In March 1968, faced with a tough challenge from Robert Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson decided not to run for re-election. The increasingly unpopular Vietnam War had split the Democratic Party and made Johnson’s bid untenable. Richard Nixon won the election on a promise to have a secret plan to end the war in Southeast Asia.
In 2008, the Democrats nominated the first-term Senator Barack Obama from Illinois to be their flag bearer. Obama had relatively little experience, but he had one thing in his favor that his main opponent didn’t: he was unabashedly opposed to the Iraq war. Senator Hillary Clinton (DN.Y.) was in favor before she was against – she voted to authorize the war but would years later say her vote was a mistake. Obama had no problem running Republican nominee Senator John McCain (Ariz.), who was trying to run as a loner but had the war tied around his shoulders like an anvil.
In many ways, America’s entry into the war against COVID-19 was similar to both Vietnam and Iraq. All three wars were waged under false pretenses. All weigh particularly heavily on America’s youth. All three had sophisticated propaganda campaigns. All three have cost the American people in blood and treasure. The first two shook voters’ confidence in the political establishment. It remains to be seen whether COVID will have a similarly far-reaching impact.
If you spend as much time on Twitter as I do – I don’t recommend it – you would think that the failed fight against the coronavirus would be an issue of paramount importance. I follow such luminaries as author Alex Berenson, professor and physician Jay Bhattacharya, civil rights attorney Jenin Younes, author Naomi Wolf and Professor Martin Kulldorff, and from their point of view the authoritarian lockdowns were not just an unprecedented assault on our civil liberties , they were also disastrously bad for the health of the nation, especially the young.
But I sometimes wonder if the concerns of these pundits and intellectuals are reserved for just a small echo chamber of people who found the lockdowns, vaccination and mask requirements unscrupulous. Indeed, I have a secret suspicion that most Americans, many of whom have hailed the lockdowns and been happy to abide by the mandates, would prefer the discussion to move on to other issues. Maybe they’re secretly ashamed of their complicity, or maybe they think the health authorities did their best. Quite a few Donald Trump supporters feel the President has handled things well, particularly with Operation Warp Speed. From these voters’ perspective, once enough people were stung, they would get their freedom back, damn all sorts of long-term consequences.
We’ll quickly find out if the failed war on COVID is as unpopular as Vietnam and Iraq because both political parties have candidates on either side of the issue. Like LBJ, President Biden faces an insurgent named Robert Kennedy. The press treats the younger Kennedy like a brake, but he is already at almost 20 percent in polls. In addition, he could win New Hampshire because Biden cannot run there due to new rules from the Democratic National Committee. Kennedy has pounded against corporate greed and our broken healthcare system for decades, but his ideas — particularly around COVID — are gaining traction among anti-establishment supporters in both political parties.
The race between Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has taken a strange turn. Trump has felt his own vulnerability in the matter and has come to spectacularly lying about DeSantis’ role in the COVID lockdowns and making claims that defy all logic and reason. Trump has called DeSantis a lockdowner who has failed to protect his people from COVID, despite the Florida governor being one of the first to aggressively reopen his state (and despite Trump’s criticism at the time). Florida’s COVID numbers ended up being much better than lockdown states like California.
It took a while for anti-war sentiment to catch fire during the fighting in Vietnam and Iraq, but when it did, it became an unstoppable force. Will the same happen with our failed COVID response? We’re about to find out, and we’re finding out fast.
Feehery is a partner at EFB Advocacy and blogs at thefeeherytheory.com. He served as spokesman for former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), communications director for former House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas), and speechwriter for former House Majority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.).
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