Many differences distinguish Joe Biden’s administration from Donald Trump’s. What stands out the most is that everything that was once very easy and would be forthcoming within the next “two weeks” under Trump has become impossibly difficult under Joe Biden.
This pattern of underpromising, we can only hope, is an effort to manage expectations before overdelivering. When it comes to the pandemic, the Biden administration has adopted a conspicuously pessimistic outlook that contrasts with the steely resolve then-candidate Joe Biden expressed when he promised that he would “get control of the virus” and “end this” pandemic.
But as a political tactic, the Biden administration’s refusal to set ambitious goals for itself has become a test of America’s credulity. In the effort to avoid its predecessor’s mistakes, this White House has struck a tone that is both enervated and hopelessly out of touch.
For example, the 46th President’s administration initially tried to fool the public into thinking that the vaccination program it inherited from the last occupant of the White House was woefully inadequate. Due to the “complete incompetence” of the Trump administration, unnamed officials told CNN reporters, Team Biden is “going to have to build everything from scratch.” This was a lie.
When these remarks were made and naively disseminated by friendly media outlets, the Biden administration was administering a vaccination plan that had been operational for months. Biden inherited a regime that had distributed more than 17 million doses of the vaccine, with an average of just under one million injections administered daily. As reporters began to notice this discrepancy, the Biden administration slowly recalibrated its assumptions and amended its vaccination targets so they would comport with the facts on the ground. But it took the prodding of the press corps before the Biden White House finally abandoned a contemptuous political narrative.
Similarly, White House Press Sec. Jen Psaki was asked today what the president’s definition of “open schools” would look like and how fast we can expect to get there. After all, his Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had recently claimed that “vaccinations of teachers is not a prerequisite for opening schools,” so the only obstacle to a full-day, five-day program is now the will to see it through. True to form, Psaki set the most languid of possible objectives to claim success.
“His goal that he set is to have the majority of schools—so, more than 50 percent—open by day 100 of his presidency,” she said. “And that means some teaching in classrooms. So at least one day a week. Hopefully, it’s more.” If you’re underwhelmed by that, you should be. As American Commitment President Phil Kerpen helpfully pointed out, meeting this goal would involve more school closures.
As of this writing, nearly 65 percent of America’s K-12 schools have met Psaki’s definition of what constitutes victory—open at least one day per week. Only 35 percent of schools remain “virtual-only,” and most of them are centered in dark blue urban centers where teachers’ unions are using the cover of the pandemic to prosecute a labor dispute. Nevertheless, if this is the “degree of normality” that Biden’s public health experts promise we will soon be approaching, the emphasis is decidedly on “degree.”
To be fair, the Biden administration hasn’t eschewed ambition entirely. The problem is that the areas where it has enthusiastically endorsed enterprising goals are areas of public policy where they are most likely to fail.
The Biden administration has pledged to put America on a path toward 100 percent clean power generation by the year 2035, which, as Los Angeles Times reporter Sammy Roth observed on Tuesday, is a decade earlier than the target set by the pathologically green state of California. But the Golden State has a disappointing track record so far in the pursuit of that objective.
California has seen rolling, mandated blackouts over the course of 2020 and has been forced into “scrambling to avoid additional outages next summer” by keeping natural-gas power plants open past their anticipated shutdown dates. Indeed, a Public Utilities Commission established to set emissions-reductions targets recently warned that the state could become dependent on natural gas indefinitely if it doesn’t approve new transmission lines. But a combination of bureaucratic lethargy, legal obstacles, and public dissatisfaction with the idea of any disruptive construction associated with infrastructure has made meeting California’s clean energy targets—to say nothing of Joe Biden’s—a dubious prospect.
We’re left to conclude that the Biden administration has decided to both underpromise and underdeliver. It’s a bold strategy, but one that is unlikely to redound to this White House’s benefit.