Normal Shiny Thing! Joe Biden Had A Town Hall And It Was F*cking Wonderful.
What a difference a month makes! From "I alone can fix it" to "I literally pray that I have the capacity to do for the country what you all deserve need be done," in four short weeks.
President Joe Biden's CNN town hall in Wisconsin last night was an absolute relief for an exhausted nation, from the first moment when he alluded to Anderson Cooper's recent paternity leave. "You know you enjoyed being home with the baby more," he joked sympathetically. And if the discussion was perhaps light on policy, it was a hefty dose of calming rhetoric appealing to America's better angels.
"What a lot of kids and, I mean, and big people, too, older people, they just -- their whole lives have sort of changed like when it used to be. It used to be you just go outside and play with your friends and get in the school bus and go to school, and everything was normal," the president said to an eight-year-old girl trying to cope with life during COVID. "And now, when things change, people get really worried and scared. Don't be scared, honey. Don't be scared. You're going to be fine. And we're going to make sure mommy is fine, too."
We have all been so, so scared for so, so long now. We need someone to tell us truthfully that there is a plan to get us out of this mess.
"By the end of July we'll have over 600 million doses, enough to vaccinate every single American," Biden promised, noting that he used the National Defense Act to get Pfizer and Moderna to drastically increase their vaccine production and issued an Executive Order to allow more people to administer the shot in more locations.
After a wonky discussion of the efficacy of different vaccines for different strains of the virus, the president told the public directly, "If you're eligible, if it's available, get the vaccine. Get the vaccine."
"You've got to deal with the disease before you deal with getting the economy going," he said, describing the need for a big stimulus package. "Did you ever think you'd see a day in Milwaukee, you'd see in the last six months people lining up in their automobiles for an hour or for as far as you could see to get a bag of food? What — I mean, this is the United States of America for God's sake. We can't deal with that?"
Because of course we can deal with that! Just as we can deal with the challenge of getting everyone vaccinated by July. But only if we put people in charge who believe that the government's actual job is to help people, not whip them into a xenophobic frenzy and pit rural America against cities in a cynical attempt to keep a minority party in power forever.
And no, progressives (and Wonkette) didn't get everything they wanted. Biden reiterated his opposition to defunding the police and says he'll cap student loan forgiveness at $10,000, rather than the $50,000 the more liberal wing of the Democratic Party (and Chuck Schumer!) demanded. But he did come out in favor of free community college for all, free state school for anyone whose parents make less than $125,000, and loan forgiveness for graduates who work in socially valuable professions, like teaching and social work.
And he talked about structural racism as a moral issue in a way that Americans of all political stripes can understand.
Referring back to his past as a public defender, Biden talked about "inherent prejudice built into the system," noting, "If you're a first-time white guy, you would get two years. You would get seven years if you're Black." He called for equal pay for prosecutors and public defenders and "legislation relating to what is appropriate police behavior and studying police behavior and coming down with recommendations that are consistent with the legislation that was put in place as a consequence of all the world seeing one man shoved up against a curb and murdered after eight minutes and 46 seconds."
Asked about white supremacists, Biden said, "It is a bane on our existence. It has always been. As Lincoln said, we have to appeal to our better angels, and these guys are not — and women — are, in fact, demented. They are dangerous people."
Of course rhetoric is not legislation. But in a 50-50 Senate where one party wins by convincing its voters that Black and Brown people are somehow taking something away from them, we need a leader who can convince Americans that it is fundamentally unfair for people of color to be charged higher insurance premiums and get locked up forever on simple drug possession charges.
"No one should go to jail for a drug offense. No one should go to jail for the use of a drug," Biden said. Later he spoke out against the uselessness of American prisons: "The idea that we don't have people in prison systems learning how to be spending the money, learning how to be mechanics, learning how to be cooks, learning how to have a profession when you get out, the idea that we deny someone who served their time access to Pell Grants, access to housing, access to — right now, as you well know, most places, you get out of prison, you get 25 bucks and a bus ticket."
It matters that we have someone in the White House who can talk about the moral imperative to raise the minimum wage, because "no one should work 40 hours a week and live in poverty." That's a person who can muscle a $1.9 trillion stimulus package through Congress via reconciliation and sell it to America as a unifying solution.
Look at all the people who are on the verge of being kicked out of their apartments because they cannot afford — they cannot afford the rent. What happens when that happens? Everything — look at all the mom and pop landlords that are in real trouble if we don't subsidize this in the meantime.
Look at all the people who are on the verge of missing and how many people have missed their last two mortgage payments and are able to be foreclosed on. That's why I took executive action to say they cannot be foreclosed on in the meantime, because — look at what the impact on the economy would be.
You think it's bad now, let all that happen. Look at all the people who have lost their insurance. How many — I'm not asking for a show of hands — how many have had jobs with corporations or companies that provided health care, the COBRA health care?
Well, guess what? The company goes under, and guess what? You lose your health insurance.
Well, we should be making sure you're able to pay for that, so that we keep people moving.
It matters that we have a president who frames refugee admissions and immigration policy not in terms of racism cloaked in a thin veil of national security, but as a moral obligation. "Come with me into Sierra Leone. Come to me into parts of Lebanon. Come with me around the world and see people piled up in camps, kids dying, no way out, refugees fleeing from persecution," the president said. "We, the United States, used to do our part. We were part of that."
And perhaps we wouldn't appreciate the little kindnesses and signs of respect if we hadn't all just woken up from a godawful nightmare. Yes, we're all sick of talking about the elephant on the golf course, as Biden himself acknowledged, saying, "For four years, all that's been in the news is Trump. The next four years, I want to make sure all the news is the American people. I'm tired of talking about Trump." But now we have a president who follows a questioner's lead and refers to a woman with a doctorate of nursing as "Doctor" and responds to a mother trying to get a vaccine for her immunocompromised child by offering to "stay around after this is over and maybe we can talk a few minutes and see if I can get you some help." We can't properly frame this without acknowledging what came before.
We never needed a previous president to come out and promise not to politicize law enforcement. Now we do. "I made a commitment, I will not ever tell my Justice Department — and it's not mine; it's the people's Justice Department — who they should and should not prosecute," Biden said. "Their prosecutorial decisions will be left to the Justice Department, not me."
This is where we are, and we're in a deep hole. But now we have someone in charge who is telling Americans to pull together and start digging. It's a start.
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Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.