How fortunate we are that Joe Biden is in the room where it happens.
As evidenced Thursday night, during his Fireside Chat-style assessment of America on the cusp of recovery, he is the manifest inverse of the fraud who preceded him.
Granted, Trump set the bar so low that even an ant could hurdle it. Nevertheless, it was refreshing to be reminded what a real president sounds like. A real president focuses on us instead of flattering himself. A real president levels with us instead of lying. And a real president actually tries to summon the powers of his office to help people instead of killing them off.
Ask yourself whether we’d be mass vaccinating – and on track to normalcy by the fourth of July – if we were still stuck with The Former Guy.
Not a chance. He had already done enough damage. As the New England Journal of Medicine reported last fall, “Instead of relying on expertise, the administration has turned to…charlatans who obscure the truth and facilitate the promulgation of outright lies…Trump’s rejection of evidence and public health measures has been catastrophic.” And as The Lancet, a British medical journal, concluded last month, Trump’s “appalling response” to the pandemic caused “tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths.”
But enough about him.
Biden is demonstrating – his newly signed Rescue Plan buttresses his rhetoric – that the federal government can be a force for good in bad times.
He said last week: “Put trust and faith in our government to fulfill its most important function, which is protecting the American people. No function more important. We need to remember, the government isn’t some foreign force in a distant capital. No, it’s us, all of us.”
Republicans and conservatives have spent decades maligning and seeking to sabotage “big government.”
Ronald Reagan famously quipped, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’”
Well, guess what: When tens of millions of people are suffering – medically, economically and spiritually – and when states and localities can’t shoulder that burden, it behooves “big government” to step up.
Indeed, many Americans who normally mouth the tiresome talking points about “socialism” are more than happy to accept that proffered help.
Check out the CNN report from red West Virginia, where a Trump voter says he’ll gladly use his stimulus check “to pay off the rent, pay off the bills. People are behind, you know? I’m sure I’m not the only one.” Check out the polls that show 75 percent support for Biden’s rescue package – including 59 percent support from self-identified Republicans.
Biden lamented that, in recent years, “we lost faith in whether our government and our democracy can deliver on really hard things for the American people.”
His abiding mission is to rekindle that faith – to save lives and ultimately save democracy from the threat of home-grown fascism – by delivering for the American people, regardless of whether they voted blue, regardless of what “the loudest voices say on cable or online.”
There are times when the urgent need for federal help transcends ideology, when it is not a matter of “left” or “right,” when it is merely the logical decent course of human events. Biden instinctively understands that this is one of those times.
Arguably Biden’s best asset, as evidenced again Thursday night, is that he connects with people’s pain. An empath is someone who’s highly attuned to the emotions of those around them, to the point of feeling those emotions himself.
Perhaps any president (except the last one) would’ve said these words: “We are fundamentally a people who want to be with others, to talk, to laugh, to hug, to hold one another.
But this virus has kept us apart. Grandparents haven’t seen their children or grandchildren. Parents haven’t seen their kids. Kids haven’t seen their friends. The things we used to do that always filled us with joy have become things we couldn’t do and broke our hearts.” But Biden – by dint of his DNA and seasoned by his own tragedies – exudes the emotions behind the words.
With 20/20 hindsight, it’s lucky for us that he bombed as a presidential candidate in 1988 and 2008, because – a bit like Winston Churchill, who finally became prime minister in wartime 1940 after serial setbacks – Biden has landed in the moment that suits him best.
He will suffer defeats, as all presidents do. But this is his time. And he wants it to be ours.
Opinion contributor Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at DickPolman.net. His work appears on Mondays on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Readers may email him at [email protected].