By JONATHAN LEMIRE and CALVIN WOODWARD
WASHINGTON (AP) — The card tucked in President Joe Biden’s right jacket pocket must weigh a ton. You can see the weight of it on his face when he digs it out, squints and ever-so-slowly reads aloud the latest tally of COVID-19 dead.
Sometimes he’ll stumble on a digit — after all, flubs come with the man. But the message is always clear: The toll of the virus weighs on him constantly, a millstone that helps explain why the typically garrulous politician with the megawatt smile has often seemed downright dour.
For any new leader, a lingering pandemic that has killed more than a half-million citizens would be plenty for a first 100 days. But it has been far from the sole preoccupation for the now 78-year-old Biden.
The oldest person ever elected president is tugging the United States in many new directions at once, right down to its literal foundations — the concrete of its neglected bridges — as well as the racial inequities and partisan poisons tearing at the civil society. Add to that list: a call for dramatic action to combat climate change.
He’s doing it without the abrasive noise of the last president or the charisma of the last two. Biden’s spontaneity, once a hallmark and sometimes a headache, is rarely seen. Some say he is a leader for this time: more action, less talk and something for the history books.
“This has been a really terrible year,” said Matt Delmont, who teaches civil rights history at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. “There’s so much. We want a new president to be a light forward. From that perspective, it makes sense that you want to get out of the box fast.”
Biden “sees the virtue of going bigger and bolder,” Delmont said. “It so strongly echoes FDR.”
Few would have bet Joe Biden would ever be uttered in the same breath as Franklin D. Roosevelt. It’s too soon to know whether he deserves to be.
But the scope of what Biden wants to do would — if he succeeds — put him in the company of that New Deal president, whose burst of consequential actions set the 100-day marker by which all successors have been informally measured since.
A reported 4,380 people in the U.S. died from the virus on the day Biden became president on Jan. 20. COVID-19 is killing about 700 people a day now. For Biden, much of the struggle is about “getting people some peace of mind so they can go to bed at night and not stare at the ceiling.”
It’s not all been smooth. Biden has struggled to change course on immigration practices he railed against in the campaign. He’s earned rare rebukes from some Democrats and shown that a president’s famously empathetic nature does not necessarily mean empathetic treatment of the world’s dispossessed.