Speaking from the White House on August 3, the president sure seemed emphatic: “The best line of defense against the virus is the vaccine. It's as simple as that. Period.” Tightening his jaw to signal his seriousness, Biden added that the mission of fighting Covid-19 transcended partisanship. “Folks, this is isn't about politics,” he intoned. “The virus doesn't care if you're a Democrat or a Republican. This is about life and death. Life and death.”
Okay, so Biden's pro-vaccination stance seems clear enough. Or is it?
One who sees the message as muddled is Matt Taibbi, the renegade lefty journalist. On August 4, Taibbi wrote about the Democrats' recent history of muddying; he began by recalling their sounding the alarm about Donald Trump, replacing reasoned argument with panicked klaxon horns.
As Taibbi said of Biden-type Democrats last year, “They crawled back into power by using the media to declare an ongoing state of emergency.” And he added, “The Democratic establishment knows it has no argument for power beyond not being Donald Trump.”
Taibbi recalled that last year when the Trump administration had Operation Warp Speed going full bore, racing toward a vaccine, Biden was a naysayer, jibing, “It's not the usual anti-vaccine crowd. People are losing faith in what the president says.”
Indeed, if anyone other than Trump had been president, Taibbi added, “The storylines then would have been about a heroic cutter of red tape who pulled out the stops to get shots in arms.” However, “Not so with Trump, whose supporters were explicitly told that their man was rushing a dangerous product to market.”
So we can see: The environment of the vaccine in 2020 wasn't so much muddled as poisoned. Poisoned, that is, by politicos. And that poison persists into 2021, when, Taibbi observes, “Democrats . . . are a rat-hair away from describing the whole GOP as a terrorist organization in need of outlawing.”
Of course, this hostility does not go unnoticed by Republicans, and the disdain, now mutual, has inevitably spilled into public health matters, such as vaccines. As Ohio Republican senatorial hopeful J.D. Vance said of Biden vaccine outreach recently on Fox News, “It never works when you try to insult people into doing what you want them to do.”
So we can see: The way things are now, everyone, including Democrats, is worse off. More Taibbi:
Democrats have spent the last five years so consumed with removing the scourge of Trumpism that they've become their own poisonous part of his story. They're now Ahab to Trump's whale, and their revenge trip is whirlpooling us downward.
The bottom line of Taibbi's argument is that Democrats are so addicted to clobbering Trump and Republicans that they can't turn it off, even in the face of a national crisis that requires common purpose and unity.
Moreover, while Democrats rip Trump and Republicans for not getting vaccinated, they have a strange determination to let in more migrants who are Covid-positive; that is, coming across the U.S.-Mexico border. And that determination, of course, blows up Biden's vaccination credibility. Thus Florida's Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, said of Biden:
This is a guy who ran for president saying he was going to, quote, ‘Shut down the virus.' And what has he done? He's imported more virus from around the world by having a wide open southern border. You have hundreds of thousands of people pouring across every month.
Ron DeSantis / Rumble
And Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) piled on, noting Biden plans for a vaccine passport, to separate the unvaccinated naughty from vaccinated nice: “Are illegal immigrants showing their vaccine passports when they cross the southern border?”
In other words, political poison has begat policy cynicism; conservatives and libertarians simply don't trust the Biden administration, and such mistrust is a poor platform on which to launch a new vaccination campaign. Indeed, one recent poll found that a full 27 percent of Americans have no plans to get the vaccine, or else remain unsure.
Yet the Biden people are still pushing their vax plans: On August 5, we learned from The Washington Post that the administration is considering a plan to withhold federal funds from institutions–the articled cited “long-term-care facilities, cruise ships and universities”–that don't enforce vaccine mandates.
The idea of a federal funds cutoff raises myriad possibilities, including, of course, the question of selective enforcement. Because, after all, it's not just MAGA Republicans who are hostile to the vaccine. According to an August 4 report from the Kaiser Family Foundation, “Black and Hispanic people remain less likely than their White counterparts to have received a vaccine.” For instance, in New York City, for instance, just 31 percent of Blacks have been vaccinated.
And as for vaccine passports, Blacks seem especially hostile; Boston mayor Kim Janey, for instance, equates vaccine passports to “slavery.”
So, confronted with Black resistance, would the Biden administration cut off financial aid to, say, big cities that didn't enforce vaccine rules? Would it cut off anti-poverty spending for the non-vaxed poor? Short answer: Of course not.
Still, this sort of Big Government talk led Donald Trump, Jr. to tweet:
And Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) played the wiseguy on Capitol Hill, proposing legislation that would require states that require vaccine passports to also require voter ID.
Yet even amidst all this rancor, we can all agree that it would be a good thing if the epidemic went away. So what could Biden do if he really wanted to unite Americans around the goal of eradicating Covid-19?
We could start by observing that what the administration is doing now isn't working very well. That is, it's running the sort of public relations campaign that one would expect from people who read the New York Times, watch MSNBC, and listen to NPR. The campaign is thus heavy on secular, upper-middle-class values–and light on the values that resonate with not only non-blue-dot Whites, but also with Blacks and Hispanics.
Instead, what the Biden folks need is a broader imagination, a sense of the possible that's informed by the richest source of all–the historical record of what's worked in the past. It's axiomatic: The best proof that something will succeed in the future is if it has succeeded in the past.
So with that objective mind, let's explore what we might call The Art of the Vaccine Deal. That is, developing a plan for getting everyone vaccinated and safe. Admittedly, some of the ideas to follow are out there, and yet if we are going to beat this virus, we will have to think outside the box.
So without further ado, here are six possible ideas for Biden, each based on proven wisdom as to what can work:
1. Enlist Trump's help.
Realizing that Trump holds the key to hearts of tens of millions of MAGA voters and their families, the 46th president could invite the 45th president to the Oval Office–with suitable pomp and ceremony, of course–and ask Trump to do joint PSA (public service announcement) on the importance of getting vaccinated.
We might pause to note that something a bit similar happened back in 2005, when the 43rd president, George W. Bush, sought the help of the 42nd and 41st presidents, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, to solicit aid for the victims of the 2004 Indonesian tsunami; the two ex-presidents appeared in a joint PSA, helping to raise billions. In fact, later that year, the same duo teamed up on a PSA in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Returning, now, to the hypothetical future, we can suggest that as part of his pitch, Biden would give Trump full and direct credit for Operation Warp Speed. And such crediting, of course, would be a big departure for this White House, which has been dismissive of “the former guy.”
In fact, even when Biden points to a Trump success, he can't muster any enthusiasm; thus on July 30, as he tried to rally Trumpy support for vaccinations, Biden tweeted grudgingly:
We can immediately note that Trump's presidency is reduced, here, to just “a Republican administration.” That's not exactly the way to charm the proud Trump. Moreover, Biden took some of the credit away from Trump when he asserted that the vaccine had been “distributed and administered” under his administration. In fact, as of January 20, 2021–the day Trump left office–nearly 40 million vaccines had been distributed, and nearly 20 million had been injected.
Biden is free, of course, to state, or misstate, the situation any way that he wishes, but if he wants Trump's help, he'll have to be more gracious.
Of course, we can ask: Even with sincere–at least sincere enough by pol standards–sweet-talking, would Trump agree to help Biden? Would he agree to do a PSA?
It's impossible, of course, to know. Indeed, Trump might have some idea of his own, which could potentially be more effective at MAGA outreach. For instance, a rally? A game show contest? There's no way to know what could emerge from Trump's showman's brain. Of course, that's one of the upsides of bringing in new talent: You get new ideas.
2. Apologize for Democrat comments undermining the vaccine during the 2020 campaign.
Vice President Kamala Harris, and other Democrats, would help get on Trump's good side if they apologized for comments such as Harris' October 7 insult over the pending vaccine: “If Donald Trump tells us to take it, I'm not taking it.” Is there a precedent for saying you're sorry as a prelude to getting an agreement? Of course there is: We can start with the Bible.
3. Fire Fauci.
Biden should fire top virus adviser Anthony Fauci. Fauci is simply not an effective and trusted figure anymore, at least as far as vaccine holdouts are concerned. Moreover, as this author wrote recently, if the allegations about Fauci's involvement in gain of function research at the Wuhan, China, virus lab prove to be true, “It would be perhaps the greatest scandal in scientific history.” In other words, based on what we know now–and what we might know in the future–Fauci is not the right person for the job. And no need for an historical footnote here: It's just common sense.
4. Name a Republican as your vaccination czar.
In addition to whatever arrangement he could reach with Trump, Biden would bring in a top Republican to be his Vaccination Czar. Once again, historical precedent tells us that this is the thing to do. In 1940, as World War Two was raging in Europe, the 32nd president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, did a smart thing: Seeing storm clouds ahead for America, he brought political opponents into the tent.
Knowing that war would require national unity, FDR recruited Henry Stimson to be his Secretary of War. And Stimson was a Republican, who had served in the exact same post under a Republican president. In fact, he had also been Secretary of State for a Republican. So we can see: FDR was showing real bipartisanship.
Perhaps even more remarkable was FDR's choice for Secretary of the Navy (those were the days when the Department of Defense was split in two, with the Departments of War and Navy). The man chosen was Frank Knox, who had been the 1936 GOP nominee for vice president. In other words, FDR brought in the man who had wanted to help boot him out of office just four years before.
So sure, it was daring, what FDR did–and it worked. We stayed united during a war that left more than 400,000 Americans dead; proportionate to the population, that was a much higher death toll than we have suffered from Covid.
Today, the equivalent of FDR's masterful move back then, bringing in Knox, would be bringing in Mike Pence. Not just for show, but for a real job, with great responsibility. Would Biden do that? Would he bring in any Republican to be a true inside adviser, as well as a high-profile outreacher? We only know this much: FDR did it, and it worked for him.
5. Secure the border.
Biden should fully secure the Southern border. That seems obvious enough, for lots of reasons, including the blunt reality that when your house is on fire, you should stop piping in gasoline.
6. Be consistent. Elites must follow the same rules as everyone else.
Biden could demand consistency across the board, including from fellow Democrats. For instance, when Muriel Bowser, the mayor of the District of Columbia, went maskless, even as she ordered others to mask up, Biden would gained credibility if he had called her out. Similarly, when Lori Lightfoot, the mayor of Chicago, allowed tens of thousands of people to gather at a super-spreader rock concert, Biden could have called her out, too.
And oh, yes, Biden could have said something about Barack Obama's 60th birthday party on ritzy Martha's Vineyard, which sure seemed to have gone against the progressive lockdown ethos. Even The New York Times admitted that “Democrats supportive of the former president privately expressed surprise at the casual disregard for optics.” Indeed, it seems that Biden's old boss, the former president, went maskless. So what did the White House have to say about that? Predictably, nothing.
As Biden thinks about Covid, he should know that it's hypocritical to spot the speck in someone else's eye while ignoring the plank in your own eye. And hypocrites are not effective persuaders.
If we review these six possible action items, we might conclude that Biden is not likely to do any of them. Or, at least, he hasn't so far.
A cynic might say that perhaps many Democrats are actually sort of okay with the status quo; yes, the country is in danger, but at least Democrats get to do what they love to do: Attack Trump and his MAGA supporters. Yes, history shows that blaming others is often more popular than actually solving the problem.
Moreover, any outreach to Republicans on their terms–especially any outreach to the Dreaded Trump–would cause paroxysms on the Democratic side. Does Biden really want to upset his own apple cart?
So maybe Biden will keep on doing things exactly as he has been doing. That approach isn't working for the nation as a whole, and the polls show Biden sliding, and yet at least he is within his personal comfort zone. And few 78-year-olds are looking for a major change in direction.
To be sure, what's missing from Biden's current path is… Greatness. As Abraham Lincoln believed, You conquer enemies making them your friends. That is, you reach out so much that you make new allies.
Or, if we wish to go down a few notches on the ethical scale, we can quote The Godfather Part II: “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” So by that reckoning, Biden should be inviting Republicans in, if only to keep a more watchful eye.
Yet if Biden were to follow the logic of either Abraham Lincoln or Michael Corleone, he would see that he needs a better plan going forward, a plan involving genuine cooperation and problem solving.
Yes, Democrats love blaming Republicans for the country's troubles, and yet the country is looking to Biden for solutions, not shutdowns.