A follow-up on “Democrats should stop trying to save Republicans from themselves”

Friday morning I argued that Democrats should stop trying to save Republicans from themselves.

Biden will address nation and change his approach

I was unaware that on Thursday afternoon Biden had given a statement to the press urging people to get vaccinated.  Apparently he will also give a national address Tuesday.  According to the New York Times:

Mr. Biden “will announce new steps the Administration is taking to help communities in need of assistance,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, wrote on Twitter on Saturday, “while also issuing a stark warning of what the winter will look like for Americans that choose to remain unvaccinated.”

“We are prepared for the rising case levels,” she wrote in a follow-up Twitter post, and Mr. Biden “will detail how we will respond to this challenge. He will remind Americans that they can protect themselves from severe illness from COVID-19 by getting vaccinated and getting their booster shot when they are eligible.”

I believe Biden should be empathetic to the vaccine hesitant but also explicitly call out Republicans and conservative media figures who have encouraged vaccine hesitancy.  And he should stress that although he will do what he can to help states and localities, in areas with low vaccination rates he should be clear that there is a chance the virus will overrun hospitals.  Why take responsibility for preventing something that is not his responsibility and is largely beyond his control?  He should be angry.  This was unnecessary. He should also challenge congressional Republicans to work with Democrats on specific steps to curb the epidemic.

What about the OSHA mandate?

My post also argued that Biden should explicitly walk away from the broad OSHA vaccine mandate.  This was the boldest and most debatable part of my argument, and the same day I made my case the 6th circuit reinstated the mandate, which had previously been suspended by a different circuit.  The Biden administration has pushed the enforcement date back a month to February 9.  Now the matter is up to the Supreme Court.

This weakens my argument – I predicted the broad OSHA mandate would be delayed and likely killed by the courts.  This could still happen, but perhaps it is less likely than I thought, especially given the possibility that the Court’s decision will happen in the middle of a massive Omicron surge

In related vaccine mandate news, the New York Times has a piece today on state-level vaccine mandates.  Eyeing the data, it seems like states with high vaccination rates imposed mandates, but there is not much evidence that these mandates increased vaccination rates substantially.  On the other hand, a federal employment mandate might be more effective than state mandates, because it would cover many more job categories and it would apply in states with lower vaccination rates.  A recent NBER study finds that requiring proof of vaccination to attend non-essential social events (vaccine passports, not employment mandates) has a modest effect on vaccination rates in Canada and 3 European countries.  So that’s another point against my argument that the Biden administration should give up on the broad employment mandate.

Having said this, I think my larger point still stands.  Vaccine mandates have unfortunately become a flashpoint in pandemic policy.  Backing off the broad federal mandate will depolarize the issue and let vaccine-hesitant people look at the benefits of vaccines without the distorting overlay of libertarian mandate-outrage.  It will force Republican officials to own the consequences of their messaging and policy choices.  I’m not saying this is optimal; but it may be the best response to a bad situation.