As Biden’s Pandemic Response Fails, Democrats Scapegoat Podcasters and the Public

by Keaton Weiss

A recent Pew poll shows waning confidence in President Biden’s ability to “handle the public health impact of the coronavirus outbreak.” As shown below, Biden’s numbers on covid have plummeted more than 20 points in less than a year. Last March, 65% of Americans were optimistic that the new administration would effectively pull us through the pandemic – currently, only 44% feel that way. Most troublingly for Biden, the number of people who say they’re “very confident” in his handling of covid has decreased by more than half. A mere 15% of the public now expresses such a level of trust.

Down the home stretch of the 2020 campaign, a poll by the same organization showed Biden trouncing Donald Trump 57-40 on the issue of pandemic response. Given how unexpectedly close the race turned out to be, it can be reasonably assumed that the people’s relative confidence in Biden’s covid performance over Trump’s is what pushed him over the top and made him our 46th President.

Now, one year, several variants, and approximately half a million deaths later, the country is recognizing that their high hopes going into 2021 were likely misplaced, as the rosiest outlook on covid now seems to be that it will soon enter an endemic phase.

None of this is to say that covid’s resilience is the fault of the Biden administration. Even New Zealand, which virtually rid itself of coronavirus from May 2020 through July 2021, has seen a dramatic resurgence in cases these past six months. Rather, it seems that covid is an especially transmissible disease that simply can’t be eradicated entirely. Even vaccines, which have proven highly effective in preventing serious illness and death, do not stop the spread of the virus itself.

But regardless of whether or not Biden bears sole responsibility for rampant coronavirus, the political truth remains that he was elected largely based on the premise, and the promise, that he had a strategy to control the outbreak.

Now that he hasn’t delivered the results, the American people, including his own Democratic base (the same new Pew poll shows Biden’s overall approval rating at a miserable 68% among Democrat/lean Democrat voters), are quickly souring on him.

And so, the Biden administration is desperate for some explanation that neither implicates them nor paints too bleak a picture about how they’ll never be able to truly “control” the virus in a way that they signaled they could. Admitting fault or owning up to the fact that covid is here to stay in some form or another are both politically disastrous for a government already facing a dire confidence crisis.

In plain English, they need a scapegoat. They need to deflect the public’s frustration over covid’s staying power in a direction that both exonerates them from blame and creates the impression that a covid-free world is possible but for x. Finding a variable that satisfies those two conditions is necessary to keep their fragile legitimacy from collapsing altogether.

“Misinformation” – those who spread it, and those who fall for it – is the perfect culprit. Media figures who traffic in vaccine hesitancy and the dupes who listen to them are now in the crosshairs of the establishment. We’re supposed to believe that they’re the ones standing between the rest of us and a return to our normal pre-pandemic lives. The government and their media mouthpieces want us, the vaccinated majority among which, by the way, I count myself, to hold purveyors and consumers of misinformation responsible for the ongoing covid crisis.

If they can make this idea stick, they’ll be off the hook in two ways. First, the people will trust that Biden and his government have done all they can do, and that it’s now up to the unenlightened masses to cooperate and follow the plan. Second, and equally importantly, it will keep hope alive that a post-covid world is attainable.

Now to be clear, I would never argue that misinformation isn’t intrinsically bad, and that we as a society wouldn’t be better off without it. The question here is not whether misinformation is good or bad, but whether or not it’s the primary driver of coronavirus in 2022. My point is that if we’re to be convinced of the latter, we’re fooling ourselves into both excusing our leaders’ failures to manage it more effectively and believing that a small minority of our fellow citizens are responsible for its continued existence as a going concern.

This is precisely the delusion that the government, their media allies, and their most loyal supporters (ie, the 15% of Americans who still express strong confidence in Biden’s handing of covid) want to perpetuate. And of course, this is what the campaign to cancel Joe Rogan and shame his audience is really about.

The Biden administration recently urged Spotify to take further punitive action against Rogan, rendering obsolete the already ludicrous “private companies” defense put forward by liberals who suddenly forgot every critique of corporate power they ever heard. This of course came after Neil Young and a handful of other musicians pulled their catalogues off of the platform to protest Rogan’s podcast.

Beyond Rogan, we’ve also seen a barrage of attacks on the unvaccinated themselves – ie, those on the receiving end of misinformation. In September, Biden himself said his “patience [was] wearing thin” with unvaccinated people and declared covid a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.” In November, Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell echoed many of these same sentiments in a viral Twitter thread. CNN’s Don Lemon called them “idiots.” Longtime Democratic strategist James Carville just this week called them “piece[s] of shit” who he wishes he could punch in the face with impunity. Perhaps most famously, Howard Stern railed against the unvaccinated on his show, saying, “Fuck them. Fuck their freedom. I want my freedom to live.” He added, “I want to get out of the house.”

Stern’s comments, more than any other’s, get to the crux of the matter. And again, just as it was necessary to clarify that misinformation is intrinsically bad, I should also state emphatically my belief that being vaccinated is intrinsically good. I am vaccinated and boosted, as is my wife, and we both mask up in public and limit our exposure to large crowds, seeing as we have twin three-year-olds who can’t be vaccinated yet. But just as in the misinformation example, the operative question is not whether vaccines are good or bad, but rather, are the unvaccinated to blame for people like Howard Stern being too afraid to leave their homes? Given the CDC’s confirmation that covid can still spread amongst vaccinated people and the record surge in cases this winter even in highly vaccinated population centers like New York City, it seems like the answer to this question is decidedly no.

And this, once again, explains the Biden White House’s great predicament. If they can’t effectively scapegoat podcasters and the public for their inability to beat covid, they’re left with two equally dismal political options: accept blame themselves, or tell the public to accept that covid is unbeatable and that concern over it is something we’re all going to have to learn to live with indefinitely.

Both would cause irreparable damage to the administration, the political system more broadly, the economy, and institutional trust, and so neither are acceptable. Instead, we’re all supposed to buy into the increasingly implausible narrative that Biden has done all he can, and that we can be rid of covid if we all just get our acts together.

Of course, canceling Joe Rogan won’t get us any closer to victory over coronavirus. Even if half of Joe Rogan’s listeners are unvaccinated, and all of his unvaccinated listeners are only unvaccinated because they listen to Joe Rogan – an extremely, comically generous assumption – that’s still only about 5 million people; roughly 1.5% of Americans, assuming (wrongfully of course) that all of his listeners live in the United States. More realistically, we can estimate that the number of unvaccinated Rogan subscribers who refuse the vaccine based solely on Rogan’s skepticism is at most a few thousand – not anywhere near enough to make a significant impact on covid cases.

For a third time now, I should clarify what might be to some a point of confusion. I personally wish Rogan were more encouraging of his listeners to get vaccinated, and I don’t think it is inherently good to understate the vaccine’s efficacy. Again, the question is not whether or not Rogan is doing his listeners a service by expressing vaccine hesitancy, but rather, is he to blame for the ongoing crisis? I don’t think an honest and reasonable person can make such a claim, and I also think, as outlined above, that the establishment has its own reasons for convincing us that Rogan and his audience are the real problem.

The main issue here is an extremely contagious virus that likely cannot be contained to the extent we all wish it could be. Given its ability to spread even among vaccinated people, an endemic phase is probably the best we can hope for at this point. This is likely true no matter who’s President. But Biden’s election was predicated upon the people’s belief that a complete return to normalcy was possible and that Biden was better suited to get us there than Trump. The only way for his administration to keep people under this impression is to direct their disappointment away from the government, and at each other.

In reality, no good will come from de-platforming podcasters or publicly fantasizing about punching unvaccinated people in the face and getting away with it. But to those attempting to cancel Rogan, doing good isn’t the point. The point is to convince those who still hold out hope for a successful Biden administration that they’re doing something to try and contain covid, and that it’s our fellow Americans, our “idiot” little people, whose ignorance and selfishness is preventing us from entering the illusory post-covid future.

It remains to be seen how long they can keep this ruse going, but the sooner we recognize it the better. Because while elimination of covid might not be possible, there are far more productive ways to mitigate the damage than to muzzle podcasters and ridicule their listeners. A Universal Basic Income to alleviate some the constant pressure most Americans feel to keep money coming in would be a great place to start. Medicare For All, which a recent report suggests would have saved hundreds of thousands of lives during the pandemic, is another achievable goal worth fighting for. Supporting union efforts so that workers can more forcefully demand safe working conditions is an obvious one. Expanded remote work availability to keep symptomatic people home when they might be carriers is another practical measure we can implement. Virtual learning as a contingency plan in case of further surges seems like a no-brainer. A four-day work week is worth considering. These are just a few examples of political battles whose victories would actually help usher in a new normal that is as safe, as comfortable, and as fulfilling as possible. The cancel crusade against “misinformation” is little more than short-term political damage control for a failing President and an illegitimate establishment. We shouldn’t partake in it.

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Photos: White House, Joe Rogan Experience

Jon Stewart’s Plea for Political Engagement is Too Smart for Today’s Liberals

by Keaton Weiss

Liberals flooded the streets in jubilation when the Presidential election was finally called for Joe Biden. After four anxious days of counting returns, major media organizations declared the winner on November 7, a Saturday, at around 11am – serendipitously, right around brunchtime. Alas, they thought, the Trump era was over.

In one sense, this assessment may have been premature, seeing as the 45th President never fully exited campaign mode, and is currently gearing up for a likely 2024 run. In another, it proves itself wrong every single day, as the effects of the Trump presidency on the liberal psyche demonstrate on a regular basis their stubborn resiliency.

Among the many ways in which Trump broke the liberal brain (their fixation with Russia, their embrace of murderous Bush-era neocons, and their addiction to corporate media networks), their impulse to disengage from discussion and debate with anyone they perceive to be a political adversary is perhaps the most troubling psychological affect they’ve developed since November 2016.

Enter Jon Stewart, who this week on his new show, The Problem with Jon Stewart, weighed in on the Neil Young/Joe Rogan Spotify conflict. Much to the shock and chagrin of mainstream liberals, he described the pressure campaign on Spotify to remove Rogan as an “overreaction” and a “mistake,” and that the media’s portrayal of Rogan as an anti-vax crusader is “overblown.” He also made the excellent point that Fox News, a network clearly committed to blatant misinformation and propaganda, is carried by all of the major cable providers. He then posed the question that if musical artists are forcing Spotify to choose between them and Rogan, why shouldn’t any actor, performer, or personality on any TV station give the giant cable companies who host their content this same ultimatum regarding Fox?

Now before Alyssa Milano gets any ideas, I should clarify that the point of Stewart’s thought experiment was that to make such a demand would be absurd. Existing in the same “tube,” as Stewart put it, with those you disagree with, or even feel are dishonest bad actors, is part of living in a free speech society. Threats of de-platforming might not violate the First Amendment outright, but they certainly are antithetical to the spirit of it.

He further argued that Rogan is not an ideologue, but rather “someone you can engage with,” and that engagement is the very point of political discourse and is always preferable to cancellation and censorship. This sparked a predictably negative reaction from liberals online. Stewart saying that he’ll “never give up on engagement” puts him irreconcilably at odds with modern liberalism, which “gave up” on engagement the instant it appeared Donald Trump had won the 2016 election.

From that moment on, liberals were committed to viewing their political opponents as mortal enemies with whom no engagement could possibly be productive. Worse yet, they came to view anyone who didn’t toe the mainstream Democratic Party line on every single issue to be one of these political opponents. If you asked the wrong questions about Russiagate (and by “wrong questions” I mean “right questions,” as has been proven time and again), you were a Putin stooge. If you found the impeachment trial a distracting waste of time, you were a closet Trumper. If you criticized the Democrats establishment too harshly, you were a water carrier for alt right fascists.

Come January 20, 2021, Trump was gone, but liberals’ habit of accusatory knee-jerk hysteria as their default mode of political argument proved impossible to kick. Even with the Orange Man out of Washington, their lizard-brained reaction to any sentiment remotely out of step with party orthodoxy only grows more intense as time goes on. This explains their uninformed insistence that Joe Rogan is some kind of Alex Jones-adjacent loudmouthed crackpot, as well as their hostile response to Jon Stewart’s calm and rational assertion that he isn’t.

Stewart is a bit of an anachronism in the sense that in his heyday, during the Bush administration, being a liberal meant actually having an analysis of material reality and a cogent critique of tangible real-world events: opposing an illegal war that was murdering thousands on a daily basis, decrying the governments’ effective drowning of a major American city after a catastrophic hurricane, lambasting big banks whose greed and recklessness caused the worst economic crisis in nearly a century, and, here’s a doozy – defending the First Amendment against the Patriot Act and other formal and informal encroachments in the aftermath of 9/11.

In the Trump era, liberalism took on an entirely different character. Trump’s obvious and odious character flaws made it easy enough for liberals to espouse their resistance without doing the arduous work of educating themselves about politics. This laziness wouldn’t fly during the Bush years, when Stewart was at his peak. To “resist” that administration meant to think for yourself about the threat (or lack thereof) posed by Saddam Hussein and whether or not it warranted the “shock and awe” campaign against it.

Stewart, during the Bush era, was a satirical counterweight to establishment media narratives, which, for the most part parroted White House talking points. Nowadays, the late night comedy scene, from Stewart’s former colleague, Stephen Colbert, to his Daily Show replacement, Trevor Noah, is just a sillier and more absurdist version of the mainstream corporate media. They’re less serious in tone than CNN and MSNBC, but their message is exactly the same: Trump is bad and his supporters are dumb, and you, dear viewer, are good and smart for feeling that way.

To offer any deeper insight than that, as Stewart always does, is to challenge today’s liberals in a way that makes them deeply uncomfortable. Their brains have become incredibly indolent since Trump descended his escalator, and Stewart’s commentary is just too much for them to handle. Like an overzealous personal trainer to someone who hasn’t exercised in years, Stewart demands more than their shiftless minds are capable of at the moment.

And so it’s no surprise that his plea for engagement and dialogue has provoked such backlash from those who, ten years ago, would have been his biggest fans. At the time, many, myself included, regretted his resignation from The Daily Show, as it came just as Trump’s candidacy seemed poised to usher in a golden age of political comedy. As it turns out, it did the complete opposite, lowering the bar to such an extent that Stewart’s decision to hang it up when he did feels exactly right in retrospect.

Now that Trump’s gone, Stewart is back and as brilliant as ever. “The problem” (see what I did there?) for him is that his audience has gone stupid. He’s George Bailey trapped in the Pottersville scene; he went away for a few years, and while he was gone, his town went to Hell.

I’m still here for it though, and you should be too. Stewart is a relic of a bygone era when being a liberal meant questioning authority and defending the First Amendment. If there’s no longer an audience for that, we’re in a lot more trouble than we think.

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Photo: The Problem With Jon Stewart, The Joe Rogan Experience

Daring to Comment on the Neil Young Joe Rogan Spotify Showdown

Mostly, the podcaster gig is a blast. Get yourself a microphone, connect it to the internet, and start spewing your opinions consistently and with some modicum of wit, or at least personality, and while the world might not beat a path to your door, a small following is sure to come a’ knocking. Keep it going long enough and that following can grow into the thousands, and maybe more, even in this environment of ever more repressive algorithms constricting our rights to free speech and virtual-public assembly.

But there’s a downside to having a platform. I’ll give you an example: one time I was walking up Broadway and I saw a crowd of people gathered at the stage door of the old Ed Sullivan theater. I figured they were waiting for David Letterman to come out, so I decided to go stand with them and see what kind of ironic prank he was going to pull. Next to me was the kind of freak who ends up on the news sooner or later, usually for gunning down some poor schmuck who spent their whole life dreaming of being on a TV show, never thinking about the way that kind of exposure can end up attracting the capricious attention of the terminally weird.

Joan London came walking up, gamely waving at the crowd as she made her way to the entrance. Then she noticed this skinny little goateed weirdo in a denim jacket saying over and over again, “Hi Joan, hi Joan, hi Joan, hi Joan . . .” I could see her shoulders visibly shudder and her face stiffen, even as she maintained her Queen of England smiling and waving routine. And then she was gone.

In that moment, I saw in her eyes the secret fear that any public figure with a recognizable mug experiences: the fear of being murdered by your audience.

These days that fear usually isn’t quite so literal, although if you’re even D-list famous it’s always a possibility. But social media and cancel culture have made the idea of going to all the trouble of finding out where the target of your madness is going to be, purchasing a weapon, buying a bus ticket, standing around waiting, and then finally taking them out, always with the risk that you’re going to be gunned down yourself by the authorities, terribly anachronistic. If Mark David Chapman had access to social media and thousands of like-minded, Twitter-obsessed morons, he’d likely have just kept his ass in Hawaii and started a #Lennonhypocrite hashtag.

Today the Chapmans and the Hinckley’s and the Squeaky’s are all hunched over their computer screens and their smartphones, constantly on the prowl for meaning in the form of ideas or people they can disagree with by way of defining themselves. They’ll come for you if you’re Joe Rogan, and they’ll come for you if you’re just a couple of jerks with the aforementioned small, disturbed fan base defending Joe Rogan. Or Jordan Peterson. Or Alex Jones. Not because you necessarily like them, but because you recognize that your speech rights are only as protected as theirs. 

But that’s a concept that requires more depth of thought than psychopaths and narcissists are generally capable of. If the medium is the message, the message our medium is madness.

This brings us to this past week, when legendary songwriter Neil Young picked a fight he’d surely lose. Objecting to Joe Rogan’s comments regarding covid vaccines, Young gave Spotify an ultimatum: they would have to choose between hosting his music catalogue or Rogan’s podcast on their streaming platform.

Spotify chose the latter, a decision easily predictable given their blockbuster exclusive deal with Rogan’s chart-topping podcast inked in 2020.

In response to this conflict, we posted what we thought was a fairly innocuous joke on our page: a statement that we would continue to host our podcast on Spotify because we like both Joe Rogan and Neil Young, and we need all the listeners we can get.

Reactions were mostly positive, but we got a far bigger and more intense response than anticipated, and so we thought we’d follow up by recording a podcast on the topic.

Listen below, and subscribe to our podcast on any major podcast player – yeah, including Spotify.


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Photo: Joe Rogan Experience, Per Ole Hagen