AN AVERAGE JOE SOLDIERS ON
QUESTION: Mr. President, Republicans have said that your administration should have anticipated this baby formula shortage before. Are you satisfied with your administration’s response so far? And some of the steps that you and your administration are taking now, including loosening these import requirements next week, should you have taken those steps sooner, before parents got to these shelves and couldn’t find formula?
THE PRESIDENT: If we’d been better mind readers, I guess we could have, but we moved as quickly as the problem became apparent to us. And we have to move with caution as well as speed, because we got to make sure what we’re getting is, in fact, first-rate product. That’s why the FDA has to go through the process.
Later, some predictable the headlines:
BIDEN LASHES OUT AT
CRITICS ON BABY FORMULA
BIDEN OFFERS LAME EXCUSE FOR
NOT ACTING ON BABY FORMULA
Given Biden’s tendency, like lots of us, to misspeak, I suspect that when he referred to “mind readers,” Biden meant “fortune tellers.” But his point was clear: exasperation.
Exasperation with the reporter's question (the question, of course, was legitimate).
And exasperation at the essence of his job, which is that it’s impossible.
Everyone – including people who run for president – buys into the great American myth that the President of the United States of America is “the most powerful person in the world.”
This is true only in a limited sense: the president uniquely is allowed to blow up the planet, because he (and, some day, she) can unleash the nation’s huge arsenal of nuclear weapons.
Other than that, presidents are limited because, with the exception of Donald Trump, they are standard human beings – limited, frail, imperfect, gaff-prone, rapidly aging average Joe's who've made the big mistake of undertaking a job that’s undoable.
Thus, Biden’s exasperation when somebody asks the latest why-didn’t-you-act-sooner to head off the (FILL IN THE BLANK) crisis.”
I’m no mind reader, but maybe this is the background leading up to Joe Biden’s moment of candor after the baby formula question:
“Look," Joe remembered, "the other day, a bunch of us, including my wife, Jill, and Commander, our dog, were sitting around the 'Oval' obsessing about my dismal poll numbers."
Joe continued: "We were kicking around lots of things that are contributing to those terrible numbers, which are even worse than Trump’s."
"There are lots of thing that can lower the numbers," Jill said.
“There’s the war in Ukraine - going well, but you never know when Mad Vlad might drop the Big One. The New Mexico wildfires. The galloping craziness of the Republicans. The Supreme Court going rogue. What voters in the Philippines were thinking when they elected “Bongbong” Marcos president? And could that happen here?"
“I’ve got a great idea,” Joe said.
“Say what, Joey?” Jill said.
“Let’s just ignore the effect of the closure of a baby formula factory because of bacterial contamination, plus limited production facilities, nationally. Lots of people, including youngsters in my administration, have infants but aren't able to breast feed.”
“What will that accomplish?” Professor Biden wondered.
“Well, it will drive millions of likely voters crazy because they won’t be able to feed their babies,” Joe said.
“Just what the doctor ordered for sagging polls," Jill said.
“Woof,” said Commander.
Who’s to blame when your baby’s hungry?
Whose fault is it that 10 people were slaughtered at a supermarket last Saturday, three others wounded, because some kid believes Republicans and others, who say there’s a conspiracy to replace White voters with Black ones?
Chaotic retreat from Afghanistan?
Heroic pushback by Ukrainians to Russia’s invasion?
Netflix's rate hike?
Your teenager's taking to slamming doors again?
Joseph (“Joe”) (“Joey”) Robinette Biden Jr.
None of this is fair.
The most we should ask of the human in the White House is that she or he will try to say the right thing, that he/she will try really hard to do the best thing, to be of good will, and every once in a while, will talk to us like a normal person.
Look, the American experiment in democracy is in a danger like it hasn’t been in my lifetime. It’s in danger this hour. Hate and fear are being given too much oxygen by those who pretend to love America, but who don’t understand America. To confront the ideology of hate requires caring about all people. Not making distinctions.
Joe’s just an average speaker, so people often don’t pay attention to the profound things he says; reporters, who do pay attention, are looking for him to go off script and say something worthy of a clever headline.
It’s possible, given the momentum that Trump-crazed Republicans have going into the November elections, that they’ll gain control of Congress, and that Trump, or someone equally cruel, but better organized, will take over the White House two years later.
Or maybe, given the incomprehensibility, the enormity, the complexity and the unpredictability of everything that goes into becoming a president, then serving as one, that the outcomes will be better than that.
For the time being, we should celebrate a normal government that’s headed by a likable, well-meaning, and occasionally exasperated Average Joe. It may be the last time we experience that in our lifetimes.
Three hours after the Buffalo speech, then Bidens were due back in Washington, where the the schedule called for Joe and Jill to host a White House observance of Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
It's another thing that we ask presidents to do.
I blame the dilemma US presidents are in on not having a Queen. Many countries (the sensible ones, like the Scandinavian ones) have a head of state who is the symbol of the nation -- a monarch. We have the Queen. The government acts in her name. She has all the power -- she of course never uses any of the power, and never would, for the people of the nation would chop her head off. (n.b. what happened to Charles I -- and our eventual Charles III knows his history at least that well).
When you have a Queen who doesn't indulge in power, then all sorts of people exercise power in her name. Not only a Prime Minister, but several ministers. No one would ask the Queen about the shortage of baby formula, nor blame her for it. Instead they'd ask the Minister of Health. Most Canadians know who several ministers are. Do Americans know the cabinet secretaries. Not much. And they don't think they have any power.
So a president is responsible for everything, as head of state. It's a stupid system. Get a Queen!
Wasn't there a war about that?
Indeed there was a war, and the Colonists wanted to get rid of a very good king, George III, and due to the incompetence of British generals and British worries about France, they did -- but it's never too late to correct a mistake.
Of course the head of state doesn't have to be the Queen of England, and Canada will get its own head of state in the not too distant future (but probably after I've gone), to the delight of Quebec, but the head of state should definitely NOT also be the head of government. Merging the two roles leads to all sorts of problems.
For another country besides the US screwed up by merging the head of state with the head of government, see Brazil and (de facto) Russia.
another good one, Brian. The poor bastard has become the world's punching bag, again. Really, it happens to all of them, but after the Trump debacle it seems more unfair than usual. Plus things really are pretty bad just now. We've had three intractable problems for more than two years: Trump's seemingly unpunished crimes, COVID, and global warming. Now add to that Ukraine and the global economy. It's surprising any of us can still stand up, it's exhausting. I can only hope it's like that period in February when you just feel weighed down by endless winter, the darkness just before dawn. Which does come! waiting for June 9 hearings.
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I'VE BEEN a reporter and writer for 58 years, long enough to have learned that journalists don't know very much, although I've met some smart ones.
Mainly, what reporters know comes from asking other people questions and fretting about the answers.
This blog is a successor to one inspired by our dog, Phoebe, who was smart, sweet and the antithesis of Donald Trump. She died Feb. 3, and I don't see getting over that very soon.
Occasionally, I may try to reach her via cell phone.