1 April 2021
Mrs C, Mr O, and Mr B
By J.R. Thomas
Those suspecting this to be a film review are not that far wrong. The film is not yet in production, but the book is out and what a great movie it will make. “Lucky”*, it is called. We tip Henry Fonda to play Lucky, the plucky old timer who generally wins through, always smiling. Other roles are yet to be cast; Glenn Close must surely be a shoo-in to play the femme fatale character, walking alone in the woods, snarling?
But first, the book. Those of us of a certain advancement of years remember that series of books called “The Making of the President” by Theodore H White. White was a journalist who loved writing, loved politics, was, in a way that almost does not exist now, both an insider but also a dispassionate outsider. The first in the series was The Making of the President, 1960, the election of John F Kennedy, but perhaps the greatest was his TMOTP of 1968, the contest between Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey. (And how could it not have been with the fascination of Tricky Dicky?)
White died in 1986 and his mantle has never really been picked up, but Lucky is a valiant attempt to fill a White sized gap. It is a different approach – White would have been furious at the insertion of so many personal opinions and some sloppy writing, but he would have been impressed by the speed with which this book appeared in book shops earlier this month. Here is the making of the Biden presidency 2020, an analysis by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes of that strange fight between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, in which Mr T comes off slightly better than you might be expecting, and Mr B’s near-run thing is made very apparent. What is causing gossip in the Washington salons, virtual salons that they are, is the pointing up of the support given by Mrs H Clinton, and ex-President Barrack Obama. That is to say, the lack of support.
Mrs Clinton may have been until very recently a formidable force in the Democrat Party, but even her admirers are struck on occasion by her ability to pirouette and sashay from one stance to another, often as quickly as any exponent of dances could manage. There can be little doubt that The Donald’s invitation in 2019 to have another run at the Presidency (“Don’t tempt me” she responded) hit a receptive place. Although her influence over her party was slipping, and she was not going to get into fisticuffs with such a large number of candidates (24 declared runners), her strategy, as good as any, was to let the front runners force each other to the ground, bleeding and battered, so that Saint H might then appear, the unifier of party and nation, and be chosen by acclaim. What she did not read clearly enough seems to have been that Joe Biden was the only candidate of the Democrat moderate traditional middle, with everyone else of any note squabbling on the Left extremities. So, for Hillary the telephone never rang; no suggestions of secret pow-wows in the Virginia hills, no note from Nancy Pelosi, scribbling out a few thoughts. If Joe had decided not to run; if dear old Bernie Sanders and not so old and not so dear Elizabeth Warren had begun slugging it out, then it seems not unlikely that President H Clinton would be striding the world stage now. Or, quite possibly of course, President Trump.
The other ghost at Mr Biden’s campaign parties was his ex-boss, Mr Obama. It was never clear what Mr O was playing at, a feature of his presidency of course. He seemed not to want to commit to anybody or anything until he knew who the winner was. Joe was not the ex-President’s first choice; Mr Obama flirted with Beto O’Rourke of Texas (left very early) but then switched with more genuine commitment to another Washington swamp inhabitant, Elizabeth “Pocahontas” Warren (if Donald is remembered for nothing else, he must be for the sheer brilliance of that nickname). Ms Warren did not win a single primary.
One might have thought after that, that a few kind words from Barack for Joe would have been appropriate. But what words there were seemed a little reluctant. In those circumstances it is not surprising that Barack did not ring Joe to congratulate him on his victory until four days after election day. One can only assume he was very busy.
But Biden won it anyway, and by not saying a lot he managed not to create much trouble. His one super-gaffe was to join calls for defunding the police, but the media thoughtfully played that down, his supporters in Congress explained that was not what he meant, and Mr Trump failed to make much of it. At that point he was a very lucky Joe indeed; he could have lost the election on that one issue. Indeed, Mr Biden was lucky in many ways. The virus became a big supporter to him in endlessly showing up the weaknesses of the Trump Administration, coupled with rapidly rising unemployment, Mr Trump’s weak campaigning in the later stages, and even good weather on polling day (if you subscribe to the view that bad weather is good for Republicans and good weather favours the Democrats).
Which brings us to the new President himself. Last time we complained at his strange reluctance to address a formal press conference. Apparently he is a Shaw Sheet reader; on the 64th day, the White House Press Room doors swung open and Joe spoke. Not for too long, and it was heavily rumoured that the whole affair had been carefully rehearsed. Certainly, the questions from the journalistic audience were very carefully picked. But with only one loss of place, Joe got through it.
The next one might not be so friendly. Or, it might be from the Vice-President. Ms Harris has been handed a ticking little bomb by Joe, to sort out the immigration mess at the Mexican border, the previous administration’s system abandoned, replaced by nothing much, and overwhelmed by children crossing to the newly open arms of Uncle Sam. Open, yes; equipped with food, clothing, and shelter, no. So far, Ms Harris has followed her boss’s lead in holding no press conferences, and in not visiting the border, saying that she was focussed on diplomatic efforts with governments of central America to control the flood. She did not help her diplomacy by laughing when a reporter asked if she would be visiting the crossing points herself, calling “Not today!”. Noted by a Mr Donald Trump, of the Florida area, who let it be known he was considering a visit down Mexico way. A spring holiday, no doubt.
Mr Trump’s stock is seeing a modest recovery; with some commentators remarking that Mr Biden’s taking of credit for the sudden surge in the Covid inoculation programme should perhaps pay tribute to his predecessor’s belated but eventual attention to vaccine production and distribution. Better late than never, perhaps, but the Trump publicity machine will be picking all this up. Mr Biden has not had the luxury of a honeymoon period to his presidential life; but if a few whisperers are beginning to say “it was done better by Donald”, then his troubles really are coming early.
“Lucky” by Jonathan Allen and Aimee Parnes; published by Crown, March 2021