns Dems on weird words—Politico
UGA Poll: Trump endorsement doesn’t affect gubernatorial matchup—Atlanta Journal-Constitution
WITHIN EARSHOT: CAJUN SPICE
“I’d show this clip as an instructional video. I would. I’m going to start talking that way.” — James Carville talking to the Washington Post about a speech by Democratic Michigan state Sen. Mallory McMorrow in reply to an accusation from a Republican colleague that she wanted to train children to submit to sexual abuse. Carville juxtaposed McMorrow’s response to the “wokeness” and “faculty lounge bulls—” he said Democrats have been using.
“A generation ahead of you, I grew up listening to Harry Carey do the Cardinal games on KGBX in Springfield, MO. When he turned traitor (or was run out of St. Louis because of Augie Busch‘s wife, as I have heard) I soon came to enjoy Jack Buck. Some years later I lived in Springfield, Illinois. I found that everyone in Central Illinois was either a Cardinals fan or a Cubs fan. You would not even know there was a White Sox team in Chicago. I always thought it was a travesty that Harry Caray went from the A’s to the Cubs and instantly became an institution in Chicago. Nobody remembers he called the Cardinal games as many years as he did the Cubs.”—Dave West, Nashville, Tennessee
Mr. West, you took me right down memory lane! My dad grew up in Springfield, Illinois, and loved to tell the story of Harry Caray’s alleged flight from St. Louis. But we should remember that between the A’s and the Cubs, he logged 11 years with the White Sox, building a hometown following before he switched to the Cubs in 1982. And back in my father’s boyhood, there was a third variety of baseball fans in Sangamon County: the St. Louis Browns. My dad, as a 13-year-old Browns fan, attended every game of the 1944 World Series there at Sportsman’s Park.
“Do you think countries can survive being as big and diverse as America is? How are Missouri and California supposed to be part of one country when their residents basically agree on very few things and seem to have a disdain for one another? Can a federal government navigate this? Have countries/empires as racially, religiously, and culturally as diverse as America existed in history? Was their diversity a benefit or downfall?”—Lucille Bell, St. Louis, Missouri
I think it is crucially important for Americans to understand how unusual our country is. That’s not just compared to 10,000 years of history. That’s compared to the world today. While many nations have emulated parts of or even the whole of the U.S. Constitution over the past 234 years, none are as vast or diverse as ours is. San Marino, which can claim the longest-surviving constitution in the world, predating ours by 188 years, only has 33,000 San Marinians (Marinos? Marinaras?) living in the shadows of Mount Titan to worry about. What about our chances with a population 10,000 times that size? There have been and are other large, diverse nations, but not quite like the United States. The empires of Britain and Rome that came before us hold some parallels, but our experience is quite different. Ours is, to borrow a phrase, an empire of liberty. Our Roman and Britanic forebears were conquerors who subjugated other peoples and absorbed them into the growing empire. America got out of the subjugation business more than a century ago, and for most of our history before that managed to keep imperialistic ambitions under wraps—for everything outside of what we now know as the continental U.S., anyway. We have been the empire that spends it blood and treasure to fight wars in other lands and have only asked to keep enough foreign soil to bury our dead. So, yes, there are nations, then and now, that share some of America’s traits, but never all or even most of them. We are, as they would say in Triadelphia, one in a row. Our diversity is certainly a strength, if we let it be. The secret sauce in the American system is that Missouri mostly doesn’t have to give a hoot what California does. States can be competitors, but shouldn’t really be dealing with each other. That’s what the federal government is for. But because of, among other things, the rise of instant national communication and the demise of much local news coverage, Americans spend an entirely unhealthy amount of time and energy thinking about what strangers thousands of miles away are doing. For instance, if you don’t live in Florida, why the heck should you care about whatever crazy culture war fights they’re having in their legislature? We obsess over issues that don’t affect our own lives and neglect the topics that actually might. Thanks to the digital revolution, America sometimes feels like all of us have been crammed into a space the size of San Marino. Our diversity is an asset because we have lots of different kinds of people living in lots of different ways. And when one group or region innovates or advances, we can all benefit. But diversity is not an asset when we insist that other people in other places should live and do as we do. It only works if we can learn to again leave each other alone.
You should email us! Write to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM with your tips, kudos, criticisms, insights, rediscovered words, wonderful names, recipes and always good jokes. Please include your real name—at least first and last—and hometown. Make sure to let me know in the email if you want to keep your submission anonymous. My colleague, the intrepid Samantha Goldstein, and I will look for your emails and then share the most interesting ones and my responses here. Clickety clack!
CUTLINE CONTEST: REALITY BITES
There’s one more week to submit cutlines for the month of April. As a reminder, each month we’ll be picking a winner to receive a special Stirewaltian hand-picked gift. We’re still waiting for last month’s winner, Jonathan Falk, to claim his prize of The Making of the President 1968. Email us! For this week in true Trumpian fashion, our winner is…
“I bite my lower lip better than Clinton ever did. It’s terrific.” — Mike Darnell, Morganton, Georgia
“Having just finished playing Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots backstage, Trump has difficulty transitioning into the moment.” — Brendan Bossard, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Readers should send in their proposed cutline for the picture that appears at the top of this newsletter to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. We will pick the top entrants and an appropriate reward for the best of this month—even beyond the glory and adulation that will surely follow. Be hilarious, don’t be too dirty, and never be cruel. Include your full name and hometown. Have fun!
YOU KNOW WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT RABBITS
Fox23: “Plastic Easter eggs usually contain candy or money, but a Texas parent went a bit too far in the eyes of school officials. The parent, dressed as the Easter Bunny, is accused of passing out plastic eggs containing unopened condoms to elementary school children as they were dismissed Thursday, officials said. ‘It was an incredibly careless and inappropriate action of a parent,’ a spokesperson for the Austin Independent School District said in a statement. … According to the Austin ISD, the parent was asked to leave the school premises, but the person then went to a public sidewalk to give away the eggs, according to the television station. … Currently, the youngest students in the Austin ISD are not learning anything related to ‘human sexuality and responsibility,’ KXAN reported.
Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of Broken News, a book on media and politics available August 23. Samantha Goldstein contributed to this report.