Editor’s Note: David Gergen has been a White House adviser to four presidents and is a senior political analyst at CNN. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he is a professor of public service and director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School. The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author. View more opinion on CNN.
For months, commentators have wondered whether there will be a return to normality after President Trump leaves office. In his address Thursday on the coronavirus pandemic, Joe Biden left no doubt that if elected, that’s exactly what he intends.
His speech was for the most part well crafted, his ideas were reasonable, his words calm and reassuring, and he related well with working people and the vulnerable. In short, this was a classic presidential speech.
Substantively, Biden made strong, persuasive arguments on two issues: the need for virus testing here at home and American leadership on public health across the globe. Trump continues to treat testing cavalierly and as a result, his administration has been sluggish in pushing for it, allowing the crisis to get worse.
The number of people tested should start going up soon, and experts say it’s likely we’ll learn that far more people are walking around with infections than we know. It is estimated that the US is testing around 1,000 people per day; by contrast, a much smaller country, South Korea is testing about 10,000 per day. As Biden said, this is a “colossal” failure.
For many years, American public health officials have prided themselves on the quality of their scientists and researchers and the global leadership they have exercised. The parade of global health specialists from major universities appearing to talk about coronavirus on network news gives a sense of just how robust those efforts have been. Conventional wisdom says that their global efforts have been very helpful in meeting past outbreaks here and overseas.
But to a surprising degree, it appears that in this crisis, it’s every nation for itself and that the Trump administration feels no need to pull together other countries for a coordinated global response. Nowhere was that more obvious than in Trump’s out-of-the-blue announcement Wednesday night that he is banning travelers from most of Europe to the US for 30 days, and perhaps more.
Europeans, as Richard Quest has reported on CNN, are apoplectic that they weren’t consulted in advance. Trump told reporters it would have taken too much time to call them and besides, he argued — without accompanying evidence —they have a habit of raising taxes on the US without forewarning.
Biden would buy none of that. He is a traditionalist on foreign policy, as on much else, and has for decades believed that close friendships with European nations are a bedrock of US security. So, he lit into Trump for his xenophobia and promised he would be a very different president.
Biden’s team must surely have been pleased. Personally, I would have preferred a speech that stripped out the partisan asides (and they could have improved the sound system). This was a moment when Americans are looking for unifying as well as clarifying words.
But say this for Biden: he was sufficiently presidential that viewers could for one of the first times, imagine him in the Oval Office.