Has any speech by an American politician ever received more attention in the Australian media than Joe Biden’s inauguration speech? Page after page of our national newspapers was dedicated to its appraisal, much of it more forensic than even the most exhaustive post-mortem of Australia’s collapse against India at the Gabba. And hard as it was to find an Australia cricket writer dissenting from the consensus that our national team isn’t Ashes-ready, it was even more difficult to find an Australian columnist who’d give the content of Mr Biden’s speech less than four stars. Such bipartisan approval was as unsurprising as it was refreshing. Everyone knows that in a post-Covid, Sino-uncertain world, the security and prosperity of this country will depend to an unprecedented degree on the domestic stability and foreign policy of the USA. So not even the Australian pundits who rooted for Donald Trump in the election (some of them of this parish) want his nemesis’s administration to fail. No wonder, then, that the reconciliatory theme of the speech was met with as much relief across the political spectrum as the absence of gunfire on The Mall. And Mr Biden should certainly be congratulated for having delivered it. At just under 20 minutes, it wasn’t long by inauguration standards, but by Biden standards it was epic. This is the candidate, after all, whose microphone gaffes were so frequent and whose unscripted asides so bizarre that midway through his campaign his minders decided that the fewer opportunities for public speaking their man was given the better. As far as we know the only less vocal, less visible US presidential candidate was Calvin Coolidge, whose taciturnity was so notorious that a dinner guest once told him she’d bet someone she could make him say more than two words in the course of the evening. ‘You lose’, Coolidge replied. It’s impossible to imagine his 16th successor firing from the hip like that, not least because almost every public statement he’s made in the past year was written by somebody else. So, while we should certainly give Mr Biden kudos for getting to the end of his heart-warming soliloquy without stuttering, or mis-reading, or wandering off down some half-remembered post-war body-hair cul-de-sac, he doesn’t deserve the credit for the composition of that speech any more than Lady Gaga deserves the credit for the lyrics of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’.
The enduring popularity of Calvin Coolidge is proof that what presidents say matters rather less than what they do, and it wasn’t until the day after Mr Biden gave voice to his good intentions that we got to see his first-term priorities. By the end of his first day in office the man Mr Trump called Sleepy Joe had signed no less than 15 executive orders, which is fourteen more than any of his ten predecessors did on their first day. Unfortunately, it is all too clear that the people who composed Mr Biden’s inauguration speech are not the same people who compiled his policy to-do list. Including, as it does, the immediate reversal of the previous administration’s actions on energy, immigration and legislation which will allow transgender men to use women’s changing rooms, it seems much more likely that it was drawn up by the same far-left faction of the Democrat party which wants not just to impeach Mr Biden’s predecessor, but to take punitive and possibly even legal action against anybody who worked for him. This may well signal to the 70 million Americans who did not vote for Mr Biden precisely because of where they stood on these issues, that national healing and reconciliation are not likely to occur any time soon; that what their new president said at his inauguration was, to deploy that great American coinage, baloney. And that far from being — as the populations of every other Western democracy have been desperately hoping since the election result was announced — a great statesman whose time has come at last, Joe Biden is just a frail old fraud who has struck a Faustian bargain with hard-line socialists to get into the White House and will do anything they ask him to do to stay there.
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