Froma Harrop: What Joe Biden doesn't have to do right now
Summary: Actually, Joe Biden doesn't have to do much talking right now. The coronavirus numbers are doing the talking for him. Biden's rise in key presidential polls suggests that the American people are listening.
Joe Biden has not been loudly beating up on President Donald Trump for his pathetic performance during the coronavirus crisis. The pandemic has already killed over 80,000 Americans and cratered the economy. And the United States has become an object of international pity.
"Why is Biden sitting at home?" chronically anxious Democrats ask.
Actually, Biden doesn't have to do much talking right now. The coronavirus numbers are doing the talking for him. Biden's rise in key presidential polls suggests that the American people are listening.
The public seems to understand the need for balance between restarting the economy and avoiding more mass death — about which Trump is just fomenting more craziness.
News cameras can't keep their lenses off Trump-inspired agitators in front of state houses. And if the number of anti-lockdown, anti-distancing, face maskless protesters rises from 65 to 132, newscasters excitedly proclaim that the angry crowds are "growing."
More reliable numbers leave a different impression. A recent poll found lower approval ratings for governors who are rushing to reopen their states and higher ones for those acting cautiously.
Older Americans favored Trump in 2016. But polls show this important voting bloc moving decidedly toward Biden. A new Marquette University poll has voters over 60 in the swing state of Wisconsin supporting Biden over Trump by an astounding 18 points.
Why the change? Older people are most vulnerable to the virus. They cannot be pleased by casual talk of accepting many more deaths in return for economic revival — much less the murmuring about the advantages of culling a population heavily dependent on government benefits.
Now young children are being hospitalized for a COVID-related rash. A few have died, and parents are scared.
Some numbers speak of the tragedy unleashed by Trump's early denial of and then flabby response to this threat. Other countries have been hit by the disease, but few have suffered as we have.
On Jan. 21, the U.S. and South Korea each had 1 confirmed coronavirus case and low unemployment rate of about 4 percent. By May 11, the U.S. had 81,285 virus deaths, and South Korea had 256. On that date, our unemployment rate stood at 14.7 percent. South Korea's was 4 percent and its economy humming along.
The U.S. now has the seventh highest coronavirus death rate in the world — twice that of Canada. And to think we are the land of superior hospitals, cutting-edge research and heroic health care workers.
It didn't have to get this bad. Toward the end of January, Trump's own trade adviser, Peter Navarro, sent the president a high-level warning of the tidal wave coming our way. Our lack of preparedness, he wrote, "elevates the risk of the coronavirus evolving into a full-blown pandemic, imperiling the lives of millions of Americans."
Trump denied the existence of the virus, and when it became impossible to ignore, he blamed governors for not stopping it.
A safe revival of business activity requires mass testing for the virus. The U.S. is finally making progress on obtaining such tests but still can't provide nearly enough. This follows Trump's dismal failure as late as March — when the number of new cases could have been curbed — to take the health threat seriously.
As of March 11, the U.S. had tested only 23 people per 1 million. Even countries swimming in their own political chaos did better by large multiples. By March 11, the United Kingdom had tested 347 per million — and Italy had tested 826 per million.
Politics happens, even in times too sad for it. Biden will eventually have to emerge, but his case for replacing Trump is already out there loud and clear.
Froma Harrop can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @FromaHarrop.