Column: Biden levels an innocuous insult at red-state governors and his critics go wild

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott says his state is lifting its mask mandate, making it the largest to end an order intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which has killed more than 500,000 people in the United States.
(Associated Press)

“It is now time to open Texas, 100%,” a maskless Gov. Greg Abbott announced at a Mexican restaurant in Lubbock, where the only person wearing a mask seemed to be the news photographer who was shooting the event. “COVID still exists, but it is clear … that state mandates are no longer needed.”

There were so many ways that President Biden could have criticized Abbott — along with Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, who also lifted all COVID-19 restrictions in his state.

For the record:

7:59 a.m. March 6, 2021An earlier version of this story referred to Biden’s $1.9-billion COVID-19 relief package. The correct figure is $1.9 trillion.

Biden, who had met with Abbott in Houston several days earlier to discuss federal assistance after the deadly winter storms that crippled Texas (and also to visit a mass vaccination site), could have said that Abbott and Reeves were anti-scientific, or politically opportunistic, or just plain dumb for ignoring the advice of public health officials.


Instead, Biden chose a more colorful description: “The last thing — the last thing — we need is the Neanderthal thinking that in the meantime, ‘everything is fine, take off your mask, forget it,’” said the president.

The remark drew instant fire from the two governors as well as from conservative politicians, pundits and media.

“No insults from the President will stop us from leaning towards freedom,” Reeves tweeted. Later, at a news conference, he added, “I would just say given how long ago President Biden was elected to Congress, he certainly should know how Neanderthals think.”

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte, who once pleaded guilty to assaulting a reporter, accused Biden of degrading himself by “name calling.”

Oh, come now. It’s not as if Biden (unlike his predecessor) used a racial slur like “Pocahontas.” Or called anyone “Horseface.” Or “Slimeball.” Or “total loser.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) attempted a feeble joke: “President Biden’s use of an old stereotype is hurtful to modern Europeans, Asians & Americans who inherit about 2% of their genes from Neanderthal ancestors,” tweeted the 2024 presidential hopeful. “He should apologize for his insensitive comments and seek training on unconscious bias.”


Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) tried in vain to turn the insult into a compliment. Thursday, on Fox Business, she defended our anthropological forebears: “Neanderthals are hunter-gatherers, they’re protectors of their family, they’re resilient, they’re resourceful, they tend to their own.”

Well, they were, Sen. Blackburn.

Until they went extinct some 40,000 years ago.

And why did Neanderthals die out? No one knows for sure. Scientists have a few theories, including that they were not able to adapt to climate change. Remind you of any Republicans you know?

But I digress.

You have to feel sorry for the conservative noise machine these days.

Biden is riding high. His approval rating is 60% (a figure Trump never came close to), and an even higher percentage of Americans approve of his handling of the pandemic.

Republicans are twisting themselves into pretzels as they try to position themselves as the party of the working class while rejecting Biden’s $1.9-trillion COVID-19 relief package (which passed the House on Feb. 27 and the Senate on Saturday with not a single Republican vote), and refusing to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour while demanding that Biden preserve “good paying jobs” in the moribund fossil fuel industry.

Add to that the congressional investigation into the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection, which increasingly looks like a coordinated effort among white supremacist groups and other Trump allies. On Thursday, the FBI announced it had arrested Federico Klein, an alleged Capitol attacker who at the time worked in the Trump State Department and had a top-secret security clearance.

This stunning news should shake all peace-loving Americans to the core.

But what gets the right all chuffed instead? “Cancel culture,” of course, a contrivance they use to describe progressive cultural advances — like, say, the decision by Dr. Seuss Enterprises, which oversees the commerce of all things Seuss, to pull half a dozen of the beloved author’s kids’ books because they contain offensive, racist caricatures. Or the decision by toy company Hasbro to make its Potato Head brand more inclusive by allowing kids to make up any kind of Potato Head family they want. Oh, the horror.


Now that a rational and measured president sits in the Oval Office — and none of the catastrophes Republicans warned of during the campaign have come to pass — Biden’s political opponents are straining for material with which to trash him.

And so, Biden’s invocation of an extinct hominid had to do.

Even the Neanderthal Museum in Mettmann, Germany, weighed in to support Biden.

“Dear @JoeBiden,” the museum tweeted Thursday. “We approve of your criticism concerning the decision to end state-wide mask mandates. Still, we strongly recommend you visit our museum once it is possible. #neanderthals were smarter than you think!”

Like so many Republicans, Neanderthals might have been smart, but they weren’t smart enough to avoid catastrophe.