That is what happened in America this past week, as a left-for-dead candidacy not only sprang back to life, but positioned Joe Biden as the leader in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Now it’s essentially a two-candidate race with Super Tuesday II coming this week, and a critical debate between Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders on CNN Sunday, March 15.
Expect “a lot of yelling” in the race between Biden and Sanders and in the eventual contest with Trump, wrote Nicole Hemmer
. Anger “helps explain how we ended up, after winnowing the most diverse primary field in American history, with three white men grasping for the presidency. They’re the only demographic whose rage is considered legitimate.
The presidential contest is taking shape amid growing concern about the worldwide spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, prompting health fears and economic reverberations that all of the campaigns have to consider.
Foremost among those is President Donald Trump’s reelection bid, premised largely on the strength of the economy. “Until now President Donald Trump has been lucky,” wrote Peter Bergen. “During his first three years in office there was no major crisis on his watch of the type that has challenged every president in the half century before him … nothing comparable to the Cuban missile crisis (John Kennedy); no Vietnam War (Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon); no hostage crisis in Iran (Jimmy Carter)…”
Presidents can rise to the occasion of a great crisis, Bergen noted. But “there are reasons to worry about whether he can do so
, as the crisis underlines eight of his key failings as a leader.” Among those: “Trump doesn’t do any homework … He always believes he knows more than the experts about any given subject … Trump trusts his own gut.”
At the epicenter
, a nonprofit, and lives in Kirkland, Washington, which has been grappling with the virus. “As of Friday, 11 people have died in or near Kirkland and we still don’t know the full breadth of the threat or the response needed, due to the botched testing rollout and lack of resources,” she wrote.
“Many people I care about are sick but none know if it’s coronavirus or something more typical. I’m sad, scared and worried. Worried about my kids, worried about my family, my own health, and my community.” She’s angry, too, particularly at the suggestion Trump made at a rally that Democrats were trying to gain advantage: “‘This is their [Democrats] new hoax,’ unhelpfully politicizing a public health crisis that is endangering Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, and people of all parties alike. This is no hoax. We need help.
This is personal also for James Phillips
, an emergency medicine doctor and professor in Washington, DC. “I will likely become infected in the next few months,” he noted. “It’s just simple math that I have accepted. But I became a physician knowing the job incurred risk and that I have a duty to patients and society. Based on what we know today, my risk of getting severely ill or dying from COVID-19 is low. I am fortunate to be relatively young and healthy, but that is not the case for other medical colleagues who are likely to become infected as well. Protecting our workforce is critical
Abdul El-Sayed, the former city health director in Detroit wrote, “America’s public health workforce is among the best in the world. But … one thing is clear: Without the resources they need to do their work while operating under a culture that puts politics ahead of science, their job is much harder. And we are that much less safe for it.”
America’s state of preparedness for the virus’s spread is worrying, he observed. “Local health departments have been ravaged by funding cuts that took hold during the Great Recession. Thin budgets have been further stretched because of the opioid epidemic. Reaching out to former colleagues all over the country, I am hearing from them about how a lack of funding or leadership at the very top of this response to coronavirus has left them flying blind and without the resources to take preventive precautions or respond vigorously
In the meantime, people are reconsidering travel plans. Jill Filipovic wrote, “Many organizations are facing a question: Can we still gather?” Major events like SXSW in Austin, Texas have been canceled and companies are pulling out of others.
“In the midst of a global outbreak, these cancellations, postponements, and venue changes seems responsible…Yet, there is much to lose by removing opportunities for in-person interaction. As magical and life-changing as the internet is, there is no true substitute for connecting with other human beings face to face.”
Some people can do their work remotely but others, like warehouse employees and food service workers, have no such option, Filipovic wrote. “The most significant public health threat we face? It’s not shaking hands. It’s not conferences. It’s not even this President. It’s our lack of federally mandated paid sick leave, combined with a health care system that makes seeking treatment potentially financially devastating
for too many Americans.”
It’s likely to take at least a year before a vaccine could be developed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, wrote Jeffrey Sachs. “The vaccine would almost surely need to be rolled out systematically by governments around the world to cover large populations and vulnerable groups in a concerted manner guided by the epidemiology and transmission patterns of the disease. That, after all, is how epidemics are stopped: through concerted public policy and action.” But he decried comments by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, a former pharmaceutical industry lobbyist, who suggested that the private sector would take the lead in “demand, purchased, stocking” and would set the price of the vaccine.
“No, Secretary Azar, it would be ludicrous to leave such operations to private industry
,” wrote Sachs, recalling that a non-profit organization, the March of Dimes, was created to lead the hugely successful development of the polio vaccine.
America’s health care system will be under a microscope as the outbreak develops, and experts like Vanessa Kerry
, a doctor and CEO of Seed Global Health, warned that the lack of comprehensive health coverage for many will be a continuing issue. Citing the case of a Miami man facing a $1,400 bill for undergoing a coronavirus check after his trip to China, she wrote, “Too many Americans are either underinsured or completely uninsured. In the global spread of COVID-19, this will prove catastrophic
US Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams
, who sits on President Trump’s coronavirus task force, wrote that we “should be cautious and take appropriate measures to prepare and protect ourselves, but we should not be afraid.” He advocated “washing hands frequently,
staying away from sick people or staying home if sick yourself and covering your cough or sneeze … scientifically proven as some of the best and most practical ways for individuals to stay disease-free.”
Warren drops out
In the whirlwind of political news this week, the departure of Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar from the presidential race stood out for many. Swanee Hunt
, former US ambassador to Austria, wrote that there were “four highly qualified women in the race” but now “the chance that a woman will win the 2020 presidential race has imploded. What happened?… Sexism was a force in this year’s Democratic primary
The last of the four dropped out after a disappointing Super Tuesday performance and a third-place showing in her home state. “She’s out of the race. And those of us who supported Sen. Elizabeth Warren for president are shell-shocked,” wrote Jeff Yang
. A janitor’s daughter, Warren spoke the night before Super Tuesday about the ‘Justice for Janitors’ union organizing effort that began in 1990. “It was intended to send the message,” wrote Yang, “that she was not about to turn back from a fight without, per her most famous quote, ‘plenty of blood and teeth on the floor.’ Today, blood and teeth are everywhere, and so are tears.
Sunday March 8 is International Women’s Day, an occasion that prompted the prime ministers of Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Finland and Sweden
to express their “grave concern over the current pushback against women’s and girls’ rights. We have witnessed a surge in regressive policies
around the world, often undermining universal human rights. The Nordic countries’ success in promoting gender equality is a result of targeted government policies and strong civil societies, but it is also deeply rooted in international legal frameworks.” The five emphasized their “joint commitment to the protection and promotion of the rights of women and girls, and more generally of universal human rights.”
This year’s IWD marks a notable 25th anniversary, wrote Melinda Gates. “When thousands of women from around the world came together in 1995 for the World Conference on Women—the one in Beijing where Hillary Clinton famously said, ‘Women’s rights are human rights’—I wasn’t there. I was, as usual, in Seattle at my desk.
“While I liked the idea of women working together to create an action plan for progress, it was hard for me to imagine what an event like that had to do with my own life. And I certainly wouldn’t have guessed that 25 years later, gender equality would still be so far out of reach.
“Now, I know better.”
Gates and her husband Bill are devoting a substantial portion of their philanthropic efforts to achieving gender equality. “The data is unequivocal: No matter where in the world you are born, your life will be harder if you are a girl. Even in American public life, it is still overwhelmingly men making decisions, controlling resources, and shaping policies and perspectives. What’s more, in 2018 the World Economic Forum projected that the United States won’t achieve gender equality for another 208 years. If that makes you frustrated, it should.
The Biden-Sanders showdown
The Democratic race for delegates is far from over. Despite his progress on Super Tuesday, Joe Biden has a lot to prove to skeptics who wonder if his campaign is ready for prime time, wrote Julian Zelizer
. “He will need to grow and nurture a robust coalition, making sure that large numbers come out to vote, despite a checkered record during his time as a public servant
— on issues such as school busing, Iraq, crime and Anita Hill.”
There’s no doubt the support of black voters, particularly in South Carolina and across the South, powered Biden to victory. “Black voters in the South are pragmatic above all else,” wrote Issac Bailey
, a South Carolina-based journalist. “We wish we could choose a candidate who had no racial baggage. We wish we could count on our white counterparts to prioritize racial equality and vote against Trump in the fall no matter who Democrats chose in July. But we know the threat of another four years of Trump is too great of a risk to leave it to chance.
Biden’s chief rival, Bernie Sanders, is a deeply flawed candidate, in the eyes of former world chess champion and human rights advocate Garry Kasparov
. He asked: Why, over a long career, has Sanders praised aspects of the totalitarian regimes of the Soviet Union, Cuba and Nicaragua?. “The answer is because he wanted, and wants, to promote socialism
. To make a distinction often lost on Americans with their two-party system, Social Democrats want to use policy to soften the edges of the free market. Democratic Socialists — which is what Sanders calls himself — want to reshape society to eliminate the evils of capitalism. He and his followers may like to tout Denmark and Finland, but his own words also highlight the socialist dictatorships of Nicaragua, Cuba and the Soviet Union. These latter endorsements refute those who say that ‘socialism’ is just another word for higher taxes and a better social safety net. It would be easy to advocate for those things without defending aspects of police states, but Sanders chooses otherwise.”
It’s impossible to look at the Democratic race without noting the impact of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s candidacy, which he ended this week after Biden’s victories and his own poor showing. The multi-billionaire won only in American Samoa and drew a smattering of delegates in other states where he met the 15% threshold, despite spending half a billion dollars and building an enormous field operation.
“Failure is not a familiar experience for Bloomberg,
” wrote former Bloomberg aide Arick Wierson
. “He is someone who has achieved just about every goal he put his mind to, whether it was becoming an Eagle Scout as a youth or starting a company that would bring world financial markets into the modern age, or even becoming mayor of the most populous city in America, Bloomberg’s career has been highlighted by one success after another.”
When it opened in 1957, “West Side Story” had as big a role in reinvigorating American musical theater as “Hamilton” did in this century.
“The show itself has been among the hardiest of theatrical perennials ever since its original galvanic Broadway premiere, when as legend has it, first-night audiences were so silent when the curtain went down that, for a few seconds, the cast had thought the show had failed,” wrote Gene Seymour. “The thunderous applause that broke the silence echoed through the rest of the century and beyond in the multi-Oscar-winning 1961 film and in countless stage revivals at almost every level of theater from Broadway to small-town repertories to high school drama groups.”
Anyone who has enjoyed songs like “Maria,” “Something’s Coming,” “Tonight,” and “Gee, Office Krupke,” owes a debt to composer Leonard Bernstein and lyricist Stephen Sondheim and the performers who made them iconic.
This year, West Side Story is being doubly revived, with a major new production on Broadway and a film by Steven Spielberg, based on a screenplay by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner. After seeing the Broadway production, Seymour wrote, “The real world has managed to intrude so much on this the 2020 Broadway revival of ‘West Side Story’ that, however one considers its artistic merits or achievements, it is somehow emblematic of our present day, no matter how long ago its music was written or how timeless its story of thwarted romance.
“In other words, as a show, it may not be perfect. But as a sign of the times, it’s almost eerily in sync
. It makes you wonder — and even anticipate — how the movie will feel to us when it arrives before Christmas.”