Premium

Psaki: Biden said opponents of mask mandates are behaving like "Neanderthals" because he was frustrated

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.

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:

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?

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:

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?

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?