Democrats Blew Covid’s Politics – WSJ

The dictionary’s second definition of “landslide” is a torrent of votes for one party over its competition. But the original, more to-the-point definition is a destructive mass of rocks, mud, trees and debris hurtling down a mountain. There must be a New Yorker cartoon somewhere of a politician standing below a landslide’s leading edge and remarking, “They’re predicting sunshine tomorrow.” Say hello to the Democrats—while they’re still standing.

Congress came back to the Washington mother ship this week, and the buzz was that the Democrats will move heaven and earth to give the American public a reason to vote for them in November’s midterm elections. Maybe enact another $10 billion in Covid relief or wave a wand that erases student-loan debt. Normally I’d say good luck with that, but the party is beyond luck.

It’s time for a premortem on the Democrats’ House debacle and very possible loss of Senate control.

Barack Obama,

now the party’s main oracle, said during his recent visit to the Biden White House: “You’ve got a story to tell—just got to tell it.” No, their story is the problem.

From the day

Joe Biden

entered office, the Democrats have displayed a misreading of how the Covid-19 pandemic had altered the country’s normal political and social alignments.

Obvious to everyone now, the pandemic forced millions to rethink everything in their lives—their jobs, children, schools, where they lived, care for elderly relatives, the routines of daily life.

This was a complex political and cultural event to which the Democratic response was Pavlovian: Throw money and expect gratitude.

What the Democrats did—first the $2 trillion 2021 Covid relief bill followed by the attempt to pass $4.6 trillion more with Build Back Better—was an exercise in political grandiosity wholly out of sync with a public that had turned inward. Even now, as the pandemic ebbs in an election year, people are preoccupied with either rebuilding their lives or restructuring careers.

Democrats might say that Mr. Biden simply replayed FDR’s Great Depression playbook of patching holes in the social fabric. Maybe, but the Depression didn’t include lockdowns, school closings and masking policies.

Democrats can also argue, in retirement, how they only “followed the science.” Whatever the justification, Democrats displayed little understanding or sympathy for how much the pandemic restrictions were disrupting people’s lives.

The White House anointed

Anthony Fauci

and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as arbiters of pandemic policy. Last week, Dr. Fauci confirmed that he considered himself answerable to no one outside his circle. How could the White House have seen so little peril in abdicating control of the politics amid the evolving mysteries of Covid? On Wednesday, Dr. Fauci announced we are “out of the pandemic phase.” Better late than never for Democrats.

Joe Biden promised a return to normality. But that was about

Donald Trump.

There was nothing normal about the America over which Mr. Biden presided. The pandemic’s social dislocations increased. Schools closed, then sort-of opened, with masking policies micromanaged into incomprehensibility. Parents were overwhelmed. The schools mess alone has baked in Democratic losses, notably in states such as New Jersey, a tinderbox of rage over closed schools.

Masking became a left-right issue. But the Democrats’ lockstep support for masking hurt them. Covering half one’s face with cloth is an apolitical hassle, which in time wore down many people who wanted out. Instead the Biden CDC, supported by the Justice Department, insisted in the pandemic’s last hour on extending the travel mask mandate. Is this what the Democrats mean by getting their message out?

At every level of government, the Democratic Party defended restrictions by aligning with the authority of science. Result: After living for two years under that authority’s thumb, people are looking for respite from government, which by definition means the Democrats.

President Biden’s claim that his economic recovery is unprecedented also mischaracterizes the public’s understanding of the pandemic experience. People know the lockdowns suspended a strong economy. One day they had a job. Then they didn’t. The U.S. rebound from this mandated downturn is natural, not a Biden miracle. Some aid helped some people, but there’s no reason that should translate into a wellspring of support for the party.

The Washington Democrats wasted their political capital in 2021 trying to create a once-and-for-all U.S. entitlement state with Build Back Better. That became a spectacle of political failure. So Sen.

Elizabeth Warren,

another progressive oracle, argued last weekend that the party’s survival depends on passing legislation to regulate drug prices and leaning on Mr. Biden to issue a long list of executive orders. Likely political resonance: about zero.

Six months before Election Day, this is the political landscape: Most voters see House and Senate Democrats as largely irrelevant to their lives, which today consist of climbing out of a pandemic amid rising inflation, crime and illegal border crossings.

That the Democrats are about to tumble down the mountain has nothing to do with their unheard message and everything to do with conscious policy choices.

Write henninger@wsj.com.

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