Remember when the Bob Woodward-Donald Trump interviews first became public? The biggest news break was that Trump admitted to Woodward that he knew the virus was more dangerous than he was saying publicly. But the most morally corrupt moment of that episode came when Trump was called upon to explain why, and he said he didn’t want to “create a panic.”
This patently ridiculous statement was met with every bit of the contempt and scorn it deserved, as any human being who wasn’t brainwashed could see that there’s quite a lot of space between Trump hiding the truth from the public and creating public panic. This reality did not of course prevent his propagandists from trying to spin Trump’s words positively. Sean Hannity actually said: “Did President Roosevelt fan the flames of misery? Did he call for panic and anxiety? No, he actually rallied a nation in a time of need and focused on making Americans stronger by staying positive, and he got to work and rolled up his sleeves.” The mind that can write those words and then speak them with apparent sincerity is frankly terrifying.
But now, we actually have someone who is emulating Roosevelt. Joe Biden’s short speech Tuesday about the virus was everything Trump is not. He did not fan the flames of misery. He did not call for panic and anxiety. He attempted precisely to rally a nation in a time of need. And we saw in Biden’s brief presentation pretty much everything a president is supposed to be.
Mind you, he made some big commitments. And his government is going to have to deliver on them. If it does, he could have a great year—one of the greatest first years a president has had since, indeed, FDR. If it doesn’t…
We’ll get to that, but let’s first go over what Biden said. Basically, it was exactly the tone a president is supposed to take, leveling with the American people but also trying to inspire them that we’ll get through this.
“This is going to be the greatest operational challenge we've ever faced as a nation, but we're going to get it done,” he said at one point. At another: “We need to be honest. The next few weeks and months are going to be very tough, a very tough period for our nation; maybe the toughest during this entire pandemic. I know it’s hard to hear, but it’s the truth. As Roosevelt said, I think the American people can take whatever we tell them if we tell them straight to the shoulder.”
Now mind you, I’m not saying this makes Biden some special genius or modern-day Cicero. This is stuff that any competent leader would say. But it sounds brilliant and uplifting in comparison to Trump’s constant whining and lying and blame-shifting and dodging of responsibility. It’s going to be such a blessing to have a president who acts the part.
On substance, he made, or repeated, some pretty bold claims. A hundred million vaccinations in his first hundred days. A “much more aggressive” federal effort to get the vaccine out there. Invocation of the Defense Production Act to direct American manufacturers to make “materials needed for the vaccine and protective gear.” Opening most K-through-8 schools in the first 100 days.
Just imagine if all those things happen. First of all, a pro-government president will have made a big promise, or a few of them, and followed through. On the level of theory, it’ll begin restoring people’s faith in government. And on the practical level, it’ll save thousands of lives and start to get life back to normal.
And getting life back to normal will mean something else: that the economy will recover. I’ve spoken with some economists in recent weeks about what kind of 2021 they anticipate if life is more or less back to normal by summer. There’s not quite a consensus, but let’s say that it’s hardly implausible to imagine a roaring economy in the second half of next year. There will be so much pent-up demand; so many people aching to travel and eat out and go to sporting events and shows and spend, spend, spend.
So that’s the first Biden scenario. If all this happens, he and his party just might be able to defy the history of first-term midterm elections (historical average: incumbent party loses around 25 seats) and hold the House. And they might be able to capture the Senate by a seat or two. We’ve entered an era when a lot of the old rules are kind of up for grabs. If the Biden administration can do all the above, it can change the math of midterm elections.
And the second scenario, of course, is that the administration doesn’t deliver as promised. They could bungle things, like the Obamacare rollout. Or, the virus could just get a lot worse. These recent reports from Britain, and now Canada and India (and now one case in Colorado), are chilling. And we have very little history to go on here. Just one example, 1918-19. It petered out in early ’19. How do we know this one will too? And how do we know the vaccine will have the hoped-for effect? Especially if half the country won’t take it.
And you know that’s coming. Trump, Fox, and the rest of them will encourage people not to take the vaccine in order to hurt Biden. As of Jan. 20, the body count is Joe’s. They know that. Put nothing past these people. They will want chaos. They will try, well, to create a panic.
Those are President Biden’s two futures. I’m pretty hopeful that the positive one will prevail. He seems focused, and he is surrounding himself with competent people. And, you know, unlike the incumbent, he gives a shit. What a revolution.