This Isn't As Normal As Joe Biden Is (Normal)


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Wednesday’s transfer of power was a lot more normal than it might have been, given the pandemic, the overhang of 1/6, and the hovering non-presence of The Outgoing President.

With Elders named Clinton, Bush, and Obama approvingly watching over the proceedings, a new president was sworn in at the Capitol and addressed the nation in soothing tones, then went right to work at the White House, where his spokesperson politely answered the questions that the administration wanted to answer and politely was permitted to dodge those she didn’t.

For those seeking an end to the chaos of the last four years, it was a series of moments to celebrate and savor.

And yet what we have now is the New New New Normal of the Biden Era: a series of unknowns and unfathomables, in which a freshly minted president with a political biography right out of conventional central casting for an Oval Office role is now faced with the most unconventional set of circumstances:

* How to deal with a once-in-a-century (we hope…) pandemic and a listing economy, an effort centered on achieving an unprecedented goal of administering 100 million vaccines in 100 days, a metric so specific and/but so hard to achieve and/but so important that it will stare Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in the face daily, with an unmatched relentlessness of specificity.

* How to get a fairly high percentage of the 74 million people who voted for The Other Guy to stop believing in lies of cosmic significance – like, uhm, who actually won the election.

* The Senate has to come up with a power sharing agreement, confirm executive branch nominees, and decide what to do about impeachment.

* On that last matter, the number of questions is disorienting: Should there be (Can there be?) a trial at all – and if so, when? What should a trial look like and how long should it take? What would the defendant’s role and rights be – and how would he behave? Who would preside? Oh, and: What would the outcome be?

* Speaking of The Defendant: When and how does he plan to make news next? And the time after that? And after that? And how will the media cover such moments?

* What will the Biden-Pelosi-Schumer legislative strategy be? Try for X number of weeks to pick off enough Republicans to make things bipartisan and power through Senate filibusters? (If so, what is “X”?) Start with a small, targeted pandemic relief bill that packages vaccine money and direct payments into something that might garner Republican votes and pass quickly(ish)? Or move to eliminate the filibuster and/or use the reconciliation process? Is immigration reform a real thing for 2021 (which would require a lot more coalition building than has been done, and, even then, history shows conclusively the issue is among the heaviest public policy lifts), or let it go until, perhaps, 2023. 

* Relatedly, where is the collective head of the congressional Republicans? Go back to their 2009 posture of opposing in lockstep all of the proposals of a new Democratic president in order to position him as too far left for America and, thus, set him up for a midterm shellacking? Or choose to work together for the sake of the common good where possible?

If you gaze at individual elements of this national scenario, and squint hard, things can look as normal and ordinary as a frank with mustard purchased from a pre-COVID Amtrak Café Car.

But, seen from 50,000 feet above (or, even from 5,000), we appear set to watch a Perils of Joe and Kamala multi-episode drama that is going to play out with unexpected twists and turns for quite some time.

So, let’s read Chapter 1 together. 

Or, rather, listen to Chapter 1.

Click on the play button at the top to hear today’s episode of “Bedtime Stories,” with Kim Alfano, Paul Wilke, and I batting around just how extraordinarily extraordinary all of this is, under the veneer of Wednesday’s reassuring circumstance and pomp.


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