The Pandemic Won Biden The White House. Now It's Costing Him | Opinion

This is not the Christmas holiday season that President Joe Biden and Democrats thought they'd be celebrating after a year of holding the White House and both houses of Congress. The pandemic then-candidate Biden promised to "shut down" continues to bedevil him and the country.

A year ago, elected Democrats could have foreseen that 2021 would bring some unexpected challenges. But after spending 2020 blaming Donald Trump for the pandemic and running as the party that listened to "the science," few of Biden's supporters, flushed with the thrill of ousting Trump from the White House, were prepared for the current state of affairs.

Though Democrats are still doing their best to blame the country's problems on the previous president, Republicans and the unvaccinated, they are now being reminded of a basic political truth. Incumbent presidents can take credit for the sunshine but must also shoulder the blame for rain.

In 2020, the general misery that COVID inflicted on a suffering nation cost Trump the election. Yet Democrats expected that the vaccines whose production Trump had streamlined (something for which unbiased future historians, if there ever are any, will give him full credit)—along with Biden's willingness to listen to whatever the Center for Disease Control and Dr. Anthony Fauci recommended—would ensure that the pandemic would subside, if not vanish, during the course of 2021.

But viruses don't obey presidential directives. The coronavirus and its variants have persisted and continue to spread. And as much as the vaccines have done to prevent the infected from suffering serious symptoms, hospitalizations or death, they don't appear to prevent COVID's spread, even among those who have gotten the recommended two (and now three) shots.

At this point 61 percent of the public is now fully vaccinated, including 72 percent of those over 18 and 87 percent of those over 65. That means the vast majority of those most at risk are now largely protected from the worst of the disease. But like the lockdowns, school closings, mask mandates and other measures in which governments threw civil liberties to the wind, even widespread vaccination hasn't been enough to end what now appears to be a permanent public health emergency.

It's not yet clear whether the Omicron variant will cause more severe illnesses or simply turn out to be the health equivalent of a hurricane that doesn't make landfall. Yet its appearance, like that of Delta before it, has set off a wave of hysteria and fear that, if not quite replicating the early days of the pandemic, has put a damper on any hope of ending the restrictions. Indeed, Biden's prediction this past week of "a winter of severe illness and death—if you're unvaccinated—for themselves, their families, and the hospitals they'll soon overwhelm," seemed little different from the gloom and doom Democrats were sounding when Trump was president.

Joe Biden
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 20: U.S. President Joe Biden exits Marine One on the South Lawn and walks to the Oval Office of the White House December 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. Biden spent the weekend in Wilmington, Delaware. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Last month, the country reached a benchmark as more Americans were recorded as having died of COVID on Biden's watch than on Trump's. That's a problem because of all the times Biden claimed that, "if the president had done his job, had done his job from the beginning, all the people would still be alive." The administration and its apologists have attempted to spin the statistics. But after a disaster abroad in Afghanistan as well as record inflation resulting from the administration's reckless spending and a supply chain crisis, there's no avoiding the general sense that Biden's presidency is a rerun of Jimmy Carter's gloomy four years in office over 40 years ago.

The persistence of the pandemic is not Biden's fault. But as his job approval ratings indicate, Biden is now learning that if you're president when bad things happen, the public will blame you for their unhappiness.

Biden's problem is bigger than the unpleasant sensation of being hoisted by one's own petard.

A focus on the pandemic and Trump's alleged responsibility for it was key to Democratic victory in 2020. Yet now that they're in power, Democrats have embraced lockdowns, mask mandates and school closures not so much as public health requirements as signs of public virtue and patriotism. The mask, even when worn under circumstances where it was clearly unnecessary—whether outdoors or on children, even when they were playing outside—became the Democrats' version of the red MAGA cap.

The Left now openly deprecates the public's desire for an off ramp from pandemic measures, especially when red-state governors like Florida's Ron DeSantis fight back against unnecessary restrictions. Democrats have learned to thrive by cultivating COVID fears among their supporters and labeling all those who resisted masks and mandates as threats. Now that it appears the disease is not going away, they have no choice but to respond to each new wave with the same heavy-handed tactics and scary rhetoric as before—with as little chance of providing a path to an endgame.

Contributing to their problem is the fact that growing numbers of Americans are sick of government mandates and the threat of lockdowns or other restrictions. The public is catching on to the fact that none of the most annoying measures (like the wearing of masks in airplanes) that Fauci and others would continue indefinitely have been proven to be an effective way to end the pandemic.

It's becoming obvious that at some point, the nation is just going to have to learn to live with COVID the way it does with other diseases for which there are treatments and vaccines that reduce, but do not eliminate, risk. But a party and a president that have made coronavirus hysteria integral to their identity are never going to do that.

That means that not only will Biden be blamed, as all incumbent presidents are, for the nation's problems whether or not they are his fault or even soluble. He is also stuck in a trap of his own making that is likely to make 2022 an even more depressing year for Democrats.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS.org, a senior contributor to The Federalist and a columnist for the New York Post. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.