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Jonathan Bernstein

Biden Can Promise Action, But Omicron Is in Charge Right Now

In his speech, the president did what he had to do for the most part. But the pandemic's course is not up to him. 

Positive, if not festive.

Positive, if not festive.

Photographer: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President Joe Biden had a difficult job to do in his speech on Tuesday afternoon. He had to urge action on the omicron variant without sparking panic; show that his administration is taking action on the latest Covid-19 variant without making it seem as if it hadn’t done enough so far; and empathize with people who have had enough of the pandemic without sounding pessimistic.

For the most part, he accomplished what he set out to do. As always, we shouldn’t put too much weight on presidential speeches. They don’t change votes in Congress. They don’t make the president more or less popular. They are, however, part of how presidents do representation — which involves constantly making promises to constituents and then explaining government actions in the context of those promises. For that, style and substance both matter.