Joe Biden and the Case for Optimism
It might get better.
Tonight: I’ll be hosting our Inauguration Day livestream at 9:00 p.m. for Bulwark+ members. I hope you’ll join us, if for no other reason than to see what I look like when I’m happy. Which is not, you know, an every day occurrence.
We didn’t just build The Bulwark to oppose Donald Trump. We built it to stand against a political world gone crazy and to fight for a better future. That mission starts, in earnest, today.
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1. Today Is the First Day of the Rest of Our Lives
FDR was the last elected president to take control of the federal government at a time of crisis as dangerous as what we face today.
Here is a partial list of tasks Joe Biden has before him:
Fix the vaccine rollout.
Beat back the tide of the pandemic in order to save as many Americans as possible while vaccines are distributed over the next nine months.
Unravel a complex cyber attack on America by Russia.
Get stimulus checks out to individuals and businesses being crushed by COVID.
Deal with a seat of government that has been turned into a Green Zone.
Manage a potential insurgency from extremists who have been threatening assault and assassination of high-ranking government figures.
Confirm key cabinet posts that Senate Republicans refused to vote on prior to the inauguration.
Work with an opposition party whose voters, by a margin of 3-to-1, believe that Biden lost the election and has overturned American democracy in a literal coup d’etat.
And that’s just his to-do list for the first month.
What happens if another shoe drops? If we get another domestic attack? A foreign crisis? A new COVID strain?
I’m not asking you to feel sorry for Biden—he asked for this job. But it’s important to understand just how deep a hole he starts in. And what that means for all of us.
Despite all of that—despite everything—I am cautiously optimistic for Biden’s prospects for success.
Start with the COVID vaccines. Biden’s plan to fix the roll-out isn’t a magical, Hail Mary play. It’s just the ordinary blocking-and-tackling that any competent federal government would have been doing over the last two months if the chief executive had been interested in his job. This includes:
Shoveling federal money and manpower into distribution.
Super-charging vaccine supply.
Lowering the age requirements for the first wave of vaccinations.
Starting a national education campaign.
I’m optimistic this will work because it’s just basic public health policy. It should work.
Then there’s slowing the current wave. If the power of the presidency still means anything, then this should work, too. Biden is all-in on explaining best-practices to people and leading by example. He wears a mask when he’s out and about not because he needs to for health reasons, but because he’s trying to establish a norm for the general public.
Will this norm setting work? Biden’s favorable rating is quite high—you have about a third of the country who thinks he’s the devil incarnate, but everyone else seems to really like him.
Popularity matters when you’re talking about persuasion.
On the stimulus, this is one vote where Republicans are up a creek. Do they really want to vote against sending $1,400 checks to families right now? I mean . . . they can do that if they want to.
But that’s going to be a tough vote for R’s, especially in the House where they know the vote will pass and 60 percent of the caucus is on the record as voting that Biden is an illegitimate president. Can they now vote with the fake, stolen president on his first big piece of legislation? Or do they have to go no on a vote that will haunt them in 2022?
3. The Man and the Moment
Another reason for optimism is my belief that character is often—though not always—destiny.
Watch Biden struggle to hold it together yesterday as he left Delaware to take up the most important—and most difficult—job of his life:
This is a man who understands the moment.
Look at him standing vigil on Tuesday night, staring out over a sea of candles commemorating the dead in the worst public health disaster in a century:
And do you know how he started out his morning today? He went to Mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral—where I got married, btw—and he invited the congressional leaders from both parties to come and pray with him.
That’s right. Kevin McCarthy—the guy who until 5 minutes ago was trying to overthrow the government in a bid to stop Biden from being inaugurated—was invited, by the incoming president, to come and pray with him at Mass.
This stuff matters.
And it matters because it’s real. Because it’s who Biden is.
This is the man who is our president now:
I use the word “stuff” on purpose because this part of political leadership is a bit like a pitcher’s command of a baseball. There’s something ineffable about it. You can’t fully describe it, or quantify it. But it’s real. It matters.
The bedrock virtue of conservatism—or what used to be called conservatism—was gratitude. It’s the wellspring virtue, the virtue from which all others flow. And Joe Biden is animated in large part by gratitude. It’s why he ran for president this time.
Not because he needed the job. But because he was grateful for all of the things that we had come to take for granted in America. And because he wanted to help restore those things and heal the nation.
As much as anything else, that’s why I’m optimistic today. Because while the challenges are enormous, the opportunities are there. Because character counts. And because gratitude is the beginning of wisdom.
I’ll get back to doom and gloom tomorrow. But for today, let’s all pray for Joe Biden and pray for America. And believe that even though we are still in the midst of a terrible, dark moment, there is light ahead.
Housekeeping: Yesterday I said that Bill Clinton got involved in the Baltics. This was stupid-wrong. The Balkans. They’re not even close.
Also: Nixon appointed four justices, too—making him and Ike the presidents with the most SCOTUS appointments in the modern era.
Sorry for the errors.