Why Is the Left Afraid of Everything? (Updated)

I have argued previously that one reason the left can’t let go of mask mandates and other COVID-Zero demands is that they have been taught for 50 years now, chiefly by environmentalists, to blow up every conceivable risk in to a world-ending crisis, and demand that the government deliver a zero-risk response that is heedless of any adverse tradeoffs. This is why leftist politicians are caught between a public that is fed up with COVID mania and the vocal base of the Democratic Party that wants Mandates Forever and will be furious if President Biden, Gov. Newsom, Gov. Witmer, Gov. Wolf, etc., declare a full return to normal life.

There is some interesting survey evidence on this point from the New York Times. David Leonhardt reports about their latest opinion survey on the issue:

Republicans have long been split over vaccination, with many eagerly getting shots while many others refuse. Democrats have their own growing schism, between those who believe Covid precautions should continue to be paramount and those who favor moves toward normalcy.

The key dividing line appears to be ideology. Americans who identify as “very liberal” are much more worried about Covid than Americans who identify as “somewhat liberal” or “liberal.” Increasingly, the very liberal look like outliers on Covid: The merely liberal are sometimes closer to moderates than to the very liberal.

And here are the telling graphs:

Leonhardt asks: “Why does political ideology so strongly shape Covid beliefs?”

[T]he pandemic seems to be tapping into different views of risk perception. Very liberal Americans make up almost 10 percent of adults, according to our poll and others. Many are younger than 50 and have a four-year college degree. They span all races but are disproportionately white, the Pew Research Center has found.

In recent years, these progressive professionals have tended to adopt a cautious approach to personal safety. You might even call it conservative. . .

But trying to eliminate Covid risk, and allowing the virus to distort daily life, has costs, too. . . The American focus on Covid’s dangers, by contrast, has caused disruption and isolation that feed educational losses, mental health troubles, drug overdoses, violent crime and vehicle crashes. These damages have fallen disproportionately on low-income, Black and Latino Americans, exacerbating inequality in ways that would seem to violate liberal values.

Good for Leonhardt, but I note that Aaron Wildavsky had this all figured out 40 years ago in his great studies Risk and Culture and Searching for Safety.

UPDATE: The New Republic is unhappy with Leonhardt’s column. Never mind the argument of the piece, which really isn’t much of a substantive argument at all. Here’s the one sentence that displays how far the once thoughtful and interesting liberal magazine has fallen, and why no one pays much attention to it any more:

In [Leonhardt’s] Morning-land, the far right is a problem, but it is the left that risks going too far, alienating Democratic constituencies by causing the party to “lurch” to the left, even though the most powerful and influential people in the party—Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Joe Manchin, Chuck Schumer—are profoundly centrist, even conservative, in their views.

Manchin? If Democrats had one or two more votes in the Senate, Manchin would have zero power, so listing him among the “most powerful and influential people in the party” is pretty crazy.

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