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2021 will be a great year for Biden — thanks to luck and the media

2021 will be a great year for Biden — thanks to luck and the media
© Greg Nash

For President BidenJoe BidenCaitlyn Jenner says election was not 'stolen,' calls Biden 'our president' Manchin, Biden huddle amid talk of breaking up T package Overnight Energy: 5 takeaways from the Colonial Pipeline attack | Colonial aims to 'substantially' restore pipeline operations by end of week | Three questions about Biden's conservation goals MORE, 2021 is lining up to be a great first year on two big fronts: COVID-19 and the economy. But don't expect much of the media to question whether he deserves the credit or not. It's just not in their DNA.

On the COVID front, Biden inherited multiple vaccines on his way into office, largely courtesy of President TrumpDonald TrumpCaitlyn Jenner says election was not 'stolen,' calls Biden 'our president' Overnight Health Care: FDA authorizes Pfizer vaccine for adolescents | Biden administration reverses limits on LGBTQ health protections Overnight Defense: US fires 30 warning shots at Iranian boats | Kabul attack heightens fears of Afghan women's fates | Democratic Party leaders push Biden on rejoining Iran deal MORE's Operation Warp Speed. Pfizer and Moderna, as well as the single-shot, easy-to-refrigerate Johnson & Johnson (J&J) version — a true game-changer — could result in relative normalcy returning by May or even April.

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"There is reason to think the country is racing toward an extremely low level of infection," Dr. Marty Makary of Johns Hopkins University wrote in The Wall Street Journal in February. "As more people have been infected, most of whom have mild or no symptoms, there are fewer Americans left to be infected. At the current trajectory, I expect COVID will be mostly gone by April, allowing Americans to resume normal life."

Regardless of whether herd immunity is achieved in April or July or next fall, the country is heading in an overwhelmingly positive direction since those fateful days starting in March 2020, when the world of essentially every American was suddenly, permanently altered into an isolated, often horrific reality that none have experienced in their lifetimes. Schools shut down; businesses closed; sports ceased to exist; death tolls rose. The fear of the unknown was palpable. And since it occurred during an election year, everything quickly became politicized, weaponized. Over the summer, cities burned, businesses were destroyed and violent crime skyrocketed during what some in media somehow characterized as "fiery but mostly peaceful protests." There didn't seem to be a day that existed without profoundly depressing news leading the way.

A recent YouGov poll underscores just how awful Americans view 2020. Overall, 54 percent describe it as "a very bad year." For context, the poll has never had one single year that broke 25 percent in its history. Overall, nearly nine in ten describe the year as very bad or bad, easily besting 2009 during the Great Recession, which stood at 81 percent.

So if things proceed positively on the COVID front, with Biden promising that any American adult who wants a vaccine shot should be able to get one by mid-May, we'll see restaurants opening at near or full capacity, ballparks and stadiums getting rid of those creepy cardboard cutouts in favor of actual fans, along with millions of family reunions by those who largely haven't seen loved ones over the past year. And euphoria will sweep the country as it appreciates normalcy like never before.

At the helm of the country's mood will be Biden, who also will benefit from the current V-shaped economic recovery that will grow even faster in the final three fiscal quarters of the year thanks to "revenge spending" of money saved while the country essentially was in lockdown. Fair or not, presidents get the blame when things go bad and get the credit when the going is good. And it's about to get very good in a post-COVID America.

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Does the current president deserve credit for where we are on the vaccination front? Not much. But that's not stopping him and his vice president from pushing the lie (or stopping many in the media from repeating it) that the new administration had to start from scratch (they didn't), or didn't have a vaccine when taking office (they did), or entered office without the previous administration having a distribution plan in place (there was one, if the nearly 1 million vaccine doses being administered per day by late January is any indication). Nonetheless, most of the injections will occur under Biden's watch, and the death toll will continue dropping precipitously. He's in charge; he gets the credit. And don't hold your breath waiting for much of the political media to give Trump any credit. 

On to the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package officially called the America Rescue Plan that many in the media have called "the Biden plan." Of course, not everything about this relief package has anything to do directly with COVID-19, but Team Biden and the Democratic House and Senate aren't about to let a once-in-a-century pandemic go to waste. Among the items in the bill that very few in the media are shining a light on:

  • $1.7 billion for Amtrak, which hasn't been profitable since its inception 50 years ago. (Maybe it's time to privatize this perpetually mismanaged mess?)
  • $600 million for Nancy's Pelosi's San Francisco, which almost completely wipes clean its budget deficit. 
  • $800 million for food aid to countries not called "the United States." 
  • $86 billion for a pension bailout. (And before you say that COVID-19 somehow impacted these pensions, here's how The New York Times puts it: "Democrats pushed through a big aid measure for multiemployer pensions whose problems predate the pandemic.") 
  • $100 million for the Environmental Protection Agency, which Democrats refer to as "environmental justice funds." 
  • $470 million for arts and humanities, including museums.
  • $20 million for a new "emergency" Native language preservation & maintenance grant program.
  • $130 billion for K-12 schools for COVID-19 and to hire support staff (most of which won't be spent until 2022, after the pandemic likely will be over), along with $40 billion for colleges and increased low-income student aid (which also won't be spent until next year).
  • $880 million to expand the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

This is the type of pork-on-steroids you get when "The Swamp" returns with a vengeance, watched by a media not terribly interested in analyzing or reporting what's actually in it.  

For those keeping score at home, the economy is already well on its way to a booming recovery without all of this porky "stimulus." Unemployment dropped to 6.2 percent in February — or 1.7 percentage points below where it was when President Obama won reelection in 2012. Regardless of the pork, Biden will get all the credit for an already-booming economy, with more than a few pundits arguing, "See? Without this stimulus the country would still be in the economic mess from the pandemic."  

U.S. GDP grew 33 percent in the third quarter of last year, almost erasing the lost growth from the second quarter as the country was largely in lockdown. Q4 grew at 4.1 percent. Q1 of this year is expected to grow by 5 percent or more, according to a Goldman Sachs forecast in December.

Per CNBC on Feb. 25: "As bad as 2020 was, it’s set the nation up for what economists believe will be a very strong rebound. ... For all of 2021, economists are forecasting the GDP could grow by 6%. That would be the fastest annual GDP growth since the economy expanded 7.2% in 1984 when Ronald Reagan was president. Fueling optimism about an economic comeback is a sharp decline in new Covid-19 infections, and recent surging sales in the beleaguered retail sector." 

Despite Biden rarely engaging with the press and continuing to show troubling signs of age, the overall sentiment on two big issues rules public sentiment. Overall, the president enjoys a 67 percent approval rating on his handling of COVID — which with a vaccine handed to his administration makes sense — and 60 percent approval on the stimulus, which is also an easy number to get to when printing nearly $2 trillion of free money (that ultimately ain't free). 

Vaccines are now being administered to more than 2 million people per day; cases will continue to fall. Dr. Anthony FauciAnthony FauciBiden to appear on MSNBC before town hall on vaccines The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Infrastructure, Cheney ouster on deck as Congress returns Sunday shows - White House COVID-19 response coordinator says US is 'turning the corner' MORE said April will be “open season” for vaccine access as the J&J version, in particular, will provide more than enough supply over demand.  

The country is shaping up to be happy in a way likely not seen since the end of World War II. The horror that was 2020 will be well in the rearview mirror. Spending will surge. The economy will explode. 

And, in the end, the person sitting in the Oval Office will get the lion's share of the credit, even if all of this would have happened under the previous occupant anyway. That's just how it works in politics, where timing and some luck — along with media complacency or collaboration, or both — mean everything. 

Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist for The Hill.