Maureen Dowd thinks Joe Biden should let his mouth run free. He shouldn’t. Dowd says the pre-presidential Joe Biden was a card, “prone to exaggeration and telling stories too good to be true, saying inexplicably wacky things.”Presidents should avoid all these things, chiefly because presidents shouldn’t waste their time by creating p.r. messes. Those of us who put them in office want them working efficiently toward our goals, not issuing clarifications and walkbacks and dickering about word usage and conflicting memories. “It was often cleanup on Aisle Biden,” Dowd tells us sunnily. But that was Aisle Biden; now we’ve got Aisle POTUS.
Dowd’s latest column strikes me as an example of pissing on people you don’t like, in this case Biden’s “less than stellar inner circle” (“his overprotective staff has gotten into his head,” “his staff reinforces the impression of a fragile chief executive,” “his staff has exacerbated the problem”). It’s also an example of grass-is-greener analysis. She detects that the current policy has problems; therefore, she concludes, the opposite of the policy wouldn’t have problems.
Nowhere does the column establish, as oppose to assume, that the Biden shut-your-mouth policy was imposed on him by aides. Nowhere does she acknowledge that not running your mouth has generally been considered good for presidents. Bill Clinton occasioned a decade of articles about discipline and how it was needed in the White House; the overgrown boy showed how the boomer generation had brought its self-indulgence to Washington, we were told. Fair enough, but now we have a president deliberately curbing and sitting on his own great source of self-indulgence, that of talking and talking and talking without care and sometimes without point. If Joe Biden has that habit under control, then good. It’s about time and we’ve got a lot riding on him.
“Americans know who Uncle Joe is,” Dowd tells us, “quirks and all, slower and all. Let them decide.” This is airy. The public knows him as somebody who used to mouth off, not as somebody who’s mouthing off now. Further, if they decide against him, we’re sunk. Dowd thinks she’s making a case for letting Joe be Joe (“a yellow Lab gamboling” is the image that comes to her mind). But really she’s just complaining about the way the current policy’s being executed. Biden’s staff has made him look fragile “by overmanaging him and white-knuckling all his appearances,” she says.
Well, do better, staff. Learn a finer touch.Don’t play the old man off the stage with your jazz music. But don’t give that mouth free rein. Biden’s smart except in one way, that of not saying clangers. He tells too much truth and he talks before sizing things up (long ago he asked a man to stand up before seeing the fellow was in a wheelchair). The longer he goes, the more likely he is to do these things, and Biden’s a man geared for length of conversation.
Dowd says Joe’s mouth problems “shouldn’t be attributed just to aging.” I’d say, aging aside, the presidency and Joe’s mouth, just his standard mouth and its habits as known over the decades, are a non-combination unless he does some extra self-governing, supplemented as needed by on-the-spot intervention. This central fact can’t be seen unless you think of the presidency as something extra-big, Isuppose. Because I was polite when I said Dowd calls the regular, unfiltered Joe Biden a card. She calls him a “babble merchant.” After this there follows her advice about letting the public decide, and also her wind-up bottom-liner: “Biden needs to start looking like he’s in command.”
I guess she means he has to do the opposite of being yanked offstage by staff. But this opposite, if one refers back five very brief paragraphs, is Joe being himself, which is a “babble merchant.” Connecting dots, Dowd’s view would be that Biden ought to show command by babbling. This is the Trump method, whereby dominance is shown by commandeering everybody’s attention and then dumping out an unending stream of whatever. Yes, madame, the Trump method—it degrades those it attracts while repelling everybody else. Some stripe of opinion still holds that the president shouldn’t babble. I hope that stripe gets bigger and sides with the Democrats. But she wasn’t referring back; forget the five paragraphs. She was just talking.