We’ve all learnt to wash our hands more carefully over the last couple of years, but no one has soaped his dirty digits as fastidiously as Joe Biden. His announcement that “there is no federal solution” to Covid-19 puts him up there with history’s greatest handwashers. Like Pontius Pilate, Biden is leaving it to the mob: “this gets solved at the state level.” Unlike the procrastinating procurator who surrendered his responsibilities to the jeering Judeans, Biden’s got it right. But it won’t save him from the jeers — and nor should it.

Biden won the presidency...

We’ve all learnt to wash our hands more carefully over the last couple of years, but no one has soaped his dirty digits as fastidiously as Joe Biden. His announcement that “there is no federal solution” to Covid-19 puts him up there with history’s greatest handwashers. Like Pontius Pilate, Biden is leaving it to the mob: “this gets solved at the state level.” Unlike the procrastinating procurator who surrendered his responsibilities to the jeering Judeans, Biden’s got it right. But it won’t save him from the jeers — and nor should it.

Biden won the presidency on a promise of the federal solution that he now says doesn’t exist. It didn’t exist in 2020, either. Yet that didn’t stop him from saying that he wouldn’t open the economy until he’d marshaled the powers of the federal government to “shut down” Covid, as if a pandemic can be defeated by taking it out back of the gym and pummeling it like it was Donald Trump or Corn Pop.

If you have nothing better to do — if, perhaps, you’re in bed with a mild but slightly synthetic-feeling cold that won’t put you in the hospital unless you’re an obese octogenarian with comorbidities where other people have organs — you can read all about The Biden Plan, as he called it, on his campaign website. This Plan of Plans has three elements:

  • “[T]o massively surge a nationwide campaign and guarantee regular, reliable, and free access to testing
  • “Double the number of drive-through testing sites and increase the numbers until there are no more lines”
  • “Build a national contact tracing workforce, starting by hiring at least 100,000 Americans and equipping sorely under-resourced public health departments with the resources they need to spot and stop outbreaks”

Biden has failed to deliver any of this. Omicron has caught him pants-down yet again on testing. There are spectacular lines at drive-in testing sites. And while there is no sign of Biden’s contact-tracing militia, there is plentiful evidence that public health departments remain flatfooted.

It is also clear from all over the world that outbreaks cannot be stopped, unless you lock everyone in their homes. This is impossible in the US, even in the wildest dreams of that demonic elf Dr. Fauci. Perhaps this is why Biden was in such a hurry to declare “Mission accomplished” last July, just as Delta was warming up. That attempt to wriggle out of a problem by declaring it solved went about as well for Biden as it did for George W. Bush.

Biden, and Harris, should she turn up for work, now own the pandemic. When they beat Donald Trump, they won the booby prize: building back better with the Trump-made materials of Operation Warp Speed. Success has many fathers: Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson have done a bang-up job of dictating federal policy and creating what looks like a franchise for a creeping new regime of annual and increasingly mandatory shots. But failure is an orphan — and Biden doesn’t want to be left holding the baby.

More people died in Biden’s first year than in Trump’s last. His signature move, an executive order ordering the compulsory vaccination of federal employees and workers in large corporations, wasn’t worth the paper it was written on. Nothing accrues power to politicians’ hands faster than panic. It is a sign of this administration’s ineptitude that it can’t even sow panic proficiently. The federal government continues to contrive new ways of failing the public. How, two years on, can pharmacies be out of home-testing kits? How can Dr. Jill let us down so badly?

Meanwhile, Biden coughs his mysteriously enduring cough and croaks out his absurdly angry promises to deliver the speedy responses that he promised to deliver two years ago in The Biden Plan — as if anyone would believe him now. His shucking off of responsibility to the states isn’t a bold initiative: it’s a cynical surrender. The states have already taken the lead, and are already imposing a crazy quilt of policies on their publics.

There is a Biden Plan, but it’s the same one as ever: the covering of the Biden posterior at all costs. Biden is right not to shut down the country over a cold — but he’s doing it for the wrong reasons. If there was political advantage in driving Americans onto their knees while fully masked, Biden would push them into the dirt. But there is no juice left in the lemon of Covid, and thus no more lemonade to be made from our misfortunes, so now there is political advantage in washing his hands of it.

When Biden staggers across the lawn and onto the helicopter for Delaware, he is running for cover. He is the great abdicator, declaring his irrelevance while clinging to the shreds of authority: a gray shimmer in front of the green screen. He reduces the status of his office to his petty scale: the president as basement-dweller. When Biden sneezes, who bothers to catch a cold?