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COVID-19 Is Not Going Away

While the COVID-19 disease is easing and becoming more endemic than pandemic, the battles over it are now just starting to heat up. Among activist Republicans, there is immense and growing anger at all the government policies and regulations aimed at containing the virus. Among many of them, the subtext is: "I don't care if the whole damn county dies, I am not going to let the government make me wear a mask or get a vaccination." It is likely that the Republican House is going to pick up this theme and run with it. "Government overreach" may also play a role in the 2024 elections, especially the GOP presidential primary, with candidates bickering over who did the most to oppose public health measure intended to save lives.

In the House, Republican leaders are trumpeting the message: "The pandemic is over but Biden is so out of it, he doesn't understand this." Of course, the pandemic isn't over, with something like 10,000 new cases a day reported (and many times that number of cases not reported), but who cares about facts when there are voters to rile up? On Tuesday, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), who was a lifelong moderate until she got a whiff of power, said: "House Republicans are voting on legislation to restore our constitutional rights and freedoms after two long years of Democrats' COVID-19 power grab policies." Any bill that manages to pass the House won't even get a vote in the Senate, so this is all for show, not a serious attempt at legislation.

Note that in the first paragraph of this item we write that it was "activist" Republicans who are banging the drum about COVID and freedom. Polls show that for most Republicans, that show has already left town. They are concerned about inflation, crime, and immigration, while burdensome government mandates are not a priority. But House Republicans tend to be responsive to the most extreme activists, so they are putting on this show.

It's not only House Republicans. State parties are at it, too. Last week, the Arizona Republican Convention adopted a resolution against "experimental vaccines, mask mandates, and businesses requiring proof of vaccination." The attorneys general in Louisiana and Missouri have filed a lawsuit alleging that federal officials conspired with Twitter to suppress unwanted information about the pandemic.

For many Republicans, government intrusion into private life is the enemy of freedom. How dare the government tell you to wear a mask? It should stick to things that don't impinge on anyone's personal freedom, like forcing women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term or forbidding people from smoking the evil weed or engaging in paid sex work.

Although only a small part of the Republican base is up in arms about COVID-19 restrictions, Donald Trump has picked up the message. He is now dropping his support for vaccines (whose development his administration funded) from his stump speech. He is now promising to reinstate members of the Armed Forces who were discharged for refusing to be vaccinated. Ron DeSantis has tried to one-up him by suggesting throwing Anthony Fauci across the Potomac. The whole topic will hit the front pages when the House starts its investigations into the government's response to COVID-19 starting on Jan. 20, 2021. The government's response prior to that date is not likely to come up, for some reason. (V)

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