Good morning, it’s Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. The grim COVID milestone we’ve been awaiting with trepidation arrived Monday, as predicted: 500,000 American lives lost. President Biden gave an evocative speech about the toll this has taken on our country. The flags are flying at half-staff. Even so, a tepid sense of hope seems to be emerging as this cruel winter wanes: Immunization rates are rising, while the infection rate appears to be in decline. Will we see a fourth surge in infections or have we finally “flattened the curve,” as the scientists say?
At some point, the daily heroism of health care professionals all over the world will truly sink in. I include in that group everyone from the nerdy geniuses in their government and private sector labs who produced a vaccine in record time to the brave palliative care nurses who have borne the brunt of seeing half-a-million of our loved ones over to the other side. And every medical industry worker in between.
It was on this date in 1943 that young Jonas Salk began his first field trials against the scourge of polio, a word that frightened parents as much as the war the United States was fighting on two fronts. It was the disease that crippled America’s wartime president himself. But a wire story published six years ago today showed how humans beings’ fears as well as our physical frailty figure into the dynamics of a pandemic.
I’ll have more on that in a moment. First, I’d direct you to RCP’s front page, which presents our poll averages, videos, breaking news stories, and aggregated opinion columns spanning the political spectrum. We also offer original material from our own reporters, columnists, and contributors, including the following:
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Trump Alum, Social Conservatives Launch Effort to Kill HR 1. RCP staff correspondent Phil Wegmann has this exclusive on the initiative aimed at defeating the Democratic-sponsored bill to expand voter access.
The Big Lie Is Trump’s Litmus Test for 2022. Columnist A.B. Stoddard writes that Republicans hoping not to run afoul of the former president must parrot his insistence that the 2020 election was stolen by Democrats.
We Cannot Allow China to Engage in a COVID Coverup. In a guest op-ed, former diplomat Dave Seminara urges President Biden to press Beijing for raw data on the origins of the coronavirus, which was denied to WHO investigators.
American “Belt and Road” Would Lessen Global Influence. RealClearMarkets editor John Tamny argues that following the Chinese model for aiding developing countries would be counterproductive.
More Americans Need to Work at the U.N. At RealClearWorld, Morgan Lorraine Vina and Brett Schaeffer warn that China has increasingly used the United Nations as a vehicle to advance its interests while the U.S. role has waned.
Beware the Digital-Intelligence Complex. Echoing Dwight Eisenhower’s 1961 warning, Eric Felten reports for RealClearInvestigations on the new "revolving door" in Washington, one that features a government-to-Silicon Valley job pipeline.
With Parler Back, Are Monopoly Claims Overblown? At RealClearPolicy, Eric Peterson explains why the social media company’s antitrust lawsuit against AWS was flawed.
GOP Must Play Offense on Climate. At RealClearEnergy, George Gemelas urges Republicans to push the carbon dividends plan, which is designed to address both domestic and international dimensions of the climate challenge.
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On this date in 2015, Congress returned from recess to tackle, among other issues, the worrying rise of “anti-vaxers” -- Americans who had lost faith in the medical establishment and were putting their own children (and the rest of us) in added peril from viruses and bacteria.
A measles outbreak at Disneyland sparked by parents who hadn’t immunized their children led to widespread scorn toward the anti-vaccination crowd. So the Associated Press decided to interview some of them.
The ensuing AP story wasn’t simpatico with their viewpoint -- anti-vaxers are on the wrong side of science and statistics -- but it was written with empathy. (Journalism like that was still being practiced in this country only six years ago.) The three mothers interviewed came across as reasonable and intellectually curious. One had read a study in The Lancet that furthered her doubts. Another had experienced complications from an anti-malaria medication.
“Contrary to the common sentiment, we are not anti-science,” said an Oregon mother of 2½-year-old twin girls. “I’m not opposed to medicine, and I think vaccines have a place. We think it's a medical choice, and it should be researched carefully.”
Unfortunately, during a pandemic that’s killing millions of people worldwide, we don’t have the luxury for such deliberative thinking. Yet something else is at play, too, and that is the default parameters of human thinking.
In 2015, Dartmouth College researchers did a study that produced a sobering result: When presented with scientific evidence that vaccines do not cause autism and that exposure to measles carries great risks, vaccine skeptics didn’t change their minds. If anything, they became less trusting of the science. As Dartmouth professor Brendan Nyhan told the AP, “We tend to be skeptical toward information that contradicts our existing views.”
This revelation explains a great deal more than head-scratchers like the nursing home workers who won’t take the COVID vaccine, doesn’t it? It also helps explain our Manichean and polarized politics, as well. It doesn’t provide answers to our screwed-up politics, however. For those, well, it helps to keep sampling RealClear’s array of news and opinion, which this daily newsletter attempts to frame and spotlight.
Carl M. Cannon
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics