This Thursday, America gets its long-awaited moment as Joe Biden holds his first press conference as president. Actually, I doubt most people care. I did not sense at my daughter’s soccer game Sunday that the assembled parents were consumed with thoughts of the presidential debut; not a single person has mentioned it on the neighborhood list-serv.
But there’s one group of people who can’t wait—the right-wingers who’ve convinced themselves, although thankfully not the rest of America, that Biden has advanced dementia and has lost his marbles and is supposedly under intense sedation that the press is covering up as he robotically mouths the words that Kamala or Bernie or AOC have instructed him to speak. They’ve been waiting for this moment just like they waited for the debates against Trump that were finally going to prove to America that Biden wasn’t all the way there. And now Biden is there, in the White House, and Trump is an afterthought. Same thing Thursday: If Biden answers questions with basic cohesion, he’s cleared the low bar that these conservatives have set with their dumb, phony claims.
It’s really hilarious and pathetic. The modern American right is, in a democratic context (i.e., no state-run media, no secret police, etc.), history’s most powerful, ruthless, and effective attack machine. Yet they can’t lay a glove on Biden. It makes them insane. And of all the things to like so far about the Biden era, the solid appointments and the progressive goals and the amazing relief bill and so on, this is easily my favorite thing.
The American right wing is bad at pretty much everything. They can’t govern, as they’ve proven many times. George W. Bush nearly destroyed global capitalism. Donald Trump effectively killed a couple hundred thousand Americans who would not have died of COVID if we’d had a competent president. So they can’t run stuff.
They also can’t legislate; they had two years when Trump was first in there, and they passed only one bill of any consequence (the tax cut), which was horrible and unpopular.
And except in deep red states, they can’t win an election without cheating. In purple states across the country right now, Republicans are inventing more and more ways to keep certain people from voting and after the census they’ll draw corrupt congressional district lines that will dramatically improve their chances of taking back the House.
The only thing they’re good at is lying about and smearing Democrats. But they’re really good at that. They have to be. Their policies, such as they are, on most issues are supported by only about 35 or 40 percent of the people, so to have a chance to win, they have to convince 10 or 15 percent of the public that Democrats hate them, as well as Jesus and the flag and the military and the police and football and straight people and country music and macaroni salad and cigarettes and non-designer beer.
They’re skilled at finding the flaw of the Democrat in question and turning it into a capital crime, even if that “flaw” is sometimes merely that the person is Black or a woman or gay. So while the Democrat is trying to talk policy, the right is busy othering the Democrat to death and convincing “normal” Americans that said Democrat has contempt for them and their simple, uncomplicated, un-cosmopolitan values.
But none of this touches Biden, a man who is exactly what he seems. Whatever normal means these days, he’s that. He’s patriotic in the same straightforward and uncomplicated way many conservatives are. He reveres the military. He’s religious. He goes to Mass nearly every weekend, and sometimes during the week. And he’s just a nice man. You could picture him at the grill on the Fourth of July firing up the weenies while the grandkids light their sparklers.
Nobody believed he wanted to defund the police. Nobody believed he was corrupt—if you’ve been in public life for 50 years and no scandal has attached itself to you, you’re probably pretty clean. And nobody believes he’s a socialist.
That leaves the right with one thing: his age. And it’s true, in the early primary debates, he certainly looked like he’d lost a step or maybe two.
But as the field winnowed and it wasn’t 10 people all attacking him, he got sharper. And once he was the nominee and was out on the COVID-era hustings, he did fine. And he did fine in his debates with Trump and was generally judged to have won them. So when Rudy Giuliani pushed his “dementia” argument last October, it didn’t take either. If anyone looked like he was flirting with dementia, it was the guy with hair dye running down the side of his face as he screamed lies about voter fraud that never happened.
But it’s all they got. So it’s a running meme on Hannity and other Fox News shows that Biden is ready for the glue factory. So when Biden trips as he did the other day while boarding Air Force One, it’s proof that he’s about to fall apart. It’s just like what they did to Hillary when she fainted at that 9-11 service. Geez, how come Democrats keep nominating mentally deteriorating people who are most likely at death’s door?
Of course, Hillary was fine, and Biden is too, but the right has to try something. Hence, they’ll be teeing up this week’s news conference so that, should Biden make a rhetorical stumble, they’ll be ready to pounce with the “proof” that he’s secretly senile. Good luck with that.
It is true that Biden hasn’t had much contact with the press. I doubt however that it’s all that much less than most presidents. It’s a dramatic contrast to Trump, of course, because Trump was before the public constantly. But Trump wasn’t before the public constantly because he felt a democratic responsibility to inform the people; he was before the public constantly because he needed to be the center of attention at all times. And he sure carried out his own assaults on the English language on a regular basis (remember oranges/origins?). If Trump had been a liberal Democrat, Fox would have been demanding for years that he be institutionalized.
But Biden floats above their sewage. Now, there’s a downside to this from a liberal point of view, which is that the fact that Biden is so completely un-other-able carries the implication that maybe Democrats need to keep nominating straight white men who look like somebody’s uncle, and if they depart from that, they do so at their peril. There may be something to that. But look, Obama got himself elected and re-elected. The country is changing. If Biden somehow manages to serve two terms, the electorate in 2028 will be younger, Blacker, browner, and presumably somewhat more secular than today’s. The right will follow the usual playbook, but that doesn’t mean it will work.
Sorry, right wing. Americans kind of like Joe Biden. A lot more than they liked Donald Trump. So I’m not too worried about the press conference. And beyond that… well, I tripped across a photo recently of Vice President Biden in the Oval Office with Obama and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. The photo made me laugh out loud. Biden was wearing—wait for it—a tan suit. I can’t wait till he breaks that one out.