Covid kills a 9/11’s worth of Americans every three days. The vaccine mandate shouldn’t be controversial

The Biden administration’s decision to require vaccinations for large segments of the workforce has been predictably controversial among Trump loyalists, vaccine deniers and rightwing media.

It’s also the strongest moment of Joe Biden’s presidency.

Leadership and strength are defined by moments like this one: a leader doing the right and necessary thing even when they know they will face criticism and possibly political consequences. Too many politicians follow rather than lead; they listen to the loudest voices and cow to the most aggressive bullies. This is today’s Republican party, with its many officeholders who have spent the years since November 2016 demonstrating that there is no bottom to the humiliations they are willing to endure and the compromises they are willing to make if it means they will keep their seats, prostrating themselves before the altar of Trumpism.

Biden, like every politician, no doubt fears losing power. But he’s shown here that he has the integrity to put American lives and the stability of the nation ahead of his own professional ambitions. By one estimate, the Biden vaccine mandate will mean 12 million more Americans get the jab. That’s 12 million more people who will then be extremely unlikely to be hospitalized or die of Covid-19. It’s 12 million more people who can help keep the US economy afloat, and who are helping to keep their communities safe.

The new Biden vaccine rules also reflect this administration’s insistence on responding effectively to a complicated reality instead of reacting to those who yell the loudest. It is true that there is a subset of the US population – disproportionately white Trump-voting evangelicals – who strongly object to the Covid vaccine and say they will refuse to get it, requirements be damned. But there’s also a group of people who simply haven’t gotten their act together, or haven’t felt incentivized to get inoculated. There’s a lot to say about these folks – that they’re selfishly putting their communities at risk, that they aren’t being good citizens – and each of us is certainly entitled to our own moral judgments.

But the Biden administration isn’t in the business of finger-wagging; it’s in charge of making effective policy. And the vaccine rule is exactly that: It gives people an excellent reason to choose vaccination, and gives many (although not all) categories of workers the alternative of a weekly Covid test – an inconvenience, to be sure, but hardly an unfair imposition in the face of a pandemic that is killing a 9/11’s worth of Americans every three days. Significantly, the vaccine rule also mandates time off work for vaccination and recovery from any side-effects.

Resurgent Covid numbers are dragging the US economy down, and Biden is looking at a dark winter if more Americans don’t vax up. marzo 2020 kicked off an unprecedented financial disaster, with scores of people (a huge number of them mothers) losing their jobs as bars and restaurants shuttered, travel ground to a halt, schools closed and sent young children home, and we collectively understood that there was a “before time” and we were now living in the after. We know now that lockdowns didn’t primarily cause this massive economic contraction; fear of Covid did. And we know that the economic growth we’ve seen since Biden took office is partly credited to his administration’s massive vaccine rollout coupled with much-needed financial assistance to most Americans, which got inoculations into arms and people back into the streets, on to airplanes, and into restaurants with money to spend.

The vaccine rollout gave Americans the choice to get the jab and protect their communities and their country, or forego it out of political obstinacy. (Some people, ovviamente, cannot get the vaccine for health reasons, but those people are a small minority and not the ones dragging down the US’s stagnated vaccination numbers.) Shamefully, a huge number of Americans have refused to do the right thing. Some rely on arguments about individual freedom, and don’t seem to connect their individual decision to a collective problem – viruses, Dopotutto, don’t respect declarations of bodily autonomy and “my body, my choice.”

And those refusing vaccination are also putting our collective livelihoods and our country’s economic wellbeing at risk: As the Delta variant continues to rage, more Americans are staying home. That means they are no longer supporting local businesses as often. Some are making the difficult decision to quit or scale back their own work so they can keep their unvaccinated kids at home instead of risking sending them to schools unmasked and with unvaccinated adults. All of those seemingly individual decisions add up to a bigger and much more troubling whole.

So the Biden administration decided to take bold and decisive action, even though officials surely knew there would be outcry. One has to imagine they’re gambling on a payoff – an economy that doesn’t crash, per esempio, or the quieter majority of Americans who support vaccination and really want to see the pandemic get under control – but they are taking a risk nonetheless. Doing the right thing isn’t exactly an act of valor, but in today’s political universe of reactionary rightwing cowards, it is laudable.

Yet many mainstream media sources have focused on the objections and the potential political blowback instead of the necessity of this rule, and the leadership that implementing it exemplifies.

That’s a choice, pure. Cynical conservatives have realized they can turn even the most common-sense measures into convenient political footballs, sending political reporters and talking heads scrambling to analyze the political fallout of rational rules and good policy. That in turn only reinforces the power of these bad actors.

We don’t have to fall for it. Many Americans would surely agree that we want leaders who follow the scientific consensus and make decisions based on what is best for public health and the country’s economic wellbeing, even when those decisions are hard. Most of us would surely agree that we want leaders who lead instead of spinelessly acquiescing to the whims of those who throw the biggest tantrums.

Joe Biden is leading despite the very predictable conservative outbursts. He’s refusing to keep the nation held hostage to the least informed but most self-righteous among us.

That’s leadership, even if the Fox News crowd doesn’t like it.

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