Reviews | Biden can’t blame his staff for his turbulent presidency
So if Biden is upset his team isn’t giving him a clear message, is it because he himself doesn’t? After all, he dithered and dithered on a host of issues throughout his career. He was anti-abortion and pro-choice on abortion. In 1981 he voted for the kind of tax cuts he now denounces. Every politician who’s been around as long as Biden will have changed his mind about something, but Biden’s protean ability to magically recast himself in the image of the current Democratic Party consensus is astounding. And when your main political talent is to change your views according to the moment, it is difficult, if not impossible, to craft a coherent message.
Biden also can’t complain about his staff’s tendency to backtrack on his off-the-cuff comments about politics. Biden’s tendency to talk about issues without thinking is part of DC legend. That is why he has long been known as a walking gaffe, as he himself admitted. It might be cute when gaffes don’t matter, but it’s dangerous when every word he says can have global consequences. So if Biden blurts out he thinks Vladimir Putin must not stay in power, you’re absolutely right, his staff will take action to say he didn’t mean what he said. The alternative is too frightening to consider.
If Biden really doesn’t want his staff to do this, he should do what any competent chief executive does when undermined: fire the offending staff. He doesn’t, of course, which either means he knows he has to go back, or he doesn’t have the guts to fire people. Neither trait is commendable in a CEO.
Biden himself is also to blame for his inability to craft notable speeches and persuade people to adopt his view. He’s legendaryly talkative, but how many people can quote a memorable line from a speech he gave during his 50 years in public life? Arguably one of his most enduring remarks – that he was the first in his family to go to university – was plagiarized by British Labor leader Neil Kinnock, a revelation that forced Biden to stand down. of the 1988 Democratic presidential race.
Biden also demonstrated his inability to get people excited in the 2008 presidential contest, when he quit after being given just 1 percent voting in the Iowa caucuses. His 2020 campaign was heading for oblivion after a disaster showing fifth place in the New Hampshire primary until the party establishment rallied around him in a final bid to defeat socialist Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. The staff can’t do much with the equipment provided to them.
Biden surely has good intentions and he has a commendable ability to retain long-serving staff deeply. But none of these qualities is sufficient to effectively exercise presidential authority. The person in the Oval Office must be capable of decisive action. He or she must be adept at persuading people in establishments large and small, setting and maintaining a course in difficult times, and ruthlessly promoting staff who can help and dismissing those who cannot. If the top dog doesn’t have the goods, a team of star consultants can’t keep the ship afloat.
Unsuccessful presidents uniformly lack one or more of these qualities. Jimmy Carter alienated potential congressional allies, while George HW Bush was particularly inarticulate when he didn’t utter speechwriter Peggy Noonan’s words. George W. Bush sat too long with poor subordinates in Iraq, while Trump alienated half the country and could not find or retain enough talented staff to effectively run the White House.
Biden’s shortcomings so far sound all too familiar. He has reason to be unhappy with his political position. The fault, however, lies not in the stars, but in himself.