If you thought much of President Biden’s campaign was predicated on his promise to get the pandemic under control, his remarks Friday had to stun you. Here is what he said:
“There’s nothing we can do to change the trajectory of the pandemic in the next several months.”
Now he tells us.
Surely, President Biden didn’t learn something about the virus three days into his presidency that suddenly rendered the defining promise of his campaign inoperative?
Before the election, Biden talked a good game about the virus. He said that he would “shut down the virus, not the economy.”
Bloomberg News caught this:
Democratic nominee Joe Biden says President Trump “waved the white flag” to Covid-19. “Unlike Donald Trump, we’re not going to surrender to this virus,” Biden said … during a rally at Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport, Wisconsin.
Who’s waving the white flag now?
Naturally, ABC spins the President’s latest remarks as simply candor.
ABC’s spin makes Biden’s recent about face sound positively Churchillian:
The dire language is meant as a call to action, but it’s also a deliberate effort to temper expectations. In addition, it is an explicit rejection of President Donald Trump’s tack of talking down the coronavirus pandemic and its economic toll.
Chris Lu, a longtime Obama administration official, said the grim tone is aimed at “restoring trust in government” that eroded during the Trump administration.
But expectations were raised during the campaign, when it could still help one man and damage the other. A sky-is-falling note three days into the new administration does not restore trust.
ABC also argues that Biden’s grim remarks are mean to under-promise and over-perform. (Let’s hope so!) Delving into history, ABC even resurrects George W. Bush’s “mission accomplished” speech that raised hope in the beginning of the Iraq War. Remember that?
But here’s the thing: the virus now belongs to a new administration. For all our sakes, we hope they do over-perform. A lot of that will be determined by the speed with which people can be vaccinated. President Biden is promising to get the federal government more involved in distribution of the vaccines.
Which is likely just the opposite of what is needed.
The editorial board of the Wall Street Journal proposes a better path than micromanaging at the federal level:
President Biden is vowing to meet a goal of 100 million Covid-19 vaccines in 100 days, and if anything that is too modest given the pace of production. One way to do better is to heed lessons in flexibility from the states with the most successful vaccine rollouts.
Some six weeks after the first shipments, the U.S. has administered some 53% of distributed vaccines. The gap continues to grow between states that are getting shots into arms, and those arguing over who gets what and when. North Dakota had administered some 84% of its supply as of Jan. 23, and West Virginia about 83%—far better than states like California (45%) or Alabama (47%). Federalism is showing what works—and what doesn’t.
The federal government’s main role is the production and distribution of vaccine doses, and the Biden Administration is fortunate to inherit Operation Warp Speed. Mr. Biden says he’ll trigger the Defense Production Act to expand vaccine production, albeit without details on how he’d build on the existing plan.
One step forward would be to approve the AstraZeneca vaccine on an emergency basis, as the U.K. did last month. It may not prove as effective as the mRNA shots from Pfizer and Moderna, but it would add to supply, is easier to transport, and would be a particularly good candidate for younger, healthy Americans.
The risk is that Team Biden tries to micromanage state administration of the vaccine, especially now that the media, Democrats and some public-health officials are blaming slow state rollouts on a “vacuum” of federal leadership. But vaccine administration was always intended to be state-led, and too many jurisdictions squandered the ample time they had for preparation.
This criticism is also wrong because the biggest state mistakes so far have been adhering too much to the federal government’s initial guidance to limit the first batches to health-care workers and long-term care residents, followed by front-line employees and those over age 75. States couldn’t find enough takers, and precious doses ended up in the trash.
The most successful state rollouts have departed from overly prescriptive federal rules. North Dakota stuck with the initial recommendations on health-care workers and nursing-care residents, but then threw open its program to anyone age 65 and up, as well as to adults with underlying health risks. South Dakota added law enforcement and corrections staff to its initial tiers, and then also moved quickly to inoculate 65-and-older adults and school workers. The states with the highest per capita vaccination rates are all rule-breakers—Alaska (12,885 per 100,000), West Virginia (11,321), and North Dakota (9,602) as of Jan. 23.
Instead of doom and gloom, how about vaccinations?
Several states are illustrating that, when given room, they can do this.
A little optimism would not come amiss either.