My Fellow Americans
A speech a president might give at this moment in history
I have lived through many historic moments. Some events explode out of nowhere — an assassination, a terrorist attack, a deadly natural disaster. Others, like wars and social protest movements, stretch over years. In times like these, populations look to leaders for guidance, comfort, and resilience. And this is often accomplished through speeches.
Presidents in particular speak a lot, in many forums. But in the modern presidency, few venues that exceed the seriousness and ability to focus a nation like the Oval Office address. Perhaps in our current media landscape, this form of communication may have become antiquated. But I still think it conveys a special import for moments of particular need. And I think now is one such time.
So for whatever it’s worth, and without I hope being too presumptuous, I have worked with my co-writer Elliot Kirschner (who would have made a helluva presidential speech writer) to pen a type of Oval Office address we think President Biden could give to a country on edge. The hopes for such an address are that it would reach as many people as possible, across the political divides. And that it would lead to greater unity and a shared purpose in conquering the virus.
My Fellow Americans,
There are some moments in our lives and the lives of nations when we know the decisions we make will shape our future in profound ways. Now is such a time, for us as individuals and for the America that we love.
We are being tested at a level that history will long remember. Like a great war, we have been in a battle for our lives, and the peace and security of our republic. Already the coronavirus has killed more Americans than any war other than the Civil War. Unlike most wars, however, this one is not between nations. It is a war in which all humans face the same deadly foe, a virus that has shattered and upended so much of what we hold dear.
I know that many of you listening view this virus and the broader challenges we face through different lenses. I know there is a lot of confusion, skepticism, and anxiety that come in many forms. But I also hope we can agree on a few basic things. We all want good health, for ourselves, our loved ones, and our friends. We also want to go about our lives as free from fear as possible. The pandemic isn’t the only challenge we face. If we don’t join together to defeat it, everything else that we want to do, and need to do, will be all the more difficult.
There is another thing I want to say before I continue. I hate wearing masks. I really do. I love smiling. I love seeing others smile. I love the feeling of taking a deep breath of unimpeded fresh air. Don’t we all? These are all part of what makes us human. But we wear masks anyway, when the science tells us we should, because the virus doesn’t give a hoot about what we like. In fact, the virus exploits some of the very things that make life worth living, like traveling and gathering with family and friends. There are many tragedies inflicted by this pandemic, and among the biggest is that for us to be safe we have had to stay separated.
For a while in the early summer, it looked like the virus was on the retreat and a return to a semblance of normalcy was on the march. But like a wiley enemy army, the virus retrenched and adapted to become more infectious, more dangerous. This is the so-called Delta Variant. And that means we have no choice but to adapt as well.
But thankfully this time around, scientists have also given us super weapons with which to fight back. We rightfully salute the American military as the best trained and best equipped fighting force in the world. Well, our doctors and scientists are also part of our national defense —no less well-trained or well-equipped. And, working with allies around the world, they have been studying the enemy for points of vulnerability and designing weapons systems that we can deploy with incredible precision. These vaccines are our best weapon and best defense. They did not come out of nowhere. They are the product of years of basic research and a sophisticated understanding of how our human bodies respond to microscopic invaders.
Vaccines have now been given in doses that number in the hundreds of millions. Their safety and effectiveness are at a scale that far surpasses the most optimistic predictions at the start of this pandemic. Unfortunately the new variant seems to increase the likelihood of infections among the vaccinated. But this worry also demands context. Currently, the vaccines remain incredibly effective in protecting against all infection. And when it comes to protecting against hospitalizations and deaths, the vaccines crush the Delta Variant in almost all cases. Tragically, in a pandemic as widespread as this, there will be some vaccinated people who suffer and even occasionally die from COVID. But these cases will be very, very rare when compared to the unvaccinated.
When I read about the people who are dying or have lost loved ones and then desperately wish they had made a different decision around the vaccine, it breaks my heart. It is hard enough to lose people we love when there is nothing we could have done to save them. That is not the case with COVID. I can’t imagine the burden of a death that would have been almost assuredly preventable. Get your shot if you haven’t already. Please.
I also want to speak to those of you who have been vaccinated, who mask up, who feel you have put your lives on hold to protect not only yourselves but your larger communities. I want to thank you for your service. And I understand that many of you are frustrated with those who have not acted similarly. I can assure you that I understand your frustrations. And I will work with my cabinet, as well as local and state officials and business leaders, to use the powers of my office to do whatever I can to increase vaccination rates and other protective measures.
I also want to acknowledge that the toll of this pandemic has hit unevenly. It has exploited the divisions and exacerbated the injustices that have been festering in our society. It has been fueled by the same currents of disinformation, conspiracy theories, and cynical political gamesmanship that are weakening our nation in many different areas. But I also do not want to succumb to pessimism.
It is easy to say we are hopelessly divided. It is easy to point out the faults we see in others. But we can’t allow the truth, the facts and the science to be undermined. We also can’t allow ourselves to lose our humanity. What this pandemic has reinforced is that we are more interconnected than ever before. We all have no choice but to be in this life together. The vaccines are life-saving. They border on the miraculous. But they can only help eliminate the full threat of the virus if more people get the shots. That more people are now getting them, is a sign of hope. Let us build from that.
We are at an inflection point with this virus. I applaud the efforts of community leaders, politicians, and businesses big and small to promote the vaccine and other public health measures. I celebrate the efforts of all of you who continue to work in your neighborhoods or reach out to friends and family to encourage them to protect themselves and others. I am humbled by the doctors, nurses, orderlies, and all the other health care professionals who both must advocate for health and treat those who have fallen ill.
I will listen to those whose job it is to know this common enemy. I will look at the reconnaissance and measure the benefits of each and every weapon at our disposal. I pledge that I will be honest and open with you about what I know and the reasons behind the decisions I make. What I hope is that you will join me, and join each other, to defeat this threat.
We cannot change where we are or how we got here. But the future is ours to mold. We will never all agree. That’s natural. That’s even a good thing. We need a diversity of thought and experience. It makes us stronger. But we cannot let those differences undermine our safety and security. Please, again, get vaccinated. Please encourage others to do what is necessary to protect our common health. If you are in a position of leadership, please embrace policies and guidelines that will protect your constituents, your workers, and the broader public. Fear is its own virus. It can be contagious. But so can hope. So can reason. And so can empathy. I have seen this happen many times over the course of my lifetime.
There will always be those who seek to gain advantage by promoting division. There will always be those who promote their narrow self interests by knowingly putting others at risk, when they themselves are protected. There will always be those who will denigrate progress and what we can learn from knowledge and experience.
I would suggest that these are not the type of people who become our heroes. Rather, we revere those who have protected this nation by promoting notions of the common good, of greater justice, of our most noble ideals. We can do that once again. We can eschew hate for love, selfishness for community, ignorance for knowledge. And in doing so we can and will defeat this pandemic. And we will be better prepared to tackle the future challenges ahead.
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