Meh. It was a dumb thing to say, insulting towards people who believe in good faith that mask mandates don’t help much. And you’re not going to insult your way to stricter public compliance with pandemic precautions. Rather the opposite.
More interesting than the comment itself, though, is watching Republican politicians and media outlets grapple with how much offense to take, or pretend to take, from it.
Obama or Hillary calling a subset of Republicans “Neanderthals” (or accusing them of thinking like Neanderthals, more specifically) would have been a white-hot story among conservatives, a new “deplorables” moment. When Biden does it, the reaction splits between half-hearted outrage and mockery. How come? Watch, then read on.
Psaki says Biden's "Neanderthal" comments reflect "his frustration and exasperation" with governors who aren't listening to public health experts pic.twitter.com/AcyePIGSX9
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 4, 2021
Fox News tried to get a “deplorables” frenzy going on its webpage this morning, but without great effect:
The fact that Hillary’s photo was included alongside Biden’s feels almost like a concession to the fact that Sleepy Joe alone just can’t ignite Republican anger the same way. Clinton needs to be bundled into the story to spark it.
Tate Reeves, the governor of Misssissippi and a target of Biden’s “Neanderthal” comment, also compared it to the “deplorables” comment. But he too seemed more subdued than you’d expect after being insulted by a Democratic president:
Gov. Tate Reeves (R-MS) responds to Biden’s “Neanderthal” comment:
“Today I feel the same way as I did the day that Hillary Clinton called all of us in middle America ‘deplorables’.” pic.twitter.com/F6AyMAOaQY
— The Recount (@therecount) March 4, 2021
Marsha Blackburn appeared on Fox today and mentioned the “Neanderthal” comment, although her take seemed to walk the line between indignation and having fun with the awkwardness of the analogy. What’s so bad about Neanderthals anyway?
Marsha Blackburn responds to Biden's "Neanderthal" comments w/ impassioned defense of Neanderthals: "Neanderthals are hunter-gatherers, they're protectors of their family, they're resilient, they're resourceful, they tend to their own. So I think Joe Biden needs to rethink [it]." pic.twitter.com/758y7urJKZ
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 4, 2021
A Twitter pal wondered how long it’ll be before righty populists start dressing up like cavemen at rallies to mock Biden. As for Marco Rubio, I’m 90 percent sure this tweet is trolling — although I wouldn’t bet my life on it:
President Biden’s use of an old stereotype is hurtful to modern Europeans, Asians & Americans who inherit about 2% of their genes from Neanderthal ancestors. https://t.co/aXHJV5wLlr
He should apologize for his insensitive comments and seek training on unconscious bias.
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) March 4, 2021
I haven’t seen a single Republican of any prominence react with earnest, fiery condemnation of what Biden said even though the culture war over masks has been hot for many months. Why does he get a pass? Is Sleepy Joe just too old and feeble to get mad at? Or is the GOP distracted by more pressing culture-war considerations?
in the old days if dems would've tried to pass a bill with a $2 trillion price tag, fox would've done 24/7 coverage about america becoming communist russia or something. now it's just mr potato head, "silencing seuss," and running back some old hillary stuff. https://t.co/poWrPt7BpB
— Max Tani (@maxwelltani) March 4, 2021
Yeah, rarely have we seen the shift in the party’s political priorities pre- and post-Trump as clearly as we have over the past week. The Senate just took up a mammoth COVID relief package today, the House just passed a landmark voting-rights act, and there’s a major border crisis in the making, but unquestionably the top story on Fox over the past 48 hours has been Dr. Seuss. Democrats will happily take that deal, I suspect. If the GOP wants to go all-in on cultural grievances while they pass their legislative agenda, that’s a deal Biden can live with.
By the way, speaking of lifting mask mandates, Gold’s Gym in Texas just announced that they’ll no longer require members to wear masks while working out, a direct result of Greg Abbott’s decision to rescind statewide requirements. But it was less than a week ago that the CDC identified gyms as potential hot spots for COVID transmission based on data from Chicago and Hawaii, urging gym-goers to be diligent about wearing masks inside. All that huffing and puffing while exercising naturally leads to more viral particles being expelled. Oh well. Good luck, Texans.
Update: Is deep-blue Connecticut guilty of Neanderthal thinking too?
BREAKING: Effective March 19 … Connecticut is lifting ALL capacity limits on restaurants, retail, libraries, personal services, indoor recreation, gyms, museums, offices & houses of worship #nbc4ny pic.twitter.com/kV1qylyvjI
— Steven Bognar (@Bogs4NY) March 4, 2021