WASHINGTON: In a speech earlier this month, US President Joe Biden slipped a phrase into a major address on infrastructure spending with a bit of a laugh, calling it a “boring speech” but “an important speech.”
Boring but important sort of sums up the veteran Democrat’s game plan, six months after moving into the White House: focus on substance, not style, to rebuild American prosperity and restore the country to a central role in global politics.
“Biden essentially is trying to get all the emotional energy out of our politics,“ Robert Rowland, a professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas, told AFP, contrasting Biden’s style to the bombast of predecessor Donald Trump.
“The long-term effect is to say: ‘Look, I may be boring but I am actually producing real results’.”
On Tuesday, when the 78-year-old Biden brought his cabinet together to mark six months in office, he reiterated some of the key themes of his presidency, which he has been hammering home since January.
He said the United States was in a “defining competition” with countries such as China that “believe autocracy is the future.”
“Democracy is more capable,“ Biden said — in his view, capable of being innovative, of fighting climate change, of bringing prosperity to the most citizens possible.
The former US senator believes that the road to prosperity comes with spending — big spending on “hard” infrastructure projects such as roads, bridges and broadband internet, but also on health care, education and child care.
On the diplomatic front, being capable and innovative means reviving America’s traditional alliances, which were stifled — or simply ignored — under Trump, who pushed a stark “America First” agenda.
Biden focuses on big ideas, and big issues — but none of them are necessarily what voters are most excited about. Biden himself even admits it, as he did in that speech earlier this month.
“I know that’s a boring speech, but it’s an important speech,“ he said on July 7 in Crystal Lake, Illinois after telling the audiences about his spending plans, offering streams of numbers. The applause grew weaker and weaker as he went on.
“Anybody under the age of 13 — this has got to be boring, boring, boring for you,“ he then said on July 15 in front of a room of parents and children as he detailed a tax credit measure for families.
- The Anti-Trump -
After a Trump presidency full of diatribes and vicious barbs, Biden and his team are instead maintaining an iron grip on their message — and that message is straight-up dull, on purpose.
“Biden is making a virtue of something that has been a problem in his rhetoric for a long time — he is wonky,“ explained Rowland.
Nearly every time he faces the press, Biden relies on the teleprompter and handwritten notes, and his speeches are typically not very long. His aides often rush reporters out of the room before they can ask him any off-the-cuff questions.
That is in stark contrast to Trump, who favored long, stream-of-consciousness speeches. The Republican former leader also loved using Twitter as his bully pulpit for shock statements, while Biden’s social media presence is far more calculated.
Trump loved to shout. Biden sometimes whispers.
Lawrence Jacobs, a professor of political science at the University of Minnesota, says listening to a Biden speech can be “painful.”
“He loses his place, or he misspeaks, or he goes off on a tangent,“ Jacobs told AFP, while acknowledging that the Democrat “is more confident with foreign policy or national security speeches” due to his deep international experience while in the Senate.
When he talked this month about the withdrawal of the last US soldiers from Afghanistan — one of the biggest decisions of his presidency to date — he delivered his message without a hiccup.
“He shows you the rhetorical power of the presidency,“ Jacobs said. “It’s a mistake to say that he lacks the ability to shape conversations.”
Indeed, last Friday, before leaving the White House for the weekend, Biden launched a broadside on Facebook and other social media giants, accusing them of “killing people” by allowing misinformation about the coronavirus to spread.
Though he would later walk them back a bit, those comments made the rounds on US television networks all weekend.
- Comforter-in-chief -
Biden is spontaneous in one circumstance — when he allows his empathy to shine through.
The Democratic president, whose life has been marked by family tragedy — including the deaths of his first wife and daughter in a car accident, and his son Beau’s fatal battle with cancer — happily takes on the role of comforter-in-chief.
He recently spent long hours consoling the loved ones of those who died in the collapse of an apartment building in south Florida.
“He has a gift for giving solace to people, a real ability to create a sense of shared identity,“ Rowland said.
For now, Biden’s popularity rating is firmly anchored above 50% — a level Trump was never able to achieve. — AFP