During his town hall last week, Joe Biden made a startling admission: “You can’t mandate a mask.” This was puzzling, because he had spent August badgering President Trump to implement a national mask mandate.
The confusion is of a piece with the ex-veep’s wider struggle to explain what, exactly, he would have done differently in response to the pandemic were he the one in power.
He claims to have foreseen the seriousness of this pandemic in an op-ed in January. But the piece he wrote warned generally against cuts to the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Agency for International Development — cuts that never happened.
On March 23, 2020, with the pandemic in full swing, Biden released a video urging the president to act swiftly. But he never spelled out what action the president was supposed to swiftly take that Trump hadn’t done. His suggestions — activating the National Guard and the Defense Production Act — had already been implemented by Team Trump.
In his video, Biden touted South Korea’s response and noted that the country’s sophisticated testing obviated the need for a lockdown.
South Korea tracked people who were potentially positive using their credit cards and CCTV in stores. The government then published all of the movements of COVID-positive Koreans online, so others could compare their own itineraries and know if they were exposed.
Sophisticated? Sure — but also creepy as all hell. Was Biden suggesting that his administration would have taken the same Orwellian steps? By the way, South Korea did end up having to partially lock down in April, May and again in August, when cases spiked.
Today, the problem is less what a hypothetical President Joe Biden would have done in March than about what a hypothetical President Joe Biden would do should America experience a second wave. During his town hall, Biden kept tying openings to federal spending and resources: If only Trump had spent more, we could stay open.
Huh? There’s little evidence that money would solve the problems of teachers’ unions making unreasonable demands, such as no new charter schools, before they allow public schools to open.
As it is, the Biden-Harris campaign offers nothing but unscientific blame. In August, Kamala Harris commented, “There’s a reason [the virus] has hit America worse than any other advanced nation. It’s because of Trump’s failure to take it seriously.”
In fact, America’s death rates are in line with many other Western countries, including Spain, Britain, Italy and Sweden. Our implementation of lockdowns and mask compliance are also comparable to many developed states.
So what should America do differently now?
Europe is grappling with a second wave. Different countries are reacting differently. French President Emmanuel Macron had promised through the summer not to shut down again but now has implemented a limited lockdown. Meanwhile Sweden, which had never locked down to begin with, is considering a mellow version of it.
If America starts to experience large spikes again, what would Biden do? We need real answers, not vague platitudes.
In America, the president only has so much control over what the response to a pandemic should be. For better or worse, Trump has respected federalism and allowed governors and mayors to respond depending on their jurisdictions’ circumstances and popular tolerance for lockdowns.
But a president does have sway, and if Biden wants to push for more lockdowns, the American people need to know that. He can also be asked to comment on whether he believes schools should be open — not just how much money he will throw at teachers and their unions in hope that they will show mercy to parents and kids.
There’s a persistent conspiracy theory, often seen on social media, that suggests that all of the local coronavirus restrictions will end with the election, as if they exist to make Trump look bad. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, as many places in the world are doing similar lockdowns with no thought about how that affects Trump. But Biden can put this idea to bed by telling us what he will actually do about coronavirus, as it exists today, if elected.
Americans deserve the truth.
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