The story goes that, when President Johnson had sniffed out which day in 1968 his political nemesis Robert Kennedy planned to announce a bid for Johnson’s job, the incumbent president tasked his staff with creating enough news that daily cycle to bump RFK’s announcement off the top of the front page of the New York Times.
Which goes to show that while the phrase “wag the dog” wouldn’t be coined for some decades hence, the concept of politicians diverting attention via conjuring tricks has been a tried-and-true tactic just about forever.
We were reminded of that tale last week, as Joe Biden for the first time in his brief presidency faced a Welcome Wagon basketful of unfolding chaos, much of it out of his control and all bad: A mess in the Mideast, fears of looming inflation, gas lines, a border crisis, people refusing to work because they can earn more sitting on their keisters and, perhaps most serious of all for the Biden team, whispers that perhaps we have a modern-day incarnation of Jimmy Carter on our hands at the White House.
What to do, what to do, to win a news cycle, if only just one? Easy: Make an announcement, lapped up for dramatic effect by the media, that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had determined that, for vaccinated people, mask-wearing could be a thing of the past, pending ratification by the nation’s more power-mad governors and lockdown-loving national corporate executives.
Never mind that it completely upended CDC messaging; the politicians (finally!) moved to wrest control from the public-health bureaucrats and impose some sanity.
The pronouncement was done belatedly and for the wrong reasons, but compared to Bill Clinton’s most famous wag-the-dog moment – bombing the Balkans to divert attention from his personal peccadilloes – at least nobody got killed in the process. So Biden gets no criticism here, except for being late coming to an obvious conclusion.
With Gov. Northam lifting mask mandates for the vaccinated last week, will vaccinated Northern Virginians “follow the science” and get on with living, or continue masking up merely to virtue-signal superiority over others? We hope for the former but fully expect the latter.