The air between the reporter and the president is not the most important air that needs clearing from Biden's perspective. It is the gap between the grand hopes Democrats had for his presidency a year ago and the current reality of a divided party, rancid political culture and the haunting sense that he may not be up to the task of turning all this around in time for the next two elections.
Biden's lapse of presidential decorum hints at a path toward restoring presidential vitality.
The whole encounter, including the refusal to get all riled up about Biden's huffiness, was quite winning. It was a reminder of how many Biden moments feature casual profanity or authentic emotion.
There was a time when he whispered to the President that the passage of health care reform was a big deal. Perhaps Biden's most memorable moment during the fall 2020 presidential debates was when he responded to Donald Trump's constant interruptions by rasping.
There is a small window into a potential remedy for a big problem. Biden has spent his adult life trying to find an office which he is not well equipped to hold. A communications platform is the core of the modern presidency. It's ability to dominate public conversation is a key to its power. The all-consuming grip Trump held on public attention is a noxious example. Franklin D. Roosevelt said that the presidency is more than an administrative office.
Biden lacks the gifts of most predecessors, which is a serious liability.
He can't use a grand setting to make a statement like John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan did at the Berlin Wall. Do you remember Biden's address to the UN? It was a compound of gassy banalities, organized around a string of rhetorical questions that recalled a high school valedictorian's speech.
Concerns about whether he lacks the endurance and mental acuity to spar with reporters were mitigated by his two-hour news conference last week. The perils of this format were shown when his team spent the next day cleaning up his candor after he warned Russia against a Ukraine invasion.
A fiery moral summons has its own risks for Biden, who is by temperament an accommodater. Moderates in his own party warned that he might be taking the comparison too far when he said Republican efforts to limit voting access amount to Jim Crow in the 21st century. He went to Capitol Hill to speak to Democrats, but he failed to switch votes on the bill.
How can a president lead with a voice that doesn't work?
FDR talked about the clarifying power of the presidency when he said "whether Peter Doocy is a jerk does not count as one of those great national questions."
Biden can become an effective communicator through two avenues, according to the encounter.
The whole episode is very similar in nature. Biden responded with a rhetorical equivalent of an eyeroll, "It's a great asset", after being asked if he thought inflation was a political liability.
Pete Buttigieg would not have handled the question the same way. Biden did not win the election with the votes of people who were impressed by Rhodes Scholars. When Biden called, the president said it was nothing personal, and we were talking about moving forward.
It is close to one of FDR's ideas in the life of the nation that had to be clarified. It takes a complaint or two to get on the train.
The second way Biden could use his office is highlighted by this. The failure of Build Back Better, after months of lobbying, has been pointed out as a programmatic failure.
trillions of public investment were passed in his first year through Covid relief and the bipartisan infrastructure package.
Biden has a strength that he shared with an early mentor, Humphrey. He projects an understanding of the concrete human dimensions of political and policy matters more than either Trump or Obama. Biden can use the examples in the infrastructure bill to make a larger argument about the impact of his presidency and the merits of activist government. A distressingly weak communicator could transform into a strong one.
Biden has a penchant for the occasional f-bomb or growling encounter. Let's see if polls show that others enjoyed the exchange as much as I did. If so, it's time for Biden to stop honoring American heroes at the State of the Union in favor of a new approach. Even though he is a decent guy, his friends think he is full of shit when he talks about politics. Give me a break, man, and put a sock in it.