The President of the United States leaned forward, to speak to a nation, maybe even a world.
This much he knew, he said. We will get through this.
He was speaking at the White House Monday to honor 500,000 Americans who have died, so far, in the pandemic.
He was speaking like a parent, like a leader, like a healer.
“I know it’s hard, I promise you. I know it’s hard, I remember,” Biden said. “That’s how you heal, you have to remember. It is also important to do that as a nation. To all those who have lost loved ones, this is what I know: They’re never truly gone. They will always be part of your heart.”
Everybody knows about his losses – a first wife and a young daughter, a grown son.
And he seemed to know about their losses, all half a million.
“This seems unbelievable, but I promise you, the day will come, when the memory of the loved one you lost will bring a smile to your lips before a tear to your eyes…I pray for you that day will come sooner rather than later.”
This reassurance was unlike anything the United States, the entire world, had heard from a President in the previous four years. No need to elaborate or explain -- just that he cared.
During this speech, I had a flashback, to my earliest memories, when my parents and grandmother would turn off the lights and put up dark shades over the windows, in case of a bombing raid. And when my family was reassured by the same crackling voice on the radio that had sustained people during the Depression.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt did it like the patrician he was. Joe Biden is a man of the working people. But nobody has quite aimed for the heart of the collective "we" as FDR did.
My mother cried the day FDR died in 1945. She had lost her father to an auto accident as she entered her teens. FDR came along a few years later.
Now Joe Biden is trying his imperfect best to be a leader to this fractured country. He says there are no Republicans, no Democrats, in this fight against the Covid virus.
Biden has been taking on stature since Rep. Jim Clyburn rescued him from the snowbanks of Iowa and New Hampshire, and presented him to the hearts of Black voters, not just in South Carolina but all over. This was more than a political move; it was a move of faith.
Now Biden speaks to everybody who will listen, not about him, but about them. He is elderly, and he speaks as an elder.
"You're gonna be okay. You're gonna be okay."
After presiding over a moment of silence in front of thousands of lit candles, outside the White House, Biden returned past the military guards, into his new home.
His shoulders seemed to be sagging from the pain of all those deaths, but Jill Biden would occasionally touch him, so tactile, so caring. And through the window the TV camera picked up Doug Emhoff, the big-time lawyer and husband of Vice President Harris, putting his hand on Joe Biden’s right shoulder, patting him, several times, reassuring the healer.
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And speaking of dignity, Merrick Garland was interviewed by the Senate Monday, regarding his nomination for Attorney General. This is the man who was shafted – as was the entire nation – by Mitch McConnell in the final year of the Obama regime, keeping Garland from the Supreme Court.
Now Garland was speaking of the values he would bring to the Attorney General. Without mentioning the servile Bill Barr, the previous attorney general, Garland emphasized that he would be serving the country, not the President. He is clearly a man of intellect and character.
We have real people, people who feel. All of us are being liberated.
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(President Biden's speech. The most wonderful part is around 6;00.)
The headline above was texted by a family member during the Inauguration, on our little round-robin message board that has tied eight adults together for the four past ugly years.
I personally was trying to find some way to comment here on the spiritual optimism of President Biden and the uplifting composure of the “dignitaries” and the stunning talent of the young poet and the truly American mix of the celebrants.
They all provided inspiration….and I was letting it sink in….when I opened the group email from my Jamaica High School friend, the great Letty Cottin Pogrebin.
As always, Letty has been ahead of the rest of us, writing:
I intended to post nothing but good news on this, the day that will see simple decency return to public life and discourse in the person of President Joe Biden, and history being made by Vice President Kamala Harris. (But today's euphoria can't erase the conflagration of Jan 6th and the shameless-who-shall-be-nameless #45 who lit the fuse.)
Letty included the Youtube bit from James Corden that, she says, “has gone viral.”
It ends with one thoroughly cathartic act by Corden.
I am taking leave for the day, to watch the reruns of the Inauguration that might, just might, start to fumigate the past four years.
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Your thoughts? Comments welcome, indeed, beseeched.
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On that note, introducing Amanda Gorman, not yet 23, the youngest poet ever to grace an inauguration:
Watching this brilliant young writer recite her poem in the bright sunlight, I thought back to the misfortunate weather-blinded Inaugural speech by Robert Frost in 1960, with new President Kennedy right behind him. What a contrast.
Later on Wednesday, I was sent a video of President Kennedy’s last speech, at a Frost event at Amherst College. Mentioned in the video is Our Man in El Salvador, Gene Palumbo, who was a senior that year, and is now a journalist in Latin America.
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.