Joe Biden’s speech last night was hailed by many in the press as a triumph. CNN’s Chris Cillizza compiled seven takeaways from the address, including “the return of empathy,” “truth matters,” “U-N-I-T-Y,” and “‘hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things’,” the Shawshank Redemption line he claims not to have been able to eject from his head while watching.
As cringeworthy as all of this may be, it’s that last takeaway that stands out as being especially at odds with reality. Because when you set aside the flowery nothingness of much of his rhetoric and examine his actual goals for America’s emergence from the pandemic, what should jump out about Joe Biden is how utterly devoid of hope and out of touch with the country he is.
Consider this excerpt:
If we do all this, if we do our part, if we do this together, by July the Fourth there’s a good chance that you, your families and friends will be able to get together in your backyard or in your neighborhood and have a cookout and a barbeque and celebrate Independence Day. That doesn’t mean large events with lots of people together, but it does mean small groups will be able to get together.
Set aside the conceit and misunderstanding of his constitutional role — the president doesn’t have the power to stop or allow us from gathering or barbecuing together — it seems inconceivable that Biden is this unaware of conditions on the ground around the country. People have been gathering in small groups in their backyards since late last April, and by last Fourth of July, they were already celebrating not in small pods, but in the large groups that Biden says will still be off-limits nearly three and a half months from now. Airports, malls, and restaurants are teeming with patrons. Just two days after Texas governor Greg Abbott was pilloried by the press for announcing that Texas would be lifting statewide restrictions, his counterpart in Connecticut, Democrat Ned Lamont, announced he’d be doing much of the same. It speaks to a fundamental disconnect with the people of this country that Biden believes he can sell a kind of half celebration of a major holiday as some kind of victory or even an accomplishment of his administration.
And by the way, why shouldn’t we be able to hold large events in July? Barring a catastrophic failure on the part of the Biden administration, nearly everyone in the country will have been vaccinated by that point, and the vaccines are proving mercifully and miraculously effective at preventing both symptomatic illness and spread. There is no forthcoming cure for COVID-19. It’s a virus, the vaccine is the solution.
Biden’s shockingly unambitious Fourth of July plans for us all seem, in part, to be a product of his myopic focus on urban life. In cities where Democrats are more likely to be in charge, the virus is more likely to spread, workers are more likely to be able to work from home, and top-down edicts have been more common and have enjoyed more staying power. But in small towns like my own, where there’s a greater necessity for going to work and the virus has been less of a threat, the truth is that while we’re still a long way from the pre-pandemic status quo, we’re also a lot closer to normal than “maybe we can barbeque with friends in a few months.”
Biden hopes his somber tone can convey empathy, and his dishonest expectations game can help him ride “overperformance” on the coronavirus front to higher approval ratings. But while the likes of Chris Cillizza may have been dazzled, much of the rest of the country might be wondering why their commander-in-chief is so detached from reality and unwilling to follow the science.