Talking Points

Biden sounds a note of COVID optimism, but was it enough?

President Biden had much to cover in his State of the Union address tonight – an increasingly brutal Russian war of aggression in Ukraine, inflation, prescription drug prices, the opioid crisis and more. But for the sake of Democrats everywhere, Biden needed to project a note of optimism about the issue that is dragging his presidency down: the never-ending COVID-19 pandemic.

And while the president hinted that the tide of America's struggle with the virus had turned, it should have played a more central and more forceful role in his address.

The winter Omicron surge killed tens of thousands of people, a truly shocking and tragic toll, but it has retreated as swiftly as it arrived, leaving behind a country much more immunologically fortified against the virus. Whether this is the end of the crisis stage or a lull between variants is unknowable, but society cannot paralyze itself indefinitely waiting for the next bad thing to happen.

"We need to fill up our great downtowns," the president thundered, rightly. "We can end the shutdown of schools and businesses." But he offered very little in terms of concrete promises. "The scientists are working hard to get that done," he said of vaccines for kids under 5, but offered no timeline or real hope for parents who have waited patiently for progress.

"Our kids need to be in school," he said, but didn't outline metrics for the lifting of mask mandates on children even as our entire gerontocracy gathered at the Capitol, faces free in an enclosed space. He promised "treatments and high-quality masks" for the immunocompromised but needed to say more to reassure the vulnerable that society's reopening won't happen at their expense.

All in all, the president could have done much more to unify America's COVID divides and anxieties by tackling them head-on.