With a growing sense of relief, I watched an American president demonstrate dignity in public.
Sometimes it just comes around the corner and strikes me: we have a functioning adult as our leader.
I wandered into our TV room Friday after a busy week and saw President Biden holding a press conference with his counterpart from South Korea, Moon Jae-in.
The tone was positive and informed as President Biden read his prepared remarks and then answered media questions. At one point he chided a male American questioner to be nice; clearly, they have a history. But it was said with a smile on both parts – a far cry from the ugly retorts, usually to female questioners, from the ignorant, preening brute we had until recently.
Instead, Joe Biden seems to be telling the country (and the world): we’re all in this together, we can do better, we can get along.
President Biden (I feel better just typing that) often speaks of his motivation to improve life for Americans. As David Brooks wrote recently after a telephone interview, President Biden often talks about his father’s suffering from a business going down, through no fault of his. Our president transfers his compassion to people who are not doing well.
I hear a tone from my younger days, now long, long ago. I can see my mother crying when she heard that Franklin Delano Roosevelt, her father figure, had died on April 12, 1945. (I was 6; I had seen him campaign in Queens on a nasty, drizzly day in October.) FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt had helped carry this country through a depression and then a world war. They are the gold standard, for me.
I am surprised to think of Joe Biden in these terms. I was not impressed with him when he was a senator or even a vice president. I thought he was politically dead when he left New Hampshire and went to make his last stand in South Carolina in 2020. But he has grown, and grown, and grown.
Sometimes Presidents surprise. Harry S. Truman was derided as an unknown, a mediocrity, an accident, but he carried the U.S. from wartime into hopeful post-war growth. Coming from a leftward Democrat family, I tended to mock Dwight D. Eisenhower – but how centrist, how prepared, Ike seems now.
Time changes perspective. I reviled Lyndon B. Johnson for Vietnam but now appreciate his domestic policies; I scorned George W. Bush but now I envision him as the leader who jauntily fired a strike from the mound at Yankee Stadium shortly after 9-11.
Plus Michelle Obama likes him, that’s good enough for me, Let me put it this way: W makes a very decent ex-President.
Time and legal investigations will take care of the poseur who called in American terrorists to attack the Capitol, and forces his toadies to lie for him.
Meantime, President Biden restores a spring cleaning of the soul: dignity in the White House.
This President can take in information. He can read. He can speak precisely, in diplomatic codes. On Friday, I heard a former ambassador to Seoul, Christopher Hill, on MSNBC, analyzing the President’s performance: the diplomat said the President was telling the world he has his eye on the dangerous leader of North Korea; he gave South Korea major attention early in his term.
For starters, President Biden offered to vaccinate South Korean soldiers. (My wife and I went to the DMZ with the U.S. soccer team during the 2002 World Cup; we still remember the impressive American and South Korean troops, ready for anything, just steps from the border.)
Joe Biden has seen pain strike three generations of Bidens. Now he acts like a healer.
I don’t envy him, all the eruptions coming at him. I’m a few years older than he is, and I want a nap.
But going into the weekend, I feel a bit better at the sight of Joe Biden an informed adult, who wants to heal, not pillage.
Measuring Covid Deaths, by David Leonhardt. July 17, 2023. NYT online.
The United States has reached a milestone in the long struggle against Covid: The total number of Americans dying each day — from any cause — is no longer historically abnormal….
After three horrific years, in which Covid has killed more than one million Americans and transformed parts of daily life, the virus has turned into an ordinary illness.
The progress stems mostly from three factors:
First, about three-quarters of U.S. adults have received at least one vaccine shot.
Second, more than three-quarters of Americans have been infected with Covid, providing natural immunity from future symptoms. (About 97 percent of adults fall into at least one of those first two categories.)
Third, post-infection treatments like Paxlovid, which can reduce the severity of symptoms, became widely available last year.
“Nearly every death is preventable,” Dr. Ashish Jha, who was until recently President Biden’s top Covid adviser, told me. “We are at a point where almost everybody who’s up to date on their vaccines and gets treated if they have Covid, they rarely end up in the hospital, they almost never die.”
That is also true for most high-risk people, Jha pointed out, including older adults — like his parents, who are in their 80s — and people whose immune systems are compromised. “Even for most — not all but most —immuno-compromised people, vaccines are actually still quite effective at preventing against serious illness,” he said. “There has been a lot of bad information out there that somehow if you’re immuno-compromised that vaccines don’t work.”
That excess deaths have fallen close to zero helps make this point: If Covid were still a dire threat to large numbers of people, that would show up in the data.
One point of confusion, I think, has been the way that many Americans — including we in the media — have talked about the immuno-compromised. They are a more diverse group than casual discussion often imagines.
Most immuno-compromised people are at little additional risk from Covid — even people with serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or a history of many cancers. A much smaller group, such as people who have received kidney transplants or are undergoing active chemotherapy, face higher risks.
Covid’s toll, to be clear, has not fallen to zero. The C.D.C.’s main Covid webpage estimates that about 80 people per day have been dying from the virus in recent weeks, which is equal to about 1 percent of overall daily deaths.
The official number is probably an exaggeration because it includes some people who had virus when they died even though it was not the underlying cause of death. Other C.D.C. data suggests that almost one-third of official recent Covid deaths have fallen into this category. A study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases came to similar conclusions.
Dr. Shira Doron, the chief infection control officer at Tufts Medicine in Massachusetts, told me that “age is clearly the most substantial risk factor.” Covid’s victims are both older and disproportionately unvaccinated. Given the politics of vaccination, the recent victims are also disproportionately
Republican and white.
Each of these deaths is a tragedy. The deaths that were preventable — because somebody had not received available vaccines and treatments — seem particularly tragic. (Here’s a Times guide to help you think about when to get your next booster shot.)
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.