Newspaper declares Biden boring; Washington has never felt duller

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The scorching summertime heat here in the nation’s capital is forcing a sweaty admission: Washington has become rather boring.

And some pundits are blaming the 46th president.

Of course, there is more to leadership than entertaining the masses, and more to governing than providing fodder for cable news. But these dog days are, at the very least, a sharp cultural change from the barking and howling that previously defined our politics.

One reason for the ennui is that not much is happening. Every week is infrastructure week, and nothing has come close to passing. The vaccination program has stalled, with troubling implications. President Biden’s sweeping plans on family aid, community colleges, voting rights, police reform, gun control, climate change and immigration are going nowhere fast.

“The show is over and the thrill is gone,” writes Matthew Continetti in the Washington Free Beacon. “It used to be that the federal city — and its chief executive — drove the national conversation. But President Biden purposely limits his exposure to remain as uncontroversial as possible…

“After twelve years of highly visible celebrity presidents, the current occupant of the White House is a 78-year-old who eschews social media, rarely gives one-on-one interviews, limits himself to about one public event a day, calls on pre-selected reporters at press conferences, often refers to notes, and returns home to Delaware most weekends.”

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Not all of this is terrible, though I’ve repeatedly said that Biden should engage with the media more frequently. He ran on the premise that Americans didn’t have to spend most of their waking hours worrying about what the president was doing or whom he was attacking on Twitter. He wanted to be the calming alternative to Donald Trump.

This deliberately low-key approach has kept Biden’s approval ratings over 50 percent and left him with political capital in the bank. He is not the lightning rod that Barack Obama or Bill Clinton was. Even Continetti, a conservative who strongly opposes Biden’s policies, says “no one gets worked up about him personally.”

But there is a price to be paid for not seizing control of the news agenda. The vacuum leaves plenty of oxygen for Biden’s Republican opponents, making it harder for him to rally the country and push a closely divided Congress.

Which brings us to Joe’s speechifying skills.

Now the New York Times is acknowledging that Biden “often struggles to reach the potential oratorical heights of the office he holds… The details in Mr. Biden’s speeches often trip him up as well, leading to mumbles, stumbles, pauses, and real-time corrections as he struggles through the dense material on the teleprompter.” After one statistics-laden address in Illinois, Biden conceded he had given a “boring speech.”

Biden is occasionally capable of a passionate address but does have a tendency to get tangled in his own words and have to repeat lines he has mangled.

After 36 years in the Senate, Biden often slips into jargon and Beltway-speak. He has always been heavy on verbiage. During his short-lived White House bid in 1987, I wrote that “Joe Biden is trying to talk his way into the White House.”

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As president, of course, Biden has a team of talented speechwriters and can limit his unscripted moments, such as encounters with the press. Not every great speaker has been a successful president, and not every successful president has been a master orator. But in the digital age, it doesn’t hurt.

Even Biden’s allies have never viewed him as an inspirational figure. The FDR comparisons are fading. He doesn’t command the kind of personal loyalty that translates into political pressure for recalcitrant opponents or even Joe Manchin. He is liked but not feared.

That may be yielding a very dull July, but more importantly, making it harder for this president to bend Congress to his will.
 

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