“Look, we’re the United States of America,” President Joe Biden said, concluding his speech announcing his latest COVID-19 vaccination plan.

“There’s nothing—not a single thing—we’re unable to do if we do it together. So, let’s stay together.”

Those comments came at the end of a 26-minute speech Thursday in which Biden demonized nearly 80 million unvaccinated Americans.

He accused them of causing “a lot of damage,” of “making people sick and causing … people to die,” and standing in the way of “get[ting] back to normal.”  

“We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin,” Biden darkly warned. So much for staying together.

The president’s divisive rhetoric was one among many glaring flaws in his speech, which failed to unite Americans increasingly weary of the administration’s ineffective pandemic response.

Lacking a coherent strategy with clearly articulated goals and metrics, the president served up a grab bag of loosely related proposals that favored coercion over persuasion, government mandates over personal choice.

“This is not about freedom or personal choice,” he said. His new plan shows very little regard for either.

Instead, it leans heavily on COVID-19 vaccine mandates, including “emergency” Department of Labor regulations that would compel private companies with more than 100 employees to require their workforces to get vaccinated or submit to weekly tests.

This plan, the president declared, aims to “protect vaccinated workers from unvaccinated co-workers.” (Aren’t vaccines supposed to protect vaccinated people?)

The mandates certainly won’t protect struggling businesses. Employers already can’t get enough workers amid the record-shattering 10.9 million job openings. With 4 million workers already quitting their jobs each month, this mandate could make it even harder for employers to get the workers they need. That could contribute to additional supply chain issues, shortages, and longer waits, as well as further fuel inflation.

The mandates also are arbitrary. They are based strictly on company size. Applying to employers with more than 100 employees, the “emergency” regulation takes no consideration of employees’ working environment or risks of COVID-19 transmission, which are not tied to a net number of employees.

The mandate wrongly turns employers into the government’s “police” over this policy.

Judges and lawyers will sort out whether the Labor Department has the legal authority to enforce these mandates, just as they had to recently when Biden overstepped his authority to extend eviction moratoriums through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But, combined with the president’s toxic rhetoric, the mandates are more likely to harden opposition to the COVID-19 vaccine than change the minds of the unvaccinated.

And while the president casts the unvaccinated in political terms, accusing those who oppose mandates of playing “pandemic politics,” the reality is more complicated.

Young adults, who backed Biden by larger majorities than any other age group, haven’t heeded his call to be vaccinated. Fewer than half of 18- to 24-year-olds are fully immunized; for those ages 25 to 39, that figure is just 52%. The rate of new infections among young adults is more than twice that of those over 65, more than 80% of whom are fully immunized.

Young adults—including those who are unvaccinated—helped put Biden in the White House. But instead of seeking to persuade them, the president demeans them. He insists on casting pandemic response in starkly political terms, enlarging divisions, hardening attitudes, and igniting a counterproductive debate over the use of “emergency” regulations to threaten the jobs of the unvaccinated.

The president needs a new plan with clearly articulated goals, one that isn’t dismissive of freedom.

It should equip Americans with information to assess risks and make the best decisions for themselves and their families. It should empower people by making rapid, at-home tests much more affordable and universally available, enabling them to routinely and regularly learn their COVID-19 status and take appropriate steps to protect others.

It should also reform the CDC, ensuring that it provides citizens and policymakers with timely and reliable data. And it should seek to persuade unvaccinated young adults, rather than lapsing into politicization and division. The president’s newest COVID-19 plan, like his speech, misses the mark. He needs to throw out this playbook and start again. 

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