Video screenshot, CNET on YouTube

President Joe Biden addressed the nation last night in his first prime time speech, marking one year from the World Health Organization's declaration that the novel coronavirus had officially become a pandemic. As he has in other events aimed primarily at memorializing the dead, Biden went heavy on the empathy, because we all went for nearly for a year without a shred of it from the purported leader of the country.

It matters, because, as Politico's daily "Playbook" column, of all places, pointed out, the "pastoral role" of the president is genuinely important at times of national crisis (we're removing their house-style bold and all-caps, though):

The images of those moments are indelible: Ronald Reagan speaking after the Challenger disaster, Bill Clinton memorializing the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing, George W. Bush with a bullhorn on a pile of rubble and Barack Obama wiping away tears describing the Sandy Hook massacre. [...]

If politics is about timing, then there can be nothing more morbidly fortuitous than a politician whose own life has been defined by unimaginable loss coming along precisely when a wave of death was crashing over an America searching for some empathy.

Beyond the very necessary recognition of the losses we've all faced — not just those who've died, but the disruptions to everyday life, and the yet-to-be known effects kids will feel from being out of school for a year — Biden offered some actual policy points in the second half of the speech, cautiously laying out a way toward something more like normal.



The biggest news was Biden's call for all states to make all adults eligible to receive vaccinations as of May 1 — not that they'll all be able to get the vaccine on that day, but that they can start signing up to get it. And instead of promising that the virus will just go away so we can all pack into churches and sportsball venues, Biden said we'd need to keep working together toward the goal of controlling it. But if we do, then Biden suggested a very concrete target:

If we do our part, if we do this together, by July the 4th there's a good chance you, your families and friends will be able to get together in your backyard or in your neighborhood and have a cookout and a barbecue 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.

After this long, hard year, that would make this Independence Day something truly special — where we not only mark our independence as a nation, but we begin to mark our independence from this virus.

To get there, he cautioned, we need to keep following public health guidelines, because you really can't schedule the end of a pandemic.

A July Fourth with your loved ones is the goal. But with a goal, a lot can happen. Conditions can change. The scientists have made clear that things may get worse again.

If we're not careful, or if variants of the virus suddenly spread out of control, he acknowledged, it might be necessary to impose more restrictions to stop the spread again.

For a guy who earlier that afternoon signed into law a giant relief bill, Biden didn't take a lot of time taking a victory lap. Instead, he focused on how that bill will fund measures needed to get the virus under control and the nation back to work. He said the administration plans to double the number of mass vaccination sites set up by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and also to double the number of pharmacies participating in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program.

To go along with the May 1 vaccine eligibility goal, Biden announced the government will

launch, with our partners, new tools to make it easier for you to find the vaccine and where to get the shot, including a new website that will help you first find the place to get vaccinated and the one nearest you. No more searching day and night for an appointment for you and your loved ones.

Considering that the rocky rollout of the federal website for Obamacare enrollment is still a talking point for critics now, we bet we'll eventually learn that vaccine website has been in development since shortly after Biden took office and the problems with people finding available vaccines first cropped up. That sucker is likely to be the most beta-tested government website ever rolled out; Crom only knows whether that will be enough to prevent a crash. The previous occupant of the White House, you may recall, promised a beautiful national website for coronavirus testing; that never actually came to fruition, but then, people have already come to think of Biden as competent, so the stakes are higher.

So now all Biden has to do is keep persuading people to take simple actions like wearing masks, continuing to socially distance, and not be goddamn idiots like the governor of Texas. Piece of cake!

[US News transcript / Politico / NBC News]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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