the national interest

Neanderthals Were Smarter Than Anti-Mask Republicans

Photo: Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Earlier this week, Texas governor Greg Abbott repealed his state’s requirement for mask wearing in crowded public spaces. President Biden scolded the decision. “I hope everybody realizes by now that masks make a big difference. We are on the cusp of being able to fundamentally change the nature of this disease because of the way in which we are able to get vaccines,” he told reporters. “The last thing we need is the Neanderthal thinking that, in the meantime, everything is fine, take off our mask, forget it.”

Republicans quickly expressed indignation. It’s not clear if they considered the comparison between their opposition to masks and the thinking of Neanderthals offensive to Republicans or to Neanderthals. As an example of the former: “For a president that called for unity to degrade himself to name-calling doesn’t make any sense at all,” complained Montana governor Greg Gianforte, whose own personal method of handling disagreement is not name-calling but physical violence.

As an example of the latter: “Neanderthals are hunter-gatherers, they’re protectors of their family, they are resilient, they’re resourceful, they tend to their own,” said Tennessee Republican senator Marsha Blackburn. “So I think Joe Biden needs to rethink what he is saying.” Blackburn seemed to be going for the cultural-sensitivity angle. Neanderthals — sorry, Neanderthal Americans — may not have the same written language and fancy bronze tools the liberal elites do, but they’re hardworking and have strong family values, etc.

The Wall Street Journal’s editors, probably filing from their fainting couch, complained that their delicate ears were offended by the president’s coarse analogy. “Democrats are applauding Mr. Biden,” the editors moaned, “but imagine if Donald Trump had attacked Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s lockdown as ‘Neanderthal thinking.’”

The implication of this bizarre hypothetical is that Biden is held to a lower standard of civility than his predecessor. Even more strangely, the Journal attempts to support this obviously false idea with a specific case that proves the opposite point. Trump actually did attack Whitmer. Repeatedly! He called her “Half Whitmer,” demanded she display more gratitude, and openly called for an insurrection in her state, and when extremists tried to kidnap and execute her, he demanded she placate them.

The Journal’s question, “Imagine if Donald Trump had attacked Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s lockdown as ‘Neanderthal thinking,’” is like making a big deal over somebody running over a squirrel with their car and asking, “Just imagine if Saddam Hussein had done that?” Nobody would have cared!

Even more amazingly, the Journal’s editors are using this contretemps to argue that Biden is attempting to prolong coronavirus restrictions for no good reason. If you recall, conservatives promoted a theory under the Trump administration that Democratic governors and public-health officials were fomenting excessive fear and shutting down the economy in order to hurt Trump’s reelection campaign. It’s completely unclear what motive Democrats would have to continue doing this now that Biden is president. Nonetheless, conservatives seem to be sticking with the same theory.

The Journal argues, “Liberals and their public-health friends don’t seem to want the pandemic to end — ever,” and attributes Biden’s criticism of Abbott to this liberal desire for perpetual lockdown.

However, the only statement or action by Biden cited in the editorial is his request to continue mask mandates just a little bit longer until the vaccines are universally available. This doesn’t strike me as a draconian restriction since mask wearing is the cheapest, least intrusive measure against the pandemic. Indeed, the Journal’s editorial even concedes in a brief aside, “It’s probably still prudent to wear masks in public settings indoors for a few more months.”

So they have conceded the entirety of Biden’s point. The sole example of Biden supporting a restriction cited in this entire editorial is one the editorial concedes to be correct. Nonetheless, it accuses him of planning a “perpetual COVID crisis.”

Biden’s position is that states should maintain the least intrusive public-health requirement — wearing masks, which enables rather than inhibits economic activity — for a short period until we’re vaccinated. The Republican position is to get angry and accuse Biden of favoring “lockdowns.” Were even the Neanderthals this dense?

Neanderthals Were Smarter Than Anti-Mask Republicans