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US politics

Let Biden be Biden

Some sage advice in The West Wing

Whenever a presidency encounters difficulties, says Matthew Yglesias in Bloomberg, the cry always goes up: “Let the president be himself.” First it was “let Reagan be Reagan”; more recently “let Trump be Trump”. In The West Wing there was “let Bartlet be Bartlet”. Now, sure enough, the current president’s allies are claiming his team needs to “let Biden be Biden”. And for once, “it’s a pretty good idea”. It’s easy to forget, but for much of the 2020 election Biden was effectively a “longshot” candidate. He lagged Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg in fundraising, and the party’s top talent signed up to other campaigns. They felt he was yesterday’s man – a centrist “out of step” with the country and party. But they were wrong. As Biden’s primary victory showed, most Democrats were, and are, actually “pretty moderate”.

Now he’s in the White House, Biden has a “thin layer” of old hands who share his (popular) world view. But below that sit hundreds of staffers who wish Kamala Harris or Warren were president. These aides don’t want Biden to speak off the cuff because they think he’ll say something to upset the liberal base. In reality, as 2020 showed, Biden is more in tune with the public than they are. Yes, getting the president to do interviews will lead to gaffes. “This is Joe Biden after all.” But his no-nonsense centrism is one of his political strengths. “Sometimes the cliché is true: they should let Biden be Biden.”

🎤❌ Biden has done only one sit-down interview with a journalist in 2022. Since taking office, he has done a total of 23 one-on-ones – over the same period Donald Trump did 95, and Barack Obama 187.