Edward Luce’s faint praise of Joe Biden. American Writer comments.

Headline: Joe Biden’s quietly revolutionary first 100 days

Sub-headline: US president’s opening spell has been the most productive and ego-free in recent memory

The headline writers looked to Mr. Luce’s ‘opening spell’ comedy, for the sub-headline. Nothing said by Luce about Biden’s ‘quietly revolutionary first 100 days’. Luce’s opening paragraph renders the ‘quietly revolutionary’ in it’s proper category of headline hyperbole.

It took about 50 days for US president Joe Biden to fulfil his 100-day vow of 100m vaccinations. The trick is as simple as it is old: under-promise and over-deliver. Yet after four years of Donald Trump doing the opposite, it feels strangely novel. The same applies to Biden’s $1.9tn recovery package. In one bill, he has provided the financial relief that Trump kept telling middle-class Americans they already had. Might America dare to hope that its days of politics as a branch of the entertainment industry are over? 

Mr. Luce can’t resist proving that he can focus on one of the most vexing problem that Biden faces, that echoes Trump’s toxic xenophobia. In which Napoleon plays the leading role:

All kinds of things can and will go wrong — starting with the growing migrant surge on America’s southern border. But Biden has three key advantages. His most important is what Napoleon Bonaparte sought in his generals: luck. The best recipe for success in a new job is to follow an underperformer. Biden also inherited a pandemic that was ripe for fixing. 

Next in Luce’s positive evaluation of Trump’s ‘Operation Warp Speed’. Biden is the political beneficiary of Trump’s one expression of his prescience?

The most effective thing Trump did as president was to fund Operation Warp Speed. Biden took office just as America’s vaccines were coming online and infections were peaking. This offered him a once-in-a-century chance to demonstrate the power of public service. If the virus peters out in the US by the summer, the resulting economic boom will give Biden a springboard to do all kinds of things that would previously have been unthinkable.

Then, Luce emphasises Bidens ‘experience’ and presents Biden’s choices as indicative of the value of that ‘experience’ . Note the reliance on ‘knowing the key players’ : Janet Yellen and Ron Klain. Neera Tanden’s nomination for the Office of Management and Budget didn’t qualify as a ‘key player’? This Luce sentence should garner a laugh:’Biden thus said little in the campaign about his storied history.’!

History is now featured with walk-ons by Carter and Obama as not quite connected, or lack that ‘key player’ status, that put them in a deficit position, to advance their political agendas.

US history is littered with new presidents sweeping in with out-of-town teams and then tripping up. Think of Jimmy Carter’s Georgians, Clinton’s Arkansans and Barack Obama’s Chicagoans. It takes at least two years for them to gain a footing, if they ever do. Biden has so far bypassed that hurdle. Having taken almost every position on every issue during his long career, Biden is seen by the left as devoid of principle. But that can also be an asset. Republicans cannot paint Biden as a radical. The left has nowhere else to go.

What Mr. Luce misses is that the ‘Left’ seems to be growing within the New Democratic Party. Nina Turner is just the latest ‘Leftist’ to run for congress.What follows, in the last two paragraphs of Luce’s essay, is a not very convincing argument in defense of mediocrity: Biden was and is the apotheosis of mediocrity, his political opportunism, that mediocrity, not forgetting his Corporate Media advocates, help to explain his narrow win in 2020. Not to speak of Trump’s advancing self-delusion.

But good oratory can be overrated — ask Germany’s Angela Merkel. Biden delegates a lot of his White House communication and day-to-day decisions to others. Here is his third attribute. By the standards of most US presidents, Biden’s ego is modest. That is an admittedly low bar. But at 78, it is hard to claim you personify the wave of the future. The best kind of politics is to govern, rather than fret about your brand. This sets Biden apart from Obama as well as Trump. Not everything needs to be about him.

Through a mix of luck and experience, Biden’s opening spell has been the most accident-free of any US president in recent memory. At some point Biden will get into difficulty and may well mess up. In the meantime, he is proving that you do not need to be a superstar to govern America. Indeed, it helps to be free of any obligation to play that role.


American Writer

About stephenkmacksd

Rootless cosmopolitan,down at heels intellectual;would be writer. 'Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.' https://www.lrb.co.uk/v15/n20/perry-anderson/diary
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