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Opinion: The promise Biden couldn't fulfill

“For without unity, there is no peace, only bitterness and fury,” Biden said. “No progress, only exhausting outrage. No nation, only a state of chaos. This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge, and unity is the path forward.”
A year later, Biden can tout the bipartisan infrastructure law as an example of unity producing results. But his more ambitious goals of uniting America around fighting the Covid-19 pandemic, securing racial justice, confronting climate change and opposing political extremism remain unfulfilled. Biden’s approval ratings have fallen sharply, and he’s been unable to achieve unity even among Democrats in the Senate, where the Build Back Better bill and a filibuster carve-out for voting rights bills lack enough support to pass.
Biden’s vaccine mandate for large companies was struck down by the US Supreme Court Thursday. The court’s ruling “does not bode well for those people—including the court’s three-justice liberal wing—who are in favor of leaving important decisions, like vaccine requirements, to the experts in federal agencies,” observed Jennifer Rodgers.

Whose side are you on?

The President gave a fiery voting rights speech in Georgia Tuesday. As Julian Zelizer wrote, “He asked elected officials, ‘Do you want to be on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace?’ in what appeared to be a question implicitly targeting Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who still refuse to accept the filibuster carve-out that would allow the voting rights legislation to overcome Republican opposition.” Manchin and Sinema were unmoved, while Republicans howled at the comparison between opponents of the voting rights bills and segregationists like Wallace.
Presidents Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were able to overcome rocky stretches early in their presidencies, noted Julian Zelizer. “While Biden’s current challenges are very real, they shouldn’t be seen as a clear indication of where his presidency is headed,” Zelizer wrote. “This challenging moment is a snapshot of his term rather than the conclusion. In modern times, we have seen many presidents recover from a difficult start.”
In the Washington Post, David Von Drehle said Biden needs to change course. “A year into his presidency, Biden is too small for the office. Elected by the largest turnout in US history and by voters who thought he would restore mature, measured leadership to the White House, he has instead dwindled in the job. Presidents and their running mates are the only people elected by the entire country. That gives them the duty, and the opportunity, to rise above the Washington fray — yet Biden is being whipsawed by it. A successful president explains the present, paints the future and boosts confidence in a path from here to there. Biden is doing none of that.
Biden’s voting rights speech “was aggressive, intemperate, not only offensive but meant to offend,” wrote former Reagan White House speechwriter Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal. “It seemed prepared by people who think there is only the Democratic Party in America, that’s it, everyone else is an outsider who can be disparaged. It was a mistake on so many levels … If a president is rhetorically manipulative and divisive on a voting-rights bill it undercuts what he’s trying to establish the next day on Covid and the economy.”
Yet there was ample support for Biden’s emphatic embrace of the voting rights cause. Democratic National Committee chairman Jaime Harrison noted the late Rep. John Lewis “described democracy as an act. When he passed, there was bipartisan praise of his legacy. But he would not have wanted our empty words. He would have wanted action. And those of us who fail to meet this moment should think twice before invoking the name of Lewis or any other heroes who dedicated their lives to free the vote.”

MLK’s warning

From the Birmingham, Alabama, jail in 1963, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the White moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.” Victor Ray, a professor at the University of Iowa, wrote that “by blocking voting reform today, Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema are the white moderates Dr. King warned us about.
As we honor King on Monday, people should also recognize the impact of the civil rights leader’s mother, Alberta Christine Williams King, wrote Anna M. Tubbs. Alberta King, “a powerful organizer, was also a singer and an instrumentalist who trained hundreds of students. She had a bachelor’s degree as well as a teaching certificate, and she even tutored her husband through his own education…”
“All of us are shaped by our mothers to some extent, but in King’s case, the presence of his mother’s teachings in his work was profound and the similarities between her passions and his are readily apparent … She didn’t call it non-violence, but she believed that you could fight Jim Crow through faith, marches and boycotts.”

The dangers of letting Covid rip

As the Omicron variant swept across the US in recent weeks, two adult sons of Dr. Kent Sepkowitz, an infectious disease expert, came down with Covid-19. They “had the usual symptoms: first a sore throat, then some fever and aches and fatigue for several days. Within a week, they were mostly back to themselves … In fact, they got so well, so (relatively) quickly that I began to wonder whether it might be more expedient from a public health perspective if we just quit trying to stem the pace and extent of the pandemic and just, well, let it rip.”
It’s not so simple, Sepkowitz wrote.
Opening the gate to more infections is a very terrible idea; even if it might improve the Covid-19 statistics transiently, it would leave a trail of individual tragedies. First, there are the sheer case numbers: The statistics of death and severe illness would become mighty big numbers if a million people a day were to catch the infection.” Beleaguered health care workers would be swamped by the onslaught of sick people. The virus would have more opportunities to mutate. And the risks to the immunocompromised would multiply.
Kara Alaimo, who has two daughters under the age of 5, won’t take them into retailers for fear of exposure to Covid. “While Covid-19 poses risks to all of us, children 5 and older are at least eligible for vaccines — and aren’t seeing much of an increase in hospitalizations,” Alaimo noted. “But the parents of younger kids — vulnerable little ones who don’t have these protections and are getting hospitalized with this virus in alarming numbers — are truly in terrible situations.
Jaime Green wrote for Slate, “There is a knife hanging over our heads, as there is for every parent of a kid under 5. The text alert will come, or the phone will ring with a call from school. An exposure. A symptom. Come get them. Come get them and stay home.”
In-person learning is better, wrote Michael T. Osterholm and Cory Anderson for the Washington Post, but the reality of the Omicron variant could change the picture. “We must prepare for the possibility that some schools may have to close. This isn’t a political statement; it’s a simple reality …. Unlike the series of rolling geographic surges that accompanied previous variants, omicron represents a viral blizzard of widespread infections spanning the entire country. For the next three to five weeks, the sheer number of cases will pose significant challenges to US health-care systems, public safety operations, critical infrastructure capacities, food distribution and services, and educational programs. Each could temporarily lose 25 to 40 percent of their workforce because of isolation and quarantine.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, pushed back Tuesday when Sen. Rand Paul harshly criticized the scientist’s approach to fighting Covid-19. As Paul Begala wrote, Fauci offered “a theory behind Paul’s attacks. He displayed screenshots he said were from one of Paul’s political websites, seeking to raise campaign donations from his attacks on Fauci. Having been through more political song and dance than I care to recall, I think I can spot insincerity. Fauci’s response, I believe, was real. It was raw. And it was righteous.”

Boris Johnson’s apology

Working from home wasn’t an option for Shaun Brady, a factory worker in the North West of England. As his daughter Hannah Brady wrote, he came down with Covid-19 and died after weeks in the hospital.
“A year and a half later, I found myself sitting in the Downing Street garden, talking to the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. I and four other members of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, the campaign group that I’m part of, were telling Johnson about the loved ones we’d lost to the pandemic … I showed the Prime Minister a picture of Dad, and Johnson looked me in the eye and said he had done everything he could to protect my father.”
But last week, people learned that on May 20, 2020 — the day a doctor signed Shaun Brady’s death certificate — “in that same garden at Downing Street,” Johnson “had been to a party with dozens of other members of his staff. One of his most senior team members had emailed staff telling them to bring their own booze so they could make the most of the lovely weather, and Johnson joined them for 25 minutes … On a day when both the government and the police were reminding us that they would prosecute us if we had a picnic or went for a walk with more than one person outside our household — and the vast majority of us were sticking to those rules — the Prime Minister was at a party…”
Johnson apologized last week, but Brady wrote, “The hypocrisy of the prime minister sticks in my throat. It shows there’s one rule for him, and another for the rest of us. As long as Johnson is in that job, he’s undermining the legitimacy of the rules, and he’s a threat to the safety of the country.”
The editors of The Economist were thinking along similar lines when they wrote: “Britain chose a party animal for its leader. Now comes the hangover.

Novak Djokovic

A seesaw battle over whether Novak Djokovic should have been allowed to remain in Australia and compete in the tennis open tournament played out last week, amid growing criticism of how the nation and the star player handled the situation. “The episode has already proven to be an absurd political drama befitting of a Netflix saga during lockdown,” Tim Soutphommasane and Marc Stears wrote.
“The Djokovic family has played a fine supporting role, with patriarch Srdjan Djokovic declaring his son Novak the “Spartacus of the new world.” Never one to miss out, British politician and high-profile Brexiteer Nigel Farage even flew to Belgrade to offer his support to the Djokovic clan. Much of the saga’s ridiculousness, however, is rooted in Australia’s own peculiar reaction to the Covid-19 experience.”
“This echoes the broader experience of the pandemic. Australia has resembled less of a nation-state, with a clear-sighted leader at its helm, as it has a collection of states led by warring premiers from different parties and different factions over these past three years. Whether it is between federal and state governments, or between the various state governments, health advice and policy have at times varied wildly.” After losing his appeal, Djokovic left Australia Sunday.

Kevin McCarthy and Mike Rounds

What Sen. Mike Rounds, of South Dakota, said last week about 2020 wasn’t remarkable: “The election was fair, as fair as we have seen. We simply did not win the election, as Republicans, for the presidency.”
But the fact that a prominent Republican said it, and attracted some support in the Senate in the face of former President Donald Trump’s inevitable attacks, was worthy of note. SE Cupp observed, “Now, everything Rounds said is uncontroversial and…true. But we know nothing hurts Trump’s feelings more than calling him a sore loser and saying outright that Joe Biden won fair and square.” By contrast, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy threatened to throw prominent Democrats off committees and reinstate committee assignments for extremist Republican backers of Trump. Republicans need more of what Mike Rounds represents, and less of McCarthy, said Cupp.
Republicans could clean house and declare that no one who attempts to undermine a free and fair election — let alone the American democratic system itself — should serve in Congress with an R next to their name,” Jill Filipovic wrote. “But instead, the party’s leaders are taking vengeful aim at Democrats with threats of stripping them from committees.”
McCarthy is also refusing to cooperate with the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. An even more prominent GOP figure could soon be faced with a choice about whether to cooperate — former Vice President Mike Pence. “The commission investigating the January 6 attack on the US Capitol by Trump loyalists intent on overturning the 2020 election, is considering asking for his testimony,” wrote Michael D’Antonio.
“A year ago, then-vice president Pence escaped the House chambers as the mob shouted, “Hang Mike Pence,” and then courageously returned to lead the proceedings that certified President Joe Biden’s election. The question now is: Can Pence be brave a second time?

Putin’s miscalculation?

There was no apparent breakthrough in last week’s talks seeking to forestall a Russian invasion of Ukraine, as Frida Ghitis noted. “A senior US official declared ominously that the ‘drumbeat of war is sounding loud,’ as both sides made pessimistic statements. This is hardly a surprising outcome.”
Few doubt that Russia would have the upper hand in a conflict, given its military advantage. But an invasion could backfire on Putin, wrote Ghitis. “Russia’s menacing stance toward Ukraine, its continuing threats even as the talks proceeded, are solidifying the Kremlin’s image as that of a bully endangering its neighbors. The more Putin threatens, the more he unwittingly makes evident why Russia’s neighbors believe they need to join NATO to protect themselves…
“The only threat Ukraine poses to Putin — not to Russia — is becoming a functioning democracy at a time when the Russian leader is seeking to cement his place as an unremovable autocrat, and now one committed to defending other autocrats.”

Marilyn Monroe

Film critic Christina Newland, who appears in a new CNN original series on Marilyn Monroe that begins Sunday night, wrote “It’s vanishingly difficult” for the actress “to be seen as an actual human being. Not after this many decades of being a symbol, a sex goddess, a blonde bombshell or a candle in the wind.”
“Monroe was consistently typecast as vain and stupid for using her looks to her best advantage,” Newland noted. “She suffered sexual assault and wrote about it, though it fell more or less on deaf ears. She lived a life that was singular and extraordinary, but women continue to identify with her… No matter what came her way, she was canny, ambitious and self-starting: far from the ‘little girl lost’ cliché so often attached to her … Marilyn authored her image and her career far more than the domineering men in her life.

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One day in April 2011, Paul Farahvar, a Chicago lawyer feeling the symptoms of burnout, accompanied a comedian friend who was opening a Bob Saget show in Hammond, Indiana.
“When I introduced myself as a friend and ‘manager’ of his opening act, Saget immediately shook my hand.
Noticing my Cubs gear, he disarmed me with a discussion about baseball and guitars, the latter of which he played in part of his stand-up set. I remember how kind and sincere he was, asking follow-up questions as we walked through the venue looking for the green room.”
Saget wound up laughing at one of Farahvar’s stories, and he urged him to do stand-up. “His encouragement lingered in my mind as I watched his show. It felt like some approval I had been searching for all my life… because of my newly discovered confidence in my comedic abilities, I performed at my first open mic the very next day.”
“When it was my turn, I repeated the story that had tickled Saget, and it was a hit once again. I was hooked. The immediate rush of adrenaline from the audience’s response far exceeded the wins I’d experienced in even high-profile cases. The power of those laughs propelled me to heights I’d never had in a courtroom. And this was an open mic with 20 people in the room, for zero pay.” Farahvar eventually traded his legal career for one in comedy.
Bob Saget died last Sunday at 65.
“Along with our fellow comedians and fans,” wrote Farahvar, “I’m forever grateful for the positive influence he spread.”
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