Good morning, it’s Friday, March 12, 2021, the day of the week when I reprise a quotation meant to be uplifting or educational. Today, inspired by Joe Biden’s first prime-time speech as president, I have two such passages. One is from Biden and the other from Franklin D. Roosevelt, the president who came to my mind last night as our new commander-in-chief addressed this fractured nation. That’s particularly fitting today, which is the 88th anniversary of FDR’s first radio address to the nation -- talks that would become known as “fireside chats.”
The day before President Biden’s prime-time address about America’s progress in combating the coronavirus, his predecessor put out a terse press release written in Twitter-ese that attempted to remind Americans of his role in pushing for immunization research and development. “I hope everyone remembers,” Donald Trump proclaimed, “that if I wasn’t President, you wouldn’t be getting that beautiful ‘shot’ for 5 years, at best, and probably wouldn’t be getting it at all.”
Overstatement, to be sure, but the former president had a point. It was not one stressed by Biden, however, who actually did a pretty fair Trump imitation in the beginning of last night’s speech, what with all the boasting and dubious statistics -- all while airbrushing “Operation Warp Speed” from history.
On the other hand, Biden did laud the scientific achievement of developing a vaccine so rapidly, which he portrayed as a triumph of the American mind and spirit, rather than the doing of any politician. Here, the 46th U.S. president was on solid ground. It was ground trod by Franklin Roosevelt, who talked about “American know-how” and American “ingenuity” -- the same expression Biden employed last night -- to describe how this country would meet challenges ranging from curing polio to fighting a two-front world war.
Both FDR and Joe Biden also told their fellow citizens that America’s scientific might and entrepreneurial instincts alone weren’t enough. More was required -- a cooperative spirit, which both presidents exhorted Americans to summon from within themselves.
On this date in 1933, Franklin Roosevelt’s eighth day in office, he gave the first of his fireside chats. The context was the rapidly deteriorating condition of the nation’s financial institutions. At a time when 90% of American households owned a radio, Roosevelt used this medium to explain what he was doing and why. “I want to talk for a few minutes with the people of the United States about banking,” the president began in his famously conversational tone. Roosevelt ended his speech with a simple exhortation: “It is your problem no less than it is mine. Together, we cannot fail.”
When Biden struck this tone Thursday night, he was at his best. “We lost faith in whether our government and our democracy can deliver on really hard things for the American people,” he said. “But as I stand here tonight, we're proving once again something I’ve said time and time again, until you're probably tired of hearing me say it. I say it to foreign leaders and domestic alike: It's never, ever a good bet to bet against the American people.”
“America is coming back,” he continued. “The development, manufacture and distribution of vaccines in record time is a true miracle of science. It's one of the most extraordinary achievements any country has ever accomplished. And we also just saw the Perseverance Rover land on Mars -- stunning images of our dreams that are now a reality -- another example of the extraordinary American ingenuity, commitment and belief in science and one another.”
And those are your quotes of the week.
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.