December 2021 was far from a holiday-infused lull: President Biden began preparing the floor for next year's policy in between a series of new regulations and presidential executive orders. But perhaps one of the most surprising was his announcement (or admission) on the 27th of December when he stated that there is no federal solution to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Initially, the statement was taken with acrimony from both sides of the political arena. One of Biden's main campaign arguments was that the federal government was responsible for preventing widespread death, even going as far as stating that Donald Trump was unfit to continue as president because "he was responsible for so much death." For others, this statement was further proof of backtracking from a president trying to escape his overly-generous campaign promises.
As heads cooled off, political analysts could better examine the implications of his latest shift. For many constitutional experts, this could represent the beginning of a return to the right track.
A Shift in Policy or an Admission of Defeat?
The latter half of 2021 highlighted the fundamental contradictions of the federal pandemic response. Although Joe Biden had initially promised to "shut down the virus, but not the country," the United States was still severely impacted by a new variant that refused to go away.
Backtracking and confusion
Simultaneously, business owners and regular citizens became increasingly disgruntled at the confusing restrictions implemented. It was clear that the economy needed to reopen and capitalize on a dynamic job market and the first signs of economic revival.
Yet, many efforts to scale operations back up were confronted with a controversial vaccine mandate, which required extensive testing or vaccination certificates for any company with over 100 employees. School districts and the Department of Education became embroiled in costly legal battles over mask mandates, while scientists puzzled over the impact of masking the youngest among us.
Was a heavy-handed response ever needed?
Despite these measures, the last quarter of 2021 saw infection numbers climb back up. Like during all previous waves, it did so unevenly, ravaging some cities and leaving others untouched.
These unequal problems required different solutions rather than draconian ones. Therefore, when Biden announced that the pandemic had to "get solved at the state level," he was not merely throwing his hands up in defeat or pushing for a sudden shift into "endemic mode."
It was simply bringing back Federal powers where they belong and calling for States to provide the best solutions for their circumstances.
Federalism Renewed and at its Best
In reality, the Federal Government is now simply acknowledging something permanently embedded in the nation's founding documents. Rather than a shift in policy, Biden's statement was a moment of clarification: the country remains committed to Federalism, and there is little that a single administration can do about it by design.
Unlike its European peers, the United States never had a nationwide lockdown or a set of unified restrictions and mandates meant against the pandemic. At specific points of the ordeal (especially when death rates were at their highest), many voices pointed out that this "unevenness" was hindering the pandemic response.
In reality, the United States' legal system doesn't allow the Federal government to declare a lockdown unilaterally. The Federalist spirit of the Founding Fathers ensured this would not be possible to ensure local governments could always decide on local matters.
According to Shelby Sterling, a Constitutional expert from Texas, "The Federal Government was designed to be powerful enough to take care of the country, but restrained enough to ensure that individual liberty could not be infringed upon."
For the most part, this premise has ensured that each State and County could adapt public health measures to its population's conditions and lifestyle. Where officials chose to go the route of Big Government, it ensured the damage to personal liberty remained contained.
Immediate and Long Term Implications
An administration's second year is one of consolidation, and in many cases, it does more towards a President's legacy than the bolder oaths made while taking office. By returning to its original spirit, the Biden Administration will be able to protect citizens from overreaching authorities better and continue to uphold Constitutional values efficiently.
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Image Credit: Photo by Dimitar Donovski on Unsplash