Joe Biden, the 46th President of the United States, has never been able to keep his mouth shut. Throughout his absurdly long career in politics, he has always said too much, made stuff up, gone too far. His friends and fans just shrug it off. ‘That’s our Joe.’
The trouble is, Biden is now America’s Commander-in-Chief, leader of the not-so-free-anymore world, and his loquaciousness — and the mental fuzziness it betrays — is becoming a problem.
Take, for instance, his decision this week to intervene before the jury reached its verdict on the trial of Derek Chauvin, the white police officer now found guilty of the murder last year of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. ‘I’m praying the verdict is the right verdict. I think it’s overwhelming in my view,’ Biden said. ‘I wouldn’t say that unless the jury was sequestered,’ he quickly added — as if there were nothing untoward in a president weighing in pre-emptively on the most racially charged legal trial in America since the O.J. Simpson case in 1995.
As things turned out, mirabile dictu, the jury agreed with Biden and found Chauvin guilty on all three counts. Yet what ought to have been a calm vindication of American justice was treated as a grubby political show trial. Angry right-wingers will regard the verdict as a sop to left-wing mobs who would have — hell, maybe still will — set fire to cities across America had Chauvin not gone down. Chauvin’s lawyers are expected to claim that their client was not given a fair trial due to the monstrous public pressure surrounding the case.
The strangest part about Biden’s intervention was how unnecessary it was. Nobody was clamouring for the President to wade into the controversy at such a critical juncture. Yes, other leading Democrats had jumped the justice gun. Congresswoman Maxine Waters last weekend told reporters she hoped Chauvin would be found ‘guilty, guilty, guilty’ — which prompted a rebuke from the judge and lots of tut-tutting in responsible media circles.
Biden should have remained above the fray, but he just couldn’t help himself. That’s our Joe. He’s a member of the so-called Silent Generation who can’t stop talking.
So far, the new President’s aides have done an impressive job of keeping his promiscuous verbosity under wraps. His public appearances are carefully managed, his speeches tightly scripted. Next week, he’ll mark his first 100 days in the White House, and yet he has only given one real press conference. Even that was a tame affair, since the majority of the media are inclined to look kindly on Biden’s misspeaks.
After the political earthquake of Donald Trump’s presidency, everybody in Washington is eager to make out that sanity is back in charge. ‘The country just needs to chill out and have a boring president’, is how one former Obama staffer put it last year.
Under Biden, the headlines have certainly been a lot less sensational. Pay attention to what he’s been saying, though — and you realise that America’s executive branch is as mad as ever.
Biden has brought back civility to politics and international affairs, we are told. Yet he’s already called Xi Jinping a ‘thug’ and Vladimir Putin a ‘killer’. His presidency would restore America’s clout in the world, we were told. But Germany has ignored his pleas to stop the Nord Stream 2 pipeline with Russia. From Bush to Obama to Trump and now to Biden, America’s great power continues to wane.
But who cares when the money keeps flowing? Biden is carrying out the biggest government spending splurge of all time. His Covid relief package alone came to $1.9 trillion — to be poured on top of what looks set to be the world’s strongest economic recovery. For now, polls suggest people like the free cash. Those who worry about the deficit or inflation are told they don’t understand modern economics.
Next comes the $2.5 trillion infrastructure bill, on to which Democrats are tacking all sorts of spending commitments for pet causes. Republicans mocked Senator Kirsten Gillibrand after she declared that: ‘Paid leave is infrastructure. Childcare is infrastructure. Caregiving is infrastructure.’ But Biden, being Biden, fully supported an elastic definition of the word: ‘The idea of infrastructure has always evolved to meet the aspirations of the American people and their needs,’ he said. ‘And it is evolving again today.’ Codswallop is infrastructure.
Biden is canny enough to have realised at some level that he won the Democratic nomination and then the presidency precisely because the public didn’t think he was rabidly left-wing. He’s also sufficiently sharp to recognise that he must keep appeasing the radicals who increasingly dominate the airwaves and his party.
At some stage, probably next year as the midterm elections approach, Biden will try to drag the Democratic donkey back towards the middle ground. For now, he seems happy to let the woke warriors take him for a wild progressive ride. On Tuesday, after the Chauvin verdict, Biden did do the presidential thing of calling on the nation to come together. He denounced those ‘who will seek to exploit the raw emotions of the moment’. But his priority seemed to be to reassure party activists that the real justice — i.e. the dismantling of white privilege — was just getting started. ‘It’s not enough,’ he said. ‘We can’t stop here.’ That didn’t placate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, America’s most online congresswoman, who took to her own video livestream to say ‘this verdict is not justice. Frankly I don’t think we’d call it full accountability… I also don’t want this moment to be framed as this system working, because it’s not working’.
‘Not enough’ might be the leitmotif of Biden’s presidency so far. It sometimes feels as if the President is in an abusive relationship with the radical Democratic fringe. He promises ever more urgent and expensive solutions to global climate change, and his party just demands more. He talks about the nobility of the American ideal, yet his UN ambassador, Linda Thomas–Greenfield, claims that: ‘White supremacy is weaved into our founding documents and principles.’
‘Words have consequences,’ Biden used to say over and over when campaigning against the loudmouth Donald Trump. But that does not appear to be a lesson he has learned. As a candidate, for instance, Biden was desperate to emphasise his total enthusiasm for all immigration. In a televised debate, he said: ‘I would in fact make sure that we immediately surge to the border all those people seeking asylum.’ He also promised amnesty and free medical care.
Inevitably, as soon as he became President, migrants did as he asked. The result has been a catastrophe. In March, US Customs and Border Protection stopped nearly 200,000 people who were trying to enter the country, including tens of thousands of un-accompanied children. Biden’s White House recently admitted that the situation has reached ‘crisis’ levels — although naturally the President blames climate change.
To his admirers, Biden is finding a third way between the old centre and the new left. Because he campaigned as a moderate, they say, he can govern as a radical. His impressive vaccine rollout is attracting worldwide praise. Add to that his gargantuan spending packages, and his patter about new deals and transforming the soul of America, and he can still be hailed as a 21st-century answer to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, just about.
But many of the problems blamed on Trump are only getting worse under Biden. His administration so far has been defined by a kind of geriatric wokeness. ‘I want to change the paradigm,’ he said in that only presidential press conference. What’s the paradigm, Joe? He rambled about ‘work not wealth’, ‘hardworking Americans’, and families putting ‘food on the table’. He has been using those stock phrases for more than 50 years and so have most American politicians. The language of progress never changes.
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Freddy Gray, Kate Andrews and Lionel Shriver give their verdict on Biden’s presidency at a Spectator event on 28 April: spectator.co.uk/biden
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