Watching President Obama catch hell lately, I want to assess 15-yard penalties for piling on.
Much of his trouble stems from political opponents like McConnell, Boehner, Cantor, Paul, Graham, McCain -- rednecks in suits -- unable to cope with a smart president of mixed ancestry. But now, their malice and selfishness and, dare I say it, prejudice, are spreading outward.
The only time I winced during the summer get-him frolics was when the president was photographed apparently enjoying himself playing golf shortly after announcing the beheading of an American journalist by savages. He could not have been more dignified at his official appearance.
What was he supposed to do? Not get photographed, I guess is the answer. What if his children had made him laugh? Some things are best kept private.
I realized, my problem was with the golf. Why did it have to be golf, a compelling sport that nevertheless speaks of money, free time, money, lessons, money, equipment, money, ritual, and money?
People pile on presidents. I get it. If I didn’t like the policies of President Reagan, I made fun of his horseback riding. Ditto, George W. Bush, riding a bike while warning reports sat unread on his desk.
With more than a twinge of guilt, I remember reacting, as a snide teen-ager, to President Eisenhower’s playing golf, even when African-American children were being harassed for seeking an equal public education. Why didn’t he put down the damn putter and escort those children into school? (Ike looks better all the time, as Obama will, down the line.)
Just once, I would like to hear a president say, “Thanks, but I don’t play golf. Just never learned. I was too busy working my way through school, providing for my family, getting into government, and I never could find the time or money to go off for half a day and play golf. Now it’s too late. In my little bit of free time, I’d rather… (ride a bike, swim, work outdoors, jog, play a set or two of tennis, play hoops, or just take a walk to work off steam.)"
I know that lush courses and a chance to schmooze with benefactors are inviting. At least Obama plays golf mostly with people he likes, rather than with people who have been undercutting him since Day One. (“Really? Why don’t you have a drink with Mitch McConnell?” -- one of the great things the president has ever said.)
So, yes, I admit, my personal problem was with the way the president relaxed on his deserved vacation. I fall into the category of a certain Mr. Williams – Tony Soprano’s henchman from the Old Country, real name Furio Giunta – who expresses his view of golf during a shakedown on a course.
I’ve played eight or ten times, always visiting people, and loved every outing, and totally acknowledge golf as a challenging sport, but I was afraid of getting hooked. Plus, who can afford it? Certainly not a president who is catching hell for just about everything, even from people who should know better.
Measuring Covid Deaths, by David Leonhardt. July 17, 2023. NYT online.
The United States has reached a milestone in the long struggle against Covid: The total number of Americans dying each day — from any cause — is no longer historically abnormal….
After three horrific years, in which Covid has killed more than one million Americans and transformed parts of daily life, the virus has turned into an ordinary illness.
The progress stems mostly from three factors:
First, about three-quarters of U.S. adults have received at least one vaccine shot.
Second, more than three-quarters of Americans have been infected with Covid, providing natural immunity from future symptoms. (About 97 percent of adults fall into at least one of those first two categories.)
Third, post-infection treatments like Paxlovid, which can reduce the severity of symptoms, became widely available last year.
“Nearly every death is preventable,” Dr. Ashish Jha, who was until recently President Biden’s top Covid adviser, told me. “We are at a point where almost everybody who’s up to date on their vaccines and gets treated if they have Covid, they rarely end up in the hospital, they almost never die.”
That is also true for most high-risk people, Jha pointed out, including older adults — like his parents, who are in their 80s — and people whose immune systems are compromised. “Even for most — not all but most —immuno-compromised people, vaccines are actually still quite effective at preventing against serious illness,” he said. “There has been a lot of bad information out there that somehow if you’re immuno-compromised that vaccines don’t work.”
That excess deaths have fallen close to zero helps make this point: If Covid were still a dire threat to large numbers of people, that would show up in the data.
One point of confusion, I think, has been the way that many Americans — including we in the media — have talked about the immuno-compromised. They are a more diverse group than casual discussion often imagines.
Most immuno-compromised people are at little additional risk from Covid — even people with serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or a history of many cancers. A much smaller group, such as people who have received kidney transplants or are undergoing active chemotherapy, face higher risks.
Covid’s toll, to be clear, has not fallen to zero. The C.D.C.’s main Covid webpage estimates that about 80 people per day have been dying from the virus in recent weeks, which is equal to about 1 percent of overall daily deaths.
The official number is probably an exaggeration because it includes some people who had virus when they died even though it was not the underlying cause of death. Other C.D.C. data suggests that almost one-third of official recent Covid deaths have fallen into this category. A study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases came to similar conclusions.
Dr. Shira Doron, the chief infection control officer at Tufts Medicine in Massachusetts, told me that “age is clearly the most substantial risk factor.” Covid’s victims are both older and disproportionately unvaccinated. Given the politics of vaccination, the recent victims are also disproportionately
Republican and white.
Each of these deaths is a tragedy. The deaths that were preventable — because somebody had not received available vaccines and treatments — seem particularly tragic. (Here’s a Times guide to help you think about when to get your next booster shot.)
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.