Everything You Need to Know About Biden’s Messaging Problems with One Easy Test
One of the biggest differences between Republicans and Democrats is that Republicans sing Donald Trump’s praises even if he’s done something abjectly stupid and evil—“He’s playing three-dimensional chess!” But Democrats find reasons to whine and complain even when Joe Biden does something smart and genuinely useful. Just look at the progressive angst over Biden’s program to distribute free COVID tests by using the U.S. Postal Service as a disaster relief agency.
This was a brilliant idea and has been a huge success. People need to be able to do COVID testing at home. Commercially-available tests are expensive and the U.S. Postal Service needs all the revenue it can get. The plan to distribute—absolutely free—four COVID tests to every residential address in the country that wants them is nothing short of revolutionary.
The plan is also efficient. There’s no paperwork to fill out and no bureaucracy driving up the cost by administering complicated eligibility standards. Consequently, tests are typically delivered within a few days of being ordered. By almost any standard, you’d think this was a model program and one to be proud of.
But that’s by “almost any standard.” There is, apparently, nothing on earth that will not draw a progressive finger-wagging, no matter how beneficent or successful. And so it is with Biden’s free COVID tests.
The kvetching is endless. One activist wanted to know how it was “fair” that someone who lives by themselves gets the same number of tests as a household of eight—even though larger families who want more tests can get them by emailing or phoning the Postal Service. Another complained, “I am glad that screening resource is available for free, but just like everything else in this pandemic, that advantage will not be equitably experienced by people of color in this country.”
Others are claiming that Biden’s COVID test giveaway wasn’t fair because language barriers or a lack of access to the Internet might make it difficult for people to participate. One person at a community health organization commented, “We’ve recently provided some services in a predominantly West African community that speaks a certain dialect from the nation of Gambia, so it definitely wouldn’t serve that community.”
Again, the Biden administration gets no credit for putting together a thoughtful and effective program. And though perhaps this particular Gambian dialect isn’t covered, the Biden administration has even set up a toll-free hotline where people can order the tests and this hotline provides assistance in 150 languages.
Everything about this program is both defensible and sensible. The Biden administration settled on four free tests per family by taking the number of tests it had available and dividing by the number of households in America. While it’s true this did not take into account actual family size or socio-economic status, that was a feature of the plan rather than a bug. They purposely chose not to gather information about household size and family relationships because they were concerned that gathering that kind of information might discourage families with mixed immigration status from participating.
In any case, does it really make sense to create a “COVID test equity bureaucracy” to review applications and decide how many free COVID tests everyone ought to be eligible for? That’s not a rational government policy. It’s a joke from Yes, Minister.
And how does the Biden administration respond to all this criticism? The politest word I can use is “apologetically.” The Washington Post quotes Cameron Webb, “senior policy adviser for equity” as saying, “I completely understand” why people would say the number per household is inadequate. “The first point that I would make is whether it was four tests, six tests, eight tests, ten tests, it might not ever meet the needs of any particular family over any length of time.”
Just so we’re clear, theis person trashing Biden’s free COVID tests here is an actual White House spokesman.
The contretemps about COVID tests is a relatively minor incident but it’s a perfect example of why we can’t have nice things.
One thing Donald Trump is really excellent at is relentlessly pounding a message home until it becomes a festering splinter lodged deep in the public consciousness, even if that message is nonsense. In fact, he’s so good at it that he’s even convinced many of his detractors of things that aren’t true. Hands up everyone who thinks the economy was doing incredibly great during Trump’s presidency.
As president, Trump also had literally millions of people who were ready to sing his praises at every conceivable—and often inconceivable—opportunity. All this had an impact. With so much smoke, it’s only natural to assume that there must be some fire somewhere and that Donald Trump must not be as bad as you might have thought.
Biden has somehow managed to employ that strategy in reverse. No matter what he does, a chorus on the left finds fault with it and that negativity is what the average non-policy wonk carries away from the story. AndSo instead of trumpeting a simple message of success over and over until people begin to believe it just through sheer repetition, Biden focuses on his failures. As I’m writing this, the latest tweet from Joe Biden’s personal Twitter account—32.5 million followers—is “If Congress passes our Build Back Better Agenda, we can lower costs for working families with a stroke of a pen.”
Unless Democrats actually want to lose control of Congress in November, they need to start at least pretending like they’re winners. For starters, every single day they should talk about one new piece of infrastructure that is being built because of the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Let’s see some upbeat pictures of Biden with grateful residents of Kalamazoo or wherever thrilled about the new airport they’re getting. Positivity pays. The one infrastructure photo op Biden’s done that I’m aware of was in front of a bridge that had fallen down. Is that really the image of Biden’s America the White House wants stuck in people’s heads?
Biden also needs to find an agenda on which he can make progress. Build Back Better and voting rights are dead. Bury them and move on. But things like fixing the Electoral Count Act and tolling the statute of limitations for presidents during their term of office are very much alive, so much so that actual bills—even bipartisan bills—could be passed. Biden should own these issues, make strengthening democracy his theme for 2022, and convince people Democrats are doing useful work.
In the margin—and it’s a very big margin—success in government is a matter of perception. Donald Trump managed to convince 47 percent of Americans that his administration was a huge success simply by loudly and repeatedly claiming it was a huge success. There’s a lesson here for Joe Biden. Let’s hope he’s a quick learner.