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Perspective: Biden’s pandemic messaging should encourage America to act

There’s actually a lot of room for optimism that the White House seems strangely less interested in emphasizing

President Joe Biden speaks about the COVID-19 response and vaccinations, Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021, in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington.
Patrick Semansky, Associated Press

There’s a meme rolling around social media this week showing a scene from the television show “The Office.” One of the main characters, curmudgeonly and pessimistic Dwight Schrute, is standing in front of a coffin. The caption reads:

“Most people: ‘Merry Christmas.’ The White House: ‘just get in the coffin.’”

It’s based upon a printed statement from the White House several days ago which read,

We are intent on not letting Omicron disrupt work and school for the vaccinated. You’ve done the right thing, and we will get through this.

For the unvaccinated, you’re looking at a winter of severe illness and death for yourselves, your families, and the hospitals you may soon overwhelm.

Yes, at this point it should be self-evident to reasonable adults that remaining unvaccinated increases one’s risk of severe infection from COVID-19. I’m not sure threatening the American public is going to encourage those who are still holding out on vaccination at this point. Perhaps a more useful tactic might involve some positive reinforcement and maybe even some optimism that we’re close to ending this pandemic with some additional effort.

Because, well, believe it or not, there’s actually a lot of room for optimism that the White House seems strangely less interested in emphasizing: Therapeutics are out and more are on their way for approval, perhaps as early as this week. Although the early data is mixed on omicron’s relative severity, the more time-tested data out of South Africa on hospitalizations remains encouraging. What’s more, DefenseOne reported last night, “Within weeks, scientists at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research expect to announce that they have developed a vaccine that is effective against COVID-19 and all its variants, even Omicron, as well as from previous SARS-origin viruses that have killed millions of people worldwide.”

Remarking on “The Five” yesterday after President Biden’s statements, former Bush White House Press Secretary Dana Perino suggested a different message to the American public: “Why not start his speech with something that says ‘America, I want to thank you. You have done everything we’ve asked. In amazing numbers, you’ve gotten vaccinated. You stayed home and I know that was hard for you. A lot of your businesses have suffered. We are so grateful for the taxpayer support.’ Imagine all of the things people could feel like they’re being brought along. Instead it’s ‘boom, boom, boom.’”

She’s right. Certainly we shouldn’t sugarcoat medical realities, but great leaders know how to marshal the will of the American people amid a prolonged battle. They know how to inspire us to face a crisis and overcome it. The Biden administration’s messaging is simply missing the mark. It’s creating good sheep and stigmatizing the bad goats. The problem is the “bad” goats are fellow Americans who are vital to helping end this pandemic. And ridiculing them seems like a strange persuasion tactic.

Of the speech, NPR reported, “Biden defended his administration’s performance in dealing with the fast-spreading variant against criticism the White House had not acted quickly enough. The administration’s response, Biden said ‘was not a failure,’ and he asserted that ‘I don’t think anybody anticipated it would spread as rapidly as it did.’” Even normally nonpolitical observers were aghast at the lack of foresight and planning, not just about testing, but building our monoclonal stockpile as well.

The GOP presidential hopeful at the top of most observers’ radar is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and his press secretary gleefully offered a comparison in how her boss is communicating the situation compared to that of the president:

The president isn’t just communicating a lack of optimism and a tenuous grasp on the situation; he’s signaling that the virus is beating him (and by extension, us), not the other way around. We have plenty of reason to be realistic and hopeful about the next steps in this pandemic. It would do a great deal for our national morale — not to mention our physical and economic health — for the White House to start telling us that we will win and showing that we can.

Bethany Mandel is a contributing writer for the Deseret News and an editor at Ricochet.com.