Issue 301: 2021 11 18: Sleepy Joe

American Bald Eagle in front of flag looking fierce
Eagle Eyed

18 November 2021

Sleepy Joe

by J.R. Thomas

The modern media is a cruel thing.  Be a person in the public eye and commit one solecism, just a single burp or fart or inappropriate scratch, and a thousand electronic shutters will click.  And then the wonders of social media will spread the image half-way around the world before the wretched celeb or politician has had the chance to whisper “Excuse me!”.

A personal favourite of all time is that of Churchill (Churchill, W.S.C, as he always advised the tellers when going through the House of Commons lobby to vote) who, addressing a Conservative Party conference in his second term as Prime Minister, read out the same page of his speech twice.  As he reached the bottom for the second time he glared at the audience and said in those growly Churchillian paced tones “I am surprised [pause], that nobody [pause] has pointed out [prolonged pause] what I have just done.” 

But the big risk is dozing off with the cameras staring at you.  Our Queen, aged 95, has never been known to doze off, nor has her son, 73 this week, though they can have a knack, maybe hereditary, of looking a trifle bored, a sure sign to bring remarks to a conclusion.  But alas, at CoP26 last week the youthful Boris may have dozed off, or he may have just been concentrating intently; he certainly looked surprisingly upright and alert if he was seizing a quick forty winks. Or even twenty.  But Joe Biden has not acquired that knack; it was warm, the speeches were dreary; POTUS’s eyes closed, the head tilted, the mouth came open.  Whose job is it to administer to the ribs of the most powerful man in the world the careful jab, neither history nor intrusive lens relates.  But who can blame the poor man; of all the important issues on the Presidential mind at the moment, the endless speechifying about sustainability and greenness is in all honesty not very high.  Joe is in favour of greenness (and of motherhood and apple pie); that is all the President needs to signify; the detail can be dealt with by others.  To drag him from the White House and across the Atlantic in pure tokenism just seems cruel.

Things are not going well for the Biden Administration.  His standing in the polls continues to fall; his “disapproval” ratings now outweigh his “approvals”, not by a lot, 43% to 38%, the rest not knowing what they think, but that is an 8% decline in a few weeks and the line moves inexorably downwards.  (Slightly oddly, he is more popular than unpopular with Republicans than Democrats, but we have a mental picture of Republican pollee’s chuckling and saying “Approve!” as they picture their man in the blue suit returning to the White House in 2024 if Joe runs again.)

The rot began with the badly prepared and managed withdrawal from Afghanistan.  Not that that was in itself unpopular, but the shambolic way in which it was done was not good for Joe’s reputation.  And shambolic so far has been the watchword of the Biden White House.  Nothing is getting done; the budget is being held up by recalcitrant Democrat Senators, the anti-Covid programme is slow (to be fair, as much the fault of individual states as the federal government), the vice President is out of sight most of the time and has not resolved the unresolvable problem of south western immigration.  The Democrat Party itself has been taken over by leftist middle-class agitators and is unpopular with its traditional roots; ethnic minority support is slowly strengthening for the GOP who are seen as low tax and pro-enterprise, whilst the Democrats are seen as patronising. And the President is mostly invisible. There are very few public appearances; if he speaks it is very briefly; he avoids questioning by the press.  Joe is the most low key leader of his nation since, well, indeed, since who?  Calvin Coolidge in the 1920’s perhaps.  The American people are used to heads of state who are visible and noisy and available.  That’s what they like.  And, knowing the old Joe Biden, who when both a Senator and number two to Barrack Obama, was all of that, they wonder why.  And increasingly they tell each other why, or social media does, or the press.  Whisper it gently.  Joe is not up to the job any more.  

All this disquiet came together in Virginia a couple of weeks ago (not just there, but it was the most dramatic demonstration) as the Governorship of a safe Democrat state fell convincingly to the Republicans.  Joe had supported the Democrat candidate, a moderate, a Bidenite, if there were such a thing.  It did no good, the GOP swept in, mainly it seems on school teaching policy.  That is bad news for the new left Democrat Party which had made clear that education policy is nothing to do with parents.  The parents of Virginia did not agree. And the parents have the votes.  

So, what does an embattled President do, one year into his term, his control of both the House and the Senate on a knife edge and likely to disappear in mid-terms less than a year away, his position in the polls weakening daily, his health not good? One thing he might do is to try to make more use of his vice-President.  In this instance, her name is Kamala Harris and we remind you of that because she is even less visible than the President.  What does she do all day?  She is responsible for the immigration policy of the federal government, not that there seems to be one.  Other than that we do not know.  It is rumoured that she and the President have a very poor relationship.  Although politically much in the same place, they have never got on and Ms Harris apparently feels that her run in the primaries was deliberately undermined by the Biden camp.  That does not really seem so – she undermined herself quite well and then gave up; and in any case her current job and these prevailing circumstances have put her in a good place to be the Democrat candidate for the presidency in 2024. 

But if Joe wanted that he would be pushing her forward, loading work onto her, making her as visible as possible, accentuating her positives, maybe even, in a gentlemanly way, cutting a way through the thicket for her.  But he isn’t.  And Kamala is not trying to get close to the President.  She seems to be keeping away from him.  Relationships between Number One Observatory Circle (the vice-Presidential residence) and the White House are those almost of strangers.

There are two views on what is happening.  That, one, Mr Biden (or, alternatively, his staffers) think Kamala is a disaster zone and want her at arms length – and of the longest arm they can find.  Or, two, Ms Harris thinks the President is a disaster zone and does not want any cross contamination that might affect her candidacy in three years time.  In the dream scenario (for Harris) Joe will have to give up on health grounds, but even if he soldiers on, nobody can point at the Presidential record and say to Kamala “that was your fault”; this way, nothing will be.  What a way to run a democracy.

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