The federal judge who on Monday struck down the CDC’s mask
mandate in airports, airplanes and other public transit did
President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party a favor.
This lingering non-pharmaceutical intervention, at a time when
mask rules have been dropped in virtually every other context
(including in the U.S. Capitol Building) has become an
embarrassment at a time when the country has otherwise moved on
from so-called NPIs.
The basic problem is that the rule itself was issued by the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is a scientific
agency — and a conservative one at that. CDC guidelines suggest,
for example, that nobody should eat rare steak or runny eggs, and
that a woman should not have more than one alcoholic drink a day.
The science behind those calls may be sound. But they are sharply
at odds with the habits and values of huge numbers of Americans.
Fortunately, they do not have the force of law. Alcohol
regulations are made by state legislatures, which ideally will be
guided but not controlled by science as they make laws about
The CDC is even more conservative than Yglesias suggests. They recommend cooking steak to 145°F, which is a hell of a lot more well-done than merely “not rare”. I’d send a steak cooked that well-done back to the kitchen.
In reality the White House should have put its foot down and
lifted the rule weeks ago. But its reluctance to meddle with a
scientific agency is understandable. At the same time,
scientifically speaking, it’s always going to be the case that
everyone wearing a mask will be at least a little bit safer than
everyone not wearing a mask. The problem is that mask-wearing is
annoying and socially divisive, with efforts to enforce the rule
generating clashes between passengers and airline staff.
So the judge — a Trump appointee who is surely no fan of Biden,
Pelosi or their party — may have succeeded in getting an awkward
topic off the agenda. For that, Democrats ought to be grateful.