The Slatest

Joe Biden Should Go on Prime-Time TV and Declare a COVID-19 Emergency

Now.

Joe Biden on stage in front of the words "The Office of the President-Elect."
This, but on your TV. Angela Weiss/Getty Images

Boy, it is getting bad out there in America. COVID-19 cases are skyrocketing. Hospitals are overwhelmed in state after state after state. Cities that had previously opened schools are preparing to shut them down while, insanely, not shutting down restaurants or gyms. Meanwhile, all across America, medium-size indoor social gatherings are spreading the coronavirus like crazy—medium-size social gatherings just like the ones countless Americans are just about to travel far and wide to attend for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

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And, of course, almost no one in the White House is doing anything about—or even really acknowledging—the accelerating crisis. Man, if only we had a popularly elected, widely liked national leader who could address this nightmare and tell everyone what to do.

Oh wait, we do. We have Joe Biden! It is time for Joe Biden to call the major networks, schedule a live prime-time address for Friday night, and declare a COVID-19 emergency in America. He should make specific policy and public-behavior recommendations. And he should do it all from his fancy blue stage in Delaware, the one with the American flags and the presidential seals all over it. You’re the president-elect, Joe Biden. This is a very big chance to act presidential-electional!

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In the midst of Donald Trump’s postelection blithering about voter fraud, Biden’s official communications since his acceptance speech Saturday night have revolved, wisely, around COVID-19. From a tweet reminding Americans to wear a mask to his announcement of his administration’s coronavirus advisory board, he’s focused on the epidemic. And that’s great. It’s heartening to see members of that advisory board like Michael Osterholm getting press for proposals that, obviously, the U.S. should have initiated months ago.

But you know what might really move the needle? Joe Biden, on every TV station, declaring in his most presidential voice that we’re in a coronavirus crisis, asking Americans to make sacrifices to save the lives of their fellow citizens, and putting public pressure on federal, state, and local governments to support the smart decisions Americans should be making.

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“Every time you put on a mask,” he should say, looking straight into the camera, “you should assume you’re saving someone you care about from weeks of suffering and, maybe, a terrible death.”

“I know you love Thanksgiving,” he should say. He should do that little Biden chuckle. “I love it too. I love stuffing.” (Speechwriters, you can substitute whatever Thanksgiving food polls best here.) “Even more than that, I love seeing my family. But this year Jill and I are doing Thanksgiving by ourselves. It won’t be as fun, but it’s a sacrifice we’re making to keep our family and our community safe. Please, Americans: I ask you to do the same.

“If you’re a senator who’s refusing to consider a COVID relief bill,” he should say—and here he should crank up the Biden disappointed anger—“you’re telling the people of your state you don’t care if they lose their jobs, you don’t care if they get sick, and you don’t care if they die.”

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Of course a Biden “declaration of emergency” would not be binding in any legal sense. But it could make a huge difference. A lot of us voted for Joe Biden because, among other reasons, we wanted someone who would just act like an actual president. In the absence of any remotely presidential moves from the Oval Office, we’re hungry for the real thing. Joe: Take the airtime the networks would be absolutely thrilled to give you on a Friday night. Draw a sharp contrast between yourself and the president you’re about to replace. More than 77 million Americans (and counting!) voted for you. There’s no more important battle for you to fight right now, and you don’t need to have been sworn in to start. You just need a bully pulpit. Good news: Your staff built you one in Delaware. Get up there and fight.

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