In his remarks to the nation this week, President Joe Biden announced two important milestones in the fight against Covid-19. First, he asserted that the U.S. will have enough vaccine supply to inoculate all adults by the end of May, two months ahead of the previous timeline he announced just last month. This acceleration is possible in large part because of an agreement the government brokered between pharmaceutical rivals Merck and Johnson & Johnson to work together to ramp up production of the vaccine developed by J&J.
Second, the president announced that his administration is directing states to prioritize vaccinating teachers, childcare workers and school staff through the administration’s partnership with pharmacies. Biden said he wants all such educators and support staff to have at least one vaccine shot by the end of March. He urged states that have not yet done so to include teachers in the category of essential workers so they could move to the front of the eligibility line.
This way, every teacher can have at least one shot by the end of this month. This marks a hopeful note for teachers chafing to get back to the classroom, for parents—especially moms—who have had to add “educator” to their already overwhelming pandemic portfolio and for millions of children who have been isolated at home or subject to less-than-ideal remote or hybrid learning environments.
While these achievements are dramatic, the most striking element in Biden’s presentation was its dramatic shift in tone from the immediate past. Like any president, Biden was quick to tout the accomplishments of his administration; but the candid, straightforward manner of outlining these major accomplishments was a refreshing change from the bluff and bluster of the prior administration. The logical, fact-based presentation was almost completely devoid of bashing his perceived enemies (there was one reference to the mess he had inherited) and allowed the public to focus on the substance of his remarks instead of scrambling to fact-check his claims, pursue insults or seek clarification from administration officials whose words were in conflict with his.
I had almost forgotten what it was like to hear from the president and focus on the substance of his remarks rather than being distracted or agitated by an off-script comment, unfounded accusation or exaggeration so extreme as to discredit the entire presentation. How refreshing!
In truth, Biden’s news was not all good. As he walked away from the podium, a reporter asked when we could expect to return to normalcy. The President responded that he hoped we would resume normal functioning (still an ill-defined set of criteria) by next year at this time. There has been slippage in this time line—originally, Biden was hopeful that this benchmark would be reached next fall, then the date was moved back to Christmas and now, it seems it is next spring.
Still, this bad news was presented without distraction, evasion or apology. Even the good news–the bulk of his remarks–was laced repeatedly with caution about how we are still in the midst of a very grave situation and we should not remove pandemic restrictions too fast lest we lose the valuable ground we’ve gained since January.
There’s an old saying symbolic of poor leadership: “the fish stinks from the head.” If this is true, then the opposite is also true that competent, caring leaders can set the tone for the whole society. In his remarks this week, President Biden set such a tone. The fragrant aroma emanating from the White House was almost breathtaking.