Wait — I thought America needed its norms back? John Harris instead likes the cut of a presidential jib a bit better when the C-in-C uses “s*** talk,” such as Donald Trump did for four-plus years … excuse me, Joe Biden did last week with Peter Doocy. In Politico Magazine, Harris advises Biden to let that fly and express his “authentic voice” as an antidote to Beltway phoniness.
Didn’t we just get four years of the press complaining about the very same “authenticity”?
As it happens, Biden’s lapse of presidential decorum hints at a path toward restoring presidential vitality.
The whole encounter — including Doocy’s genial refusal to get all huffy about Biden’s flash of huffiness — was in its own way quite winning. It was also a reminder of how many memorable Biden moments feature casual profanity or bursts of authentic emotion amid the pervasive phoniness of contemporary politics.
There was the famous time when he whispered to President Barack Obama at a White House podium that the passage of health care reform was “a big fucking deal.” Or when he told an Iowa voter who pressed him on his ethical and physical fitness for the presidency that, “You’re a damn liar, man,” before challenging him to a pushup contest. Perhaps Biden’s most memorable moment during the fall 2020 presidential debates was when he responded to former President Donald Trump’s incessant interruptions by rasping, “Will you shut up, man?”
These exchanges offer a small window into a potential remedy for a big problem.
This is bad advice for a few reasons, but first let us revel in the hypocrisy. Harris barely mentions Donald Trump except to note his “noxious grip” on attention for four years, but the national media spent four years clutching its collective pearls for exactly the same behavior Harris now recommends to Biden as an antidote to his incompetency. Trump’s authentic outbursts — in person and especially on Twitter — were treated as The End of The Republic so often that a second term might have inspired an entire Star Wars trilogy of its own. Those outbursts created a hew and cry for a return to “norms,” and a reversion to a pre-Trump establishment that succeeded in large part because Trump couldn’t moderate his “authenticity” in a time of crisis. And the media cheered and demanded that every step of the way as a way to return to the status quo ante “norms.”
Now that Biden’s in trouble — serious political trouble — suddenly Harris and Politico lament Beltway stuffiness and surface comity. How convenient.
Besides, as I mentioned, demanding authenticity from Joe Biden is spectacularly bad advice. Biden has an authenticity problem to be sure, but it’s out of necessity. The authentic Joe Biden is a vacuous a**hole and bully who incessantly lies about himself and his capabilities, and that streak goes back much farther than Iowa 2019. In his 1987 campaign, Biden not only plagiarized speeches from Neil Kinnock (including lifting Kinnock’s family history), he also nearly picked a fistfight with a voter who had the temerity to disagree with him. Mickey Kaus recalled it in 2008 when Biden joined Barack Obama’s ticket:
Why Biden Would Be Bad: There’s a bit of C-SPAN tape that should surface quickly if he’s named. … Remember, it wasn’t Biden’s plagiarism that knocked him out of the 1988 race. It was “‘I think I have a much higher I.Q. than you do”–a bizarre videotaped putdown that Biden immediately called into question with five (5) boasts about his academic record, four (4) of which turned out to be easily disproved B.S.
E.J. Dionne, then a reporter with the New York Times, punctured Biden’s fabulism at the time:
The tape, which was made available by C-SPAN in response to a reporter’s request, showed a testy exchange in response to a question about his law school record from a man identified only as ”Frank.” Mr. Biden looked at his questioner and said: ”I think I have a much higher I.Q. than you do.”
He then went on to say that he ”went to law school on a full academic scholarship – the only one in my class to have a full academic scholarship,” Mr. Biden said. He also said that he ”ended up in the top half” of his class and won a prize in an international moot court competition. In college, Mr. Biden said in the appearance, he was ”the outstanding student in the political science department” and ”graduated with three degrees from college.”
In his statement today, Mr. Biden, who attended the Syracuse College of Law and graduated 76th in a class of 85, acknowledged: ”I did not graduate in the top half of my class at law school and my recollection of this was inaccurate.”
As for receiving three degrees, Mr. Biden said: ”I graduated from the University of Delaware with a double major in history and political science. My reference to degrees at the Claremont event was intended to refer to these majors – I said ‘three’ and should have said ‘two.’ ” Mr. Biden received a single B.A. in history and political science.
Biden’s authentic fabulism continues to this day, with four-Pinocchio claims of having been on the front lines of the civil-rights movement, as well as lies about Joe Manchin, and more. By Biden’s standards, his jackassery at the press spray last this week was mild; at least he didn’t call Doocy a “lying dog-faced pony soldier” for challenging him, whatever that means. The authentic Biden is the last thing that Biden needs to let loose. Biden has carefully crafted a highly inauthentic narrative as Empathetic Genial Joe, one which the media has kept inflated for years if not decades because it suits their politics.
Now, at this point, critics will say: What about Donald Trump? He has all these same faults! To which I’ll reply: That’s exactly my point. There are three big differences, however. One: Trump actually operated on Harris’ advice and let his authentic freak-flag fly for four years (plus!). Two: Trump turned out to be a lot more competent at the job than Biden has. And three: The media spent four years screaming about all of these faults in Trump, and now appears ready to cheer them on in Biden.
And that’s why this is really bad advice. Biden got elected by being a not-Trump by an electorate that was narrowly exhausted by Trump’s antics. If Biden suddenly turns on his authentic jackassery without providing any additional competence, all the media narratives in the world won’t save his presidency or the Democrats who sold voters this bait-and-switch.