‘We’re still in it’: Biden’s Covid address acknowledges battle fatigue but seeks to rally the troops

gingerbread White House is coated in pristine icing and decorated with tiny wreaths, surrounded by miniature fire, gas and police stations, a grocery store, post office, warehouse and school, complete with yellow bus.

This twee vision of a virus-free world, produced by White House pastry chefs, formed an incongruous backdrop on Tuesday as 조 바이든 strode into the state dining room to deliver something akin to a wartime address.

Gloom, fear and fatigue stalk the land again. The Omicron variant has sent coronavirus cases spiralling across the US, forcing a new round of business closures.

A long queue of people snakes around a testing site a couple of blocks from the White House. It’s a deja vu of death and despair.

It also spells trouble for a president who ran on compassion and competence and promised to beat the virus, along with Donald Trump. At year’s end, Covid-19 is surging again while Biden’s legislative agenda is sagging and his approval rating is in the doldrums. It was not meant to be like this.

The president, who in his January inaugural address spoke of “a winter of peril and possibility”, finds himself in another winter where peril appears to have the upper hand. He is also aware that rightwing critics are eager to portray him as a pro-lockdown, pro-mandate, joy-killing Ebenezer Scrooge.

But the last thing Biden wanted to conjure on Tuesday was the grim ghost of Christmas past. Behind him were two cheerful Christmas trees adorned with photos of family and snowmen. A red ribbon was draped over the fireplace. To his left was that idyllic gingerbread display and a wreath hanging over a mirror.

Biden began with his signature empathy card. “I want to start by acknowledging how tired, worried and frustrated I know you are. I know how you’re feeling. For many of you, this will be the first or even the second Christmas where you look – across the table will be an empty kitchen chair there.”

But then came the Churchillian appeal for stiff upper lips: “While Covid has been a tough adversary, we’ve shown that we’re tougher – tougher because we have the power of science and vaccines that prevent illness and save lives, and tougher because of our resolve.”

The unvaccinated have good reason to be concerned, he warned, but the vaccinated should celebrate Christmas as planned. 예, they could get Covid “in large numbers” but they are protected from severe illness and death, 그는 말했다.

바이든 오미크론이 미국 전역에 퍼졌다는 단서를 제공하는 하수 테스트 that half a billion at-home tests will soon be available for Americans to order online for free, a development that is embarrassing for press secretary Jen Psaki, who earlier this month appeared to pooh-pooh the idea. Psaki had to eat some humble pie at Tuesday’s press briefing.

But the pandemic has always been political and Omicron threatens to pour yet more fuel on those flames. David Leonhardt, a senior writer at the New York Times, observed that partisanship is the biggest factor determining vaccination rates.

“If Democratic voters made up their own country, it would be one of the world’s most vaccinated, 이상으로 91 percent of adults having received at least one shot,” Leonhardt wrote. “Only about 60 percent of Republican adults have done so. This vaccination gap has created a huge gap in death rates, one that has grown sharply during the second half of the year.”

It is a chilling omen for a president who, back in that inaugural address, vowed to heal wounds and unite the nation. On Tuesday he said: “The unvaccinated are responsible for their own choices. But those choices have been fuelled by dangerous misinformation on cable TV and social media.

“You know, these companies and personalities are making money by peddling lies and allowing misinformation that can kill their own customers and their own supporters. It’s wrong, it’s immoral. I call on the purveyors of these lies and misinformation to stop it. Stop it now.”

게다가, Biden gave a rare shout out to “the prior administration” for the speedy development of vaccines with the scientific community.

Biden finished with another rallying cry: “I know you’re tired and I know you’re frustrated. We all want this to be over. But we’re still in it, and this is a critical moment … We’re ready. We’ll get through this’.”

Unlike Barack Obama, Biden does not seem likely to hold an end-of-year press conference, but he did take a few questions from reporters. Several naturally focused on Joe Manchin, the senator from West Virginia who has rudely announced that he will not support Biden’s Build Back Better legislation after all.

It was a devastating blow to a Senate veteran who campaigned on his ability to cut deals. But Biden, who has Irish ancestry, quipped: “Some people think maybe I’m not Irish because I don’t hold a grudge. Look, I want to get things done. I still think there’s a possibility of getting Build Back Better done.

그는 덧붙였다: “Senator Manchin and I are going to get something done.”

In the world of romantic comedies and festive movies, it would have been the cue for Trump and Manchin to rattle down the chimney, agree to let bygones be bygones and say in chorus with Biden: “A Merry Christmas to us all. God bless us, 모든 사람!”

그것은, 아무튼, a time for miracles, and Biden may need one or two.

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