Alan Zendell, January 23, 2021
I’m not a historian, but I’ll bet there has never been a sharper contrast in presidential administrations in our history. Joe Biden has been president for only three days, and we already know exactly what he believes, what his priorities are, and what he’s likely to do.
When his predecessor took the microphone, we knew we could expect one of two things. The most likely was a combination of bombast, anger, lies, contradictions, insults and exaggeration. A steady diet of air-sucking, often incoherent whining, complaining, attacking and berating of a rotating litany of targets. One day it was immigrants, another, every Democrat who ever lived. One day blue state governors, another, judges with Hispanic surnames, yet another, the fake news media. The list of “enemies of the people” was endless, the only ones spared, those willing to abase and incriminate themselves to do the bidding of a madman.
The few occasions when he attempted to act like a president were carefully scripted by a White House staff desperate to rein in a boss who had overstepped the bounds of decency and rationality even more than usual. His words were delivered as if he had hot coals in his mouth, forced and pained, producing a robot-like awkwardness devoid of sincerity. How often did you recoil when he was about to speak, fighting to resist turning your TV off before he began, if not throwing whatever you were holding at it?
In only three days, despite the enormous problems the nation faces, all that has changed. The eagerness with which I look forward to hearing what President Biden has to say surprises me, but it’s been there every time, and he hasn’t disappointed. He has been as close to perfect as possible. He never raised his voice or uttered a negative word about anyone except the insurrectionist mob who attacked the Capitol. He is ever firm but gentle, calm yet impassioned, reaching out and inspiring. He is never defensive, never reactive, always respectful. And whether you agree or disagree with him, you never doubt either his veracity or candor.
Rather than shudder, wondering he might do next, we anticipate that he will be focused on fixing something that’s broken on behalf of all of us. He attacks problems rather than individuals, and he describes as fine people only those who are. He says what he means – there’s never a wink or a smirk signaling a nefarious subtext. The objects of Biden’s ire are the pandemic, the circumstances that have millions of Americans out of work and unable to support their families, the inequities in our society, and the divisions that tear us apart.
If presidents are supposed to lead by example, consider that in just three days, Mitch McConnell, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, and Kevin McCarthy have all been civil to each other. No one likes governing by Executive Order, but the ones Biden issued either reversed actions by his predecessor that the vast majority of Americans opposed, or were first steps in helping control the pandemic and addressing the urgent needs of everyday citizens – temporary expansions of unemployment benefits, a safety net against evictions, and fighting for an infusion of cash to every American who is financially suffering, every penny of which will flow directly back into a recovering economy.
Biden, in his first three days, has quietly and calmly established boundaries around our national discourse. He will not support extremists of any stripe or color, and he’ll consistently fight to uplift every American in need. He lowered the temperature in every room he entered, including our living rooms. His Press Secretary, Jen Psaki, treats the press corps with respect and plays no favorites. She came to the microphone prepared, and quickly established that she is all in on the president’s promise of straight shooting and transparency. What a contrast with the sneering sycophants who preceded her.
There’s a ton of stuff to get done in the next three months, but it’s been an impressive beginning: bipartisan agreement on delaying the T***p impeachment trial and a relatively civilized discussion of the thorny issue of the Senate filibuster. And there was Dr. Anthony Fauci, alone at the podium, free of the oppressive presence of a president who demanded obedience over truth and science. After biting his tongue in frustration for a year, we saw the light shine in his expression, the perfect person to lead the fight against COVID. Unlike his predecessor, Biden arrived with fleshed-out plans for his major initiatives, with advisors and a Cabinet bursting with competence, rather than beholden either to him or special interests.
It’s been quite windy outside the past few days. It must be the collective sighs of relief we’ve allowed ourselves.